Ten large-enrollment courses at UC Berkeley have changed their approach to incorporate more inclusive and anti-racist curriculums and teaching strategies.
Motivated by campus graduate students who wanted to see increased inclusivity in the sciences, the changes took place in courses within campus’s department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, or ESPM; Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology; and Integrative Biology.
“It acknowledges that the curriculum is not neutral and is formulated by white academics,” ESPM department chair Michael Mascarenhas said. “It challenges that tradition and recognizes the fact that students are coming from diverse backgrounds, asking for diverse careers and moving the curriculum to meet these demands.”
Following a list of demands sent to the ESPM faculty by the graduate student community in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, campus ESPM assistant professor Benjamin Blonder co-authored a toolkit for advancing inclusion and anti-racism in classrooms.
The following summer, Blonder spearheaded a project that paired graduate students with instructors of large-enrollment classes to improve their curriculums using the toolkit.
“By improving class structure and instructor practices, we have an (ability) to multiply our impact on all of the students who take these classes, and help them have a positive and meaningful learning experience,” Blonder said in an email. “The summer’s efforts are aimed at helping all students succeed in their education.”
Mascarenhas added that the courses in the ESPM department have changed their pedagogy to include a more diverse set of scholars, address issues surrounding equity and inclusion and find ways to evaluate students while keeping their different backgrounds in mind.
Campus graduate students Ali Bhatti and Ja’Nya Banks were tasked with improving the Biology 1B curriculum. After reviewing student feedback, they developed the idea of “lecture pods,” collaborative groups where students could discuss the lecture material with their peers, Bhatti noted.
According to Bhatti, their goal was to create an inclusive environment, especially for freshmen who might not be part of a campus community yet.
“UC Berkeley has always been seen as a trailblazer, especially in the field of science, but what sometimes gets lost is how the students of this institution feel,” Bhatti said. “We recognize that students come from different backgrounds and historically marginalized communities.”
Mascarenhas noted that this project is part of a larger movement in the department to create an anti-racist and anti-patriarchal curriculum.
The new changes have already been put into place this semester and will remain for future semesters to come, according to Blonder.
“We made some substantial improvements that are going to positively impact students in the coming years, and that are also going to change instructor attitudes and practices into the longer-term future,” Blonder said in the email.