Building More Equitable Curricula

As Cal Lutheran embarks on a new academic year, the College looks forward to returning to more in-person classes, where we can engage with students face-to-face. Our faculty and administrators aim to make our curriculum more culturally relevant to better serve all students. Almost 40% of the student population at our university identifies as Latina/o, and we endeavor to meet the needs of this community along with other groups who have encountered discrimination and exclusion economically, socially, and politically.

The distinguished scholar, author, and first Black woman to become a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Education, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, established the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy nearly 30 years ago. This pedagogy requires methods of engaging with students whose cultures and experiences are customarily excluded from conventional environments. Ladson-Billings researched educators who successfully taught African American students and suggested three goals that rooted the teachers’ accomplishments.

  1. Teaching must produce academic success;

  2. Teaching must help students to establish positive cultural and ethnic identities, while concurrently helping them to academically thrive; and

  3. Teaching must support students’ ability “to recognize, understand, and critique current and social inequalities”*

Culturally relevant and responsive teaching allows the College and its faculty to capture students’ interest both in and outside the classroom, so they can prosper in their studies and beyond. This form of teaching spurs students’ educational growth and a feeling of belonging on our campus.

Project CHESS – Student Success through Faculty Empowerment

Project CHESS builds on the concept of cultural relevance and cultural wealth.  Launched in 2018, the program is built on a collaborative Department of Education Title V grant with Moorpark College. Project CHESS provides a peer-mentor program for college-age men of color. Participating students learn about topics such as leadership, professionalism, and identity, and they share their lived experiences with one other. Juniors and seniors at Cal Lutheran serve as guides to first- and second-year students at Moorpark College who are interested in continuing their studies and transferring to a four-year college or university.

Project CHESS also gives Cal Lutheran and Moorpark College faculty opportunities to enhance their pedagogy by practicing culturally relevant teaching with their students. To date, 40 professors from both institutions have participated in Culturally Inclusive & Responsive Curricula for Learning Equity Collaborative (CIRCLE Collaborative) activities where they attain knowledge on restructuring first and second year-level courses to the benefit of students from historically marginalized backgrounds. Areas faculty can restructure include textbooks, required readings, or assignments. They also may opt to make themselves more accessible to students with simple, yet significant, acts like changing the traditional “Office Hours” designation to “Student Hours” indicating their availability to meet with students during a specific time. 

This fall welcomes the 2021-2022 Cohort of the CIRCLE Collaborative, which will begin using the information they received from 20 prior participants, including Faculty Learning CIRCLE Program Chairs, in May for their year-long commitment in the program. Like their previous participants, these collaborative members teach across the liberal arts, sciences, and humanities and will reshape their curricula not only to appeal to all students but also to help boost student persistence and retention rates at Cal Lutheran and Moorpark College.

Project CHESS has proven to be a powerful initiative for both faculty participants and students enrolled in it. Faculty acquire skills and learn new ways of teaching at workshops and working groups, while students establish strategies to navigate the challenges of higher education through forging friendships with knowledgeable peers who share their first-hand experiences and successes in and outside the classroom. 

Exploring New Academic Foundations 

Earlier this summer, faculty, staff, and administrators from the College and other departments at Cal Lutheran convened for a task force that will explore revisions to the university’s general education program/core curriculum. Called the Task Force on the General Education Core (TFGEC), its members will consist of a design team, implementation team, and assessment team comprised of faculty, staff, and students.

Cal Lutheran has relied on its current core curriculum since 1999. To better align with our university’s mission, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s statements on higher education,  and perspectives that let students interact with contemporary and classical works addressing current and enduring issues, TFGEC will consider the means by which Cal Lutheran can help develop students’ critical and analytical skills; nurture their development cognitively, emotionally, ethically, and interpersonally; and expose them to a diverse range of methodologies and interpretive strategies. 

Transforming our core curriculum will require gathering data and insights from all stakeholders. Task force members will partake in a plethora of activities to determine changes to the curriculum to meet the academic needs of students enrolled in higher education in the 21st Century. Some of these activities include reviewing white papers, articles, and textbooks that discuss best practices, models, and emerging trends concerning general education and working with College faculty and senior leadership at Cal Lutheran to explain proposed changes to the curriculum. We expect this process to conclude December 2022 with a goal of launching the new general education program next fall.

*Source – Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Gloria Ladson-Billings

To Read

Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy – Gloria Ladson-Billings 


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