diversity digest
Fall 00
next story
previous story
previous issue
institution profiles
recommended resources
diversity web

Diversifying the Curriculum: A Study of Faculty Involvement
Patricia Helton, Vice President for Student Life, Eastern Mennonite University

Enlisting the involvement of teaching faculty is incredibly important to the success of any kind of diversity initiativE because the curriculum is a crucial site of diversity change on campus. But students learn more than just the content of a course from a professor; they learn and sometimes internalize their instructors' intellectual orientations, value systems, and judgments about what knowledge is important and what intellectual perspectives are appropriate. The manner in which faculty view the world and their ways of understanding and interpreting it are closely related to their own educational backgrounds, but also to their societal experiences, affiliations, and identities.

Although diversity is not new to the academy and its benefits are increasingly accepted, research has identified an imbalance with regard to institutional and faculty involvement in diversity curriculum initiatives. While research is emerging on curriculum transformation, new pedagogy and emerging scholarship, too little research has been conducted specifically on the process of change in faculty members themselves as they transform the curriculum. A previous Diversity Digest article by Anne Pruitt-Logan and Jerry Gaff pointed out that, "We cannot diversify the faculty quickly enough. We must re-educate the existing faculty to understand issues of difference and to be able to work with these differences. It is everyone's responsibility to do so" (Diversity Digest, Fall, 1999). What influences faculty to become involved in transforming their courses to incorporate issues of diversity and new teaching techniques? What are the obstacles and barriers to faculty involvement? Are there specific characteristics of those faculty members who choose to become involved? What are the perceived consequences of this involvement?

I conducted a quantitative research study to examine the factors that influence faculty to transform their courses and to measure the perceived consequences of such involvement. Included in the study group were 200 "involved" faculty who had participated in AAC&U's initiative, American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy and Liberal Learning. The questionnaire response rate was 63% and included items that focused on motivation, involvement, and consequences. Although findings were examined with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, age, years teaching, academic field, institutional type, and governance, this article highlights only the results related to motivation, involvement, and consequences.

For the purpose of the study, diversity was defined as including issues of equality, inclusion, race, gender, and sexual orientation in the United States. The term "curriculum" referred to the structure and/or content of courses and/or programs and the term "instruction" referred to the methods, strategies, or techniques used in teaching.

What Motivates Faculty to Transform Their Courses

"Involved faculty" members were found to be highly motivated. One hundred percent of the respondents indicated that intrinsic motivators drove them to change their courses. As individuals, they wanted to do their share to foster the understanding and inclusion of diverse peoples in society. They also reported that they gained personal self-satisfaction from their efforts. They suggested that their desire to encourage the participation of diverse students in the classroom also influenced their involvement in diversifying the curriculum. These intrinsic motivating forces, along with organizational motivators, significantly influenced respondents. They were least influenced by extrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic elements related to faculty members' own ethical values as well as their goals as individuals and as educators were clearly the most influential in motivating faculty members to become involved in diversity initiatives. The vast majority of those interviewed (92 percent) identified the following items as "somewhat" or "extensive" in motivating their involvement in diversity initiatives.

  • Participating in diversity initiatives is the morally or ethically compelling thing to do.
  • I feel a bond with students of marginalized groups.
  • Students who represent racial, gender, or sexual diversity need to see themselves in the curriculum.
  • I want to meet the learning needs of all my students.
  • Pursuit of the whole truth requires expansion and inclusion of other points of view.
  • I want to add new research findings and knowledge to my courses/programs.
  • Diversity is an intellectually stimulating, new, and challenging arena for me.

Professional or organizational issues related to the culture and climate of the work environment were also found to be motivating to "involved faculty." These items appeared to follow a relational pattern that began with colleague support and moved along the academic structures to include departmental chair support and then broader institutional encouragement.

