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Using Assessment to Guide and Revitalize Diversity Instruction
In the mid-1990s, colleagues at our community college established a committee to spearhead instructional diversity efforts, resulting in the implementation of a cultural diversity (CD) requirement. Enthusiasm for the new requirement was initially high, and several faculty members across disciplines received administrative support to make changes to their curricula. With the CD requirement firmly in place and a sufficient number of courses offered, however, instructional diversity work lost momentum. Faced with waning institutional support, Edmonds Community College discovered the value of assessment to reenergize our efforts.
Assessment of diversity curricula can have several advantages. First and foremost, by providing information about student and faculty knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, it exposes the strengths and weaknesses of teaching and learning and allows us to better target students' needs. If done in teams, it brings together interested individuals to accomplish large projects that require widespread collaboration. And because it connects to the accreditation process, it can help secure the administration's support and ignite faculty interest.
About five years after the CD requirement was established, an individual faculty member took initiative to revive institutional interest in instructional diversity. Having obtained release time to serve as faculty diversity coordinator, she recruited a small group of colleagues (including me) to work on diversity issues and organized campuswide faculty forums to brainstorm new directions. From these forums emerged four goals, which became part of the college's Institutional Diversity Plan:
- Review our current cultural diversity requirement
- Refine cultural diversity outcomes and begin assessing these outcomes systematically
- Determine the need for additional courses that emphasize the "knowledge" domain (CD-designated courses cover at least two of three domains: knowledge, awareness, and skills)
- Determine needs/desires for related faculty development opportunities
All four goals centered on assessment. Faculty members hoped that if we could identify what we had accomplished and where we were falling short, we could revitalize diversity work in instruction.
After seeking the administration's support, we attended several national conferences and obtained a grant for a team of faculty members and administrators to participate in AAC&U's summer 2000 "Boundaries and Borderlands" Institute. The institute exposed us to national research on assessment in diversity instruction and helped us identify survey research as the best way to address our goals. After reviewing our diversity efforts, consulting with colleagues, and gathering information from other campuses, we developed one faculty survey and two student surveys (one to establish a baseline and a second to assess changes in students' exposure to and attitudes toward diversity during the quarter). We administered all three surveys (available at www.edcc.edu/divst/) during fall quarter 2000.
The surveys were one of many factors that supported the establishment of a new academic department: Diversity Studies. Both student and faculty responses indicated that while the CD requirement advanced diversity learning, we needed to strengthen and broaden our work, which could be done by establishing a department specifically dedicated to curriculum on diversity and equity. Thanks to their experience in developing, administering, and analyzing the assessments, a network of faculty was well prepared to take on this task.
In fall 2006, with the same institutional goals in mind and as part of the accreditation process, we replicated the earlier study with modifications to reflect changes in diversity teaching and learning on campus and to take into account what we had learned in 2000. While we are still deciding how to use the new data, they will certainly guide our decisions about faculty diversity training. In addition, the surveys have inspired a discussion about the possibility of deepening our CD requirement to include a core course with a rigorous focus on theories, institutional aspects, and intersections of social inequalities. We hope that these conversations will ultimately improve outcomes of diversity education for our students.1
1: The following individuals took part in the surveys and the establishment of the Diversity Studies Department: Rick Asher, David Cordell, Sandra Cross, Michael Fitch, Brenda Gonzalez, Steve Hanson, Pat Huffman, Paul Landrum, Jaque Lyman, Anne Martin, Mary Matson, Susanne Meslans, Johnetta Moore, Pat Nerison, Hayden Nichols, Kayleen Oka, Mary Ellen O'Keeffe, Claire Sharpe, George Smith, and Nicola Smith. We also thank the members of the Teaching and Learning Diversity Committee, too numerous to mention here individually.