Professors: Class syllabi show lack of representation among genders

A new study from a group of academics at Washington University in St. Louis alleges that there is a problem with gender and ethnic representation in curricula.

The professor behind the study called for universities to create a collection of female and other minority authors from which professors looking to diversify their syllabi can pull.

A group of students and professors at Washington University in St. Louis published a study highlighting alleged disparities in gender and minority representation within the university curricula.

Merriah Croston, a doctoral student in public health sciences at Washington University, and Ellen Hutti, a Master’s of public health student and Master’s research fellow at the Clark-Fox Policy Institute at Washington University, co-authored the recent study with Washington University professors Jenine Harris and Amy Eyler.

The study, titled “Diversify the Syllabi: Underrepresentation of Female Authors in College Course Readings,” was published in the journal PLOS ONE in October and found that female scholars are underrepresented in college course materials required at universities in the United States. The study analyzed the syllabi of 129 courses at one large private university.

The study found that around one-third of syllabi materials had women as the primary author and two-thirds had a man as the primary author.

The study’s authors hope that this paper’s circulation in the academic field will help shed light on the alleged gender disparities within the academic field and increase minority representation throughout syllabus material. 

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Harris and Eyler do not believe this issue is without a solution, however, as they propose a new system through which educators can incorporate a more diverse selection of authors into their syllabi requirements. 

“And it is completely fixable,” Eyler said, according to the press release. “This paper helps to increase awareness of the disparity, so instructors can intentionally create a more equitable reading list.”

For example, the authors suggest in their study that readings developed by underrepresented groups can possibly be put in a “central location” that is easy to access.

”Finally, to aid faculty in identifying readings by underrepresented groups more easily, we recommend the development of reading collections that faculty can draw from,” the study states. These collections could ideally be housed in a central location, perhaps on discipline-specific professional association websites or discipline neutral locations like the website for The Chronicle of Higher Education.”