CONNECT Fellows Work with Student Group to Assess Curriculum Diversity

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August 29, 2020
CONNECT Fellows Work with Student Group to Assess Curriculum Diversity

Graduate students in the Policy Alliance for Communities of Color (PACC) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs led an initiative with CONNECT fellows to complete two data projects this summer around diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the LBJ School.  

“The reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement and the recognition that Black Lives Matter all over the world, inspired us to look critically and methodologically at what the average MGPS student is exposed to as they complete their degree,” said LBJ student and PACC member Edda Pleitez.  

PACC is a student-led organization with the mission of promoting awareness and understanding of policy issues affecting communities of color by initiating dialogue, activities, and programs within the LBJ School community. Currently, the organization has approximately 80 members, including students from both the Public Affairs (MPAff) and Global Policy Studies (MGPS) programs at the LBJ School.  

Edda and fellow PACC representative and PACC Co-chair Azeem Edwin, met with CONNECT staff early this summer to discuss how the CONNECT program, and the RGK Center more broadly, could support PACC in their efforts to improve the experience of LBJ students of color. PACC had already identified this data collection, analysis, and visualization as a project they wanted to complete, so CONNECT matched the project to graduate students who had previously participated in CONNECT, supplying the fellows with financial packages to acknowledge their participation in the program.  

“As the Class of 2021 MGPS students went through their first year, many of us noticed the dearth of diversity when it came to the readings and authors that were featured in our core classes,” said Edda Pleitez, a second year MGPS student. “The supermajority of literature was male, white, and wrote from a Western-based perspective.”  

The first part of the project comprised of gathering data about the race/ethnicity, gender, and nationality of authors listed in both programs’ core courses. This included 15 individual professors’ courses in the MGPS program and four courses in the MPAff program, organized by course title. Data was pulled from 2019-2020 course syllabi.  

"The LBJ School has been intentionally cultivating diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the school, with a focus on composition, culture and curriculum," said Angela Evans, dean of the LBJ School. "As policy practitioners and scholars, we need to approach DEI in the context of preparing our students to lead policy deliberations that result in change.”

Megha Joshi, the CONNECT fellow matched with the project, is a Ph.D. student in the College of Education’s Educational Psychology Quantitative Methods program. After gathering and analyzing the data, she saw that the results supported what Edda and other PACC had guessed—the majority of authors featured in professors’ syllabi were male and a large percentage were white.  

“I thought it was really interesting and important to make changes to make the syllabi more representative of scholars in the field,"” Megha said.  

Megha worked closely with PACC representatives to determine how to present this data in a way that was easy to understand. PACC presented the data in a proposal to LBJ faculty this summer. 

PACC Graph
Excerpt from the report analyzing the gender distribution of authors in the MGPS core curriculum.  

“This report was quantifiable evidence of the current state of the curriculum and it was important to shed light on it,” said Edda. “We hope the faculty at LBJ use this report to reflect on their own courses, dig into this work, and diversify their syllabi. It is merely a starting point, but we really look forward to the change this will kick-off.”   

"The LBJ School is proud to be part of the national movement to infuse graduate policy education with a robust lens of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, associate dean of civic engagement at the LBJ School. “We are working with the GPS Graduate Studies Committee and other higher ed institutions and associations to move forward on several important curriculum initiatives.” 

The second part of PACC’s data project involved collecting and analyzing the organization’s historical documents, especially those containing information about the various ways PACC has advocated for LBJ students. Eboneigh Harris, a Ph.D. student with the Department of Educational Psychology, was the CONNECT fellow assigned to this project. After gathering relevant documents from alumni and other sources, they organized data from these documents into a searchable Excel sheet. They then synthesized the data into a report for PACC leadership containing common themes in the documents, including information about wages and the lack of diverse curriculum.  

As an involved member of the Graduate Student Council in the College of Education, Eboneigh was impressed with PACC’s continuity and consistency as an organization.  

“I was interested to see how they’re organizing themselves and the way they’re bringing action forward year to year,” Eboneigh said. “It’s really lit a fire in me to figure out ways to transfer and transition new people in [with the GSC] and that the information, goals, and drive are still there.” 

Edda acknowledged that PACC is not the first student group to call attention to issues such as a lack of diverse curriculum within the LBJ School, and that the PACC students leading this data project were inspired by the efforts of their predecessors. PACC acknowledges the work of the following students to produce this report: 

  • Megan Morris
  • Taylor  Foody
  • Clare Kane
  • Samantha Jorgensen
  • Azeem Edwin
  • Sahand Yazdanyar
  • John Fossum
  • Emma Israel
  • Olivia Hay
  • Olivia Muelberger


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