Semester Prep: Pursuing Diversity in Composition Course Syllabi
Posted on January 2, 2013
The semester doesn’t start until mid-January, but I’m back at work to prepare for my classes and get some writing done. First, though, I need to clean this mess. A semester’s worth of paper and notes and Arby’s napkins and mail and newspapers and magazines and trash piled up before I could stop it, and now it’s just plain embarrassing to be in here.
So today is office cleaning day. I already got a good start by re-organizing my Doctor Who wall, including my two brand-new posters from The Geekerie. Next up: sort through leftover papers, file away last semester’s readings, and re-organize the bulletin board full of my daughter’s art. Then I can start my syllabus work.
Last year, my first as a full-time instructor, I kept a spreadsheet next to my desk of all of the writers I assigned my students to read in their basic composition course. I made it after I had written the syllabus, and I categorized them by race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. I was disheartened by what I found. Despite my efforts, a majority of my readings were still by men, and only 35% of the writers I had assigned were people of color.
Not acceptable. The fact that I use a pre-assigned textbook is not a good enough excuse for this lack of diversity in the texts I assign. I tend to approach composition as a setting where college students are first learning to think in an academically appropriate way. If that’s true, how I can justify introducing students to such a homogenous group of voices and say, “This is what thinking and writing is supposed to look like.”
Why should straight, white men make up the majority of my class readings? Straight, white men just barely make up the majority of my rosters. Voices of men like Tim Wise and Tim O’Brien and John McPhee are valuable and important, but I hate the idea of contributing to a tradition where majority voices are the only ones heard and interacted with in freshman composition courses. I’m supposed to give students models for thinking and writing, and they’re just not going to get a variety of models if the majority of their assignments are written by people with very similar race, gender, and religious backgrounds.
So today I’m in for a challenge: put together a syllabus that more accurately introduces freshmen to diverse thinkers and writers.
Any recommendations for me? I’m looking for short works that are available online and do any of the following things:
- analyze a concept
- argue a position
- research a topic
- propose a solution to a problem
- describe a memory