Current trends in higher education tell us that equity and diversity are issues of critical importance. Student cohorts are rapidly diversifying in an era internationalisation. This is signified by proportional increases in students from minority groups including those defined by, for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, family composition, age, and economic status. Teaching and learning is evolving at a slower rate than student cohorts are diversifying and barriers faced by students are inequitable. Students from minority groups face greater challenges than their ‘traditional’ counterparts in achieving academic success as a result. These inequitable attainment gaps can arise from students’ having low sense of belonging in their university, cultural and language barriers, being bullied or harassed on campus, feeling a sense of alienation as their university environment, culture, and curriculum fails to reflect their diverse identities. Such gaps fail to close the discriminatory social divides in our society which, arguably, can and should be one of the main roles played by education.

The Developing Inclusive Science Curriculum (DISC) project

In the Faculty of Science at UTS, a group of 30 undergraduate students and 25 staff has come together to work in partnership to address some of these issues in the curriculum. The Developing Inclusive Science Curriculum (DISC) project, initiated and led by Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone and supported by a Social Impact Grant from the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, was launched in July 2019. The DISC project aims to develop, implement, and evaluate targeted initiatives to enhance curricula and culture in the Faculty of Science to be inclusive and representative of diverse people, resources, approaches, and knowledges.

There will be six areas of focus of the project—generated collaboratively by DISC members—including: the Indigenous graduate attribute and the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; Inclusion and representation of diverse genders and sexualities; developing and enhancing accessible curricula; improving international students’ experiences; supporting students from low socioeconomic backgrounds; and developing an holistic Faculty approach to inclusion.

Student reflections

The project is taking a student-staff partnership approach to co-create solutions to these complex inclusion issues—drawing on the diverse experiences and expertise of students and staff within and beyond the faculty. Two students engaged in the project share their early reflections of the purpose and process so far:

I’m lucky to have faced very little prejudice in my life personally and my heritage (not necessarily my gender) is well represented within the STEM curriculum. When the opportunity to contribute to the DISC working group was presented, I considered my own understanding of inclusivity and was uncomfortable with my lack of awareness and consideration of minority experiences. I felt unsure if I would be able to bring much to the table having lived a comparatively privileged life but I recognised the potential for my participation to provide valuable learning experiences and push me out of my comfort zone. All people have the right to see themselves represented within the curriculum and to feel a sense of belonging. Diversifying the STEM curriculum to provide role models and recognition of the contributions made by people from minority groups will benefit all students. Our first DISC meeting was well organised to guide us through reflection on our own experiences, creating communication guidelines and outlining inclusivity definitions. I left feeling much more at ease with my ability to add value to the project and excited about what we might be able to achieve.

-Victoria Turner, second-year Environmental Science student, UTS

I’m at a point in my life where I’d like to learn more about what it means to be truly inclusive of all people and how universities can embody that. And so, after hearing about the ‘Developing Inclusive Science Curricula’ (DISC) program, I was curious as to how people would organise around such a program in the UTS environment. Especially with the current social climate and the increasing focus on equity and ‘diversity’. The first DISC meeting was an equity taster of sorts. The assortment of activities encouraged people to reflect on and share their experiences, engaging people in the different struggles people experience and beginnings of areas to address in future meetings. I look forward to future meetings and developing a more holistic experience with the members of the DISC program!

Nour El-Houda El-zmeter, fourth-year Science/Creative Intelligence and Innovation student, UTS

If you would like to know more about DISC, contact Dr Lucy Mercer-Mapstone.

Feature image by Shahadat Shemul.

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