Strengthening DEI&B in Course Materials

Published: 1/31/2024

Reading Time: 4 minutes

At Cengage, we have both a desire and an obligation to create experiences and solutions that center the voices, lived experiences and realities of the truly diverse demographics of students, educators and administrators we serve. And, while we recognize there is still so much work to be done to create truly equitable workplaces and campuses, we welcome the widespread commitment to doing better by each other as a starting point.  

Our own DEI&B evolution has been inspired in part by the diversity of our own Cengage workforce, and in equal measure by the educators, thought leaders and experts with whom we work. For example, we work with dedicated authors who diligently follow our robust diversity and inclusivity guidelines when developing content.

Our commitment is strongly manifested in our learning materials across the subjects of Psychology, Sociology, History, Political Science and Anatomy and Physiology. In fact, our Sociology team has adopted three guiding principles to ensure the materials they produce are inclusive of and welcoming to all learners: 1) Students deserve educational products that accurately represent the full diversity of the world they live in. 2) Students deserve educational products that eschew bias in all forms — whether based in race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, nationality, religious difference, occupation or any combination of the above. 3) Students deserve the benefit that access to multiple and diverse perspectives will bring to their study of Sociology and to their sense of belonging within the academic community. 

DEI&B: Here’s exactly what we’re doing 

 Here’s a glimpse at how we’re ensuring that DEI&B isn’t just a catch-phrase we throw around on our website, but instead is a fully integrated part of our instructional design process, in the social sciences and beyond:  

1. We’re doubling down on diverse visual representation 

“In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.” – Maya Angelou 

As many students and faculty have voiced in recent years, there is still not enough diverse representation in higher education learning materials. Visual representation matters greatly. Accordingly, we in conjunction with our authors, are making sure the imagery in our textbooks and products reflects the broad array of races, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds found in the wider population.  

Visual representation isn’t just about showing diverse people, though. It’s also about ensuring that any visual scenarios portrayed – images of people in a Psychology or Political Science textbook, for example – don’t reflect stereotypes or inaccurate and hurtful characterizations. 

2. We’re revising our language and our ideas 

“A different language is a different vision of life.” -Federico Fellini  

The words we choose to use in our materials are on the front lines of ensuring a diverse, equitable and inclusive learning education experience for all students. Bias, whether subtle or overt, in learning materials can create feelings of alienation and hurt among students.  

From checking rigorously for written bias to increasing the use of inclusive language across our learning materials – we believe in the value of written words and of a more nuanced and empathetic language to help every student feel more closely tied to their learning experiences.  

How are we delivering on this? We are using an in-depth language guide to help us update titles for sensitivity and inclusivity. For example, we are ensuring that the names used in any examples reflect a culturally diverse student population, as well as those that may be used by men, women and gender nonconforming individuals. And, we are replacing any problematic descriptors with those that are widely understood to be preferred at this time. Beyond this, we are checking that any scenarios described reflect diverse people, interests and perspectives and that we don’t make assumptions about shared experiences that might alienate some learners. Relatedly, we are ensuring that textbooks don’t make assumptions about a college student’s knowledge, experience, age, background, work experience or life situation.  

As important as words are, so, too, are the ideas behind them. Part of our process involves working with subject matter experts to conduct a deeper examination of the ideas and norms that have long been conveyed as fact.  

For example, we have reviewed our Anatomy and Physiology curriculum to ensure updated information is conveyed. According to Dr. Liz Co’s “Anatomy & Physiology,” the content “challenges them [students] to take a broader look at the cultural assumptions that have an impact on anatomy and medicine.”  

 3. We’re checking for bias in the numbers

“Bias distorts perception and blinds us to the potential of others.” -Sonia Sotomayor 

It’s commonly said that, “the numbers don’t lie.” Yet, without a concerted effort to prevent it, bias can very easily be introduced and perpetuated in numerical examples and contexts.  

This is true of comparative data, as well as average values in the sciences. Many of the averages that have long been touted as realistic are, in fact, derived from measurements that aren’t largely true of women, People of Color, and economically marginalized demographics.  

On our end, we’re examining the values we convey in our textbooks and ensuring our numbers are accurate and relevant to diverse demographics. We’re ceaselessly checking for numerical bias and mitigating it where we see it.  

4. We’re asking students to think empathetically and critically to make deeper connections between people and learning

“Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.” -Rosalind Franklin

One of the most important aspects of our DEI&B work is this: when students have access to information that challenges how they think about the world and are able to make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information, they are more likely to, themselves, become open-minded and empathetic thinkers. With that in mind, we’re always looking for opportunities to help students make those cross-disciplinary connections, and we urge them to read between the lines of the information in their textbooks.   

To that end, we have added Cultural Connections sections to our textbooks, drawing links between culture and science. The practice of meditation in Tibet, for example, is not just a cultural practice. It is proven to change the human response to stress, and lower blood pressure. Students benefit from this cross-curricular knowledge.  

Addressing realities, and explaining the systemic inequities surrounding them, can give students a clearer picture of the world in which they live, and why things are the way they are. For some students, asking them to think more critically about these connections may light the spark of an idea that could ultimately create a more equitable society.  

 

We believe diversity and inclusion can advance the way students learn. Read more about our commitment to DEI&B.  

 

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