The professional/extrinsic motivators related to academic rewards were the least likely to be identified as "extensively" or "somewhat" motivating. It is worth noting, however, that slightly over half of the respondents indicated that their career was likely to be enhanced by their involvement in diversity initiatives. Additionally, almost half of the "involved faculty" were motivated by available funding for diversity initiatives. This indicated that such opportunities may be instrumental in continued faculty involvement in diversity initiatives.

Getting Faculty Involved: What Activities Are Most Important

This study suggests seven important categories of faculty involvement in diversity curriculum initiatives. The majority of faculty members were involved in all seven of these, except for leadership activities. These activities included pedagogy (86 percent), training (72 percent), curriculum reform (71 percent), co-curricular efforts (66 percent), research--including reading (84 percent) or writing (37 percent), specialized course offerings (56 percent) and leadership (34 percent).

Faculty development programs to which these faculty members had access ranged in scope from modest course grants to ongoing comprehensive summer institutes. Almost three-quarters of the respondents participated in diversity development or training programs. This seemed to be an essential first step in introducing some faculty to new paradigms of knowing and learning.

Not surprisingly, 84 percent of the "involved faculty members" participated in reading new scholarship or participated in research on diversity in curriculum and instruction. Only 37 percent of faculty members were actually involved in scholarly writing on diversity, however.

Specialized courses focusing on gender, ethnicity, and gay/lesbian issues were taught by just over half (57 percent) of the respondents. It is important to remember that the individuals interviewed for this study were identified as leaders in the area of diversity in the curriculum. They were often experts on diversity issues in their fields. Approximately one-third (34 percent) of the respondents cited involvement in directing or coordinating diversity programs.

The literature on co-curricular diversity efforts and initiatives is extensive. Less studied and researched is faculty involvement in these co-curricular efforts. In my study, almost two-thirds of faculty members interviewed were involved in co-curricular diversity initiatives. This finding suggests that many faculty members are willing to step beyond the classroom and the curriculum to participate in diversity efforts.

The overall picture presented by these findings suggests that "involved faculty" members participate in diversity initiatives in a comprehensive and holistic manner. The faculty members in this study were more likely to be influenced by personal and professional intrinsic factors that grew out of sensitivity to the needs of diverse students than they were influenced by extrinsic factors like institutional rewards. While many of the respondents were not engaged in providing leadership to new programs or courses, a majority modified their existing academic efforts through revising course content and incorporating new instructional strategies.

Sustaining Faculty Involvement

This study also explored what factors might influence further faculty involvement in these efforts. I tried to ascertain what the perceived consequences of involvement in curriculum transformation efforts were. The consequences for involved faculty were overwhelmingly positive. Two primary exceptions to this finding, however, were that some respondents (33 percent) identified being "stigmatized" by their involvement or identified the "increased overall workload" (78 percent) as negative consequences.

The following five perceived benefits were identified most often by those interviewed for this study: intellectual challenge (95 percent), teaching satisfaction (89 percent), opportunity to influence social change (88 percent), teaching effectiveness (85 percent), and student interaction (84 percent). One other somewhat surprising consequence of involvement was that over half of the respondents gained opportunities for research/scholarship as well as grants and awards due in part to their involvement in these diversity efforts. Although this was not reported to be a primary motivator, it may help to maintain and perhaps broaden faculty involvement in diversity initiatives.

One-third of the respondents indicated that they experienced an increase in prestige/status in their discipline due to their involvement; another third also reported being stigmatized by their participation. These findings call for additional research on the questions of status and stigmatization.


This study on the factors that influenced faculty involvement in diversity curriculum initiatives is only a beginning. In order to more thoroughly understand the motivating factors affecting faculty involvement, additional research is needed. This study documents how and why faculty get involved in diversity efforts and underscores the need to examine faculty involvement further to develop ways to increase participation. A clearer understanding of faculty motivation will help college officials, administrators, and faculty to implement programs and policies that define diversity as an essential component of a quality undergraduate education in the twenty-first century.

back to top

Patricia Helton
Patricia Helton