Dr. Jálin B. Johnson is a renowned J.E.D.I. Strategist. She is the Principal and Executive Producer of Insufferable Academics, LLC. In addition to her tenure as a strategist and leadership consultant, Dr. Johnson has contributed to publications including Higher Education Digest, Inside Higher Education, the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID), where she is a Diversity Scholars Network member; and The International Journal of Diversity in Education where you will find her Experience Context & Perspective (ECP) framework. A former elected member of Faculty governance, she also served as an inaugural Senior Diversity Officer & Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion, a standing Institutional Review Board (IRB) member, a doctoral dissertation chair, an inaugural AAUW (branch) Diversity Chair, a Competency Based Education (CBE), DEI certification, Ethics, Human Resources, MBA, Public Administration and Organizational Leadership synchronous and asynchronous curriculum developer, while also serving as a member of the Chancellor’s cabinet, to a 26 campus distributed university system.
In the early fall of 2023, I shared the hashtag #WeAreTheCitation as part of a social media calling associated with amplifying the voices of Black Women and members of the global majority within higher education and in spaces of scholarship.
Much like the embraced call to “Cite Black Women” (Smith, 2017), noting that “We are the citation” incites recognition. Doing so requires acknowledgment that the lived experiences of members of minoritized groups are significant and add valued perspectives to scholarly discussion. Additionally, this call denotes that these experiences should be equally valued among commonly cited authors and scholars within institutions of higher education (IHEs). One path towards honoring these lived experiences is accomplished by highlighting them alongside those from groups considered predominant within Western-influenced, IHE scholarship.
Throughout the years I have heard from educators and curriculum developers that the work of such authors and scholars is not readily included among student-facing resources, (including bibliographies, literature reviews, and library databases, within a given curriculum), at a number of IHEs. ‘Diversity in publishing’ (Lee & Low Books, et al., 2016) for example, is studied and takes care to document this ongoing journey. While there may be an undeniable observance of a deficit in Black publishers and authors, represented among the list of scholarly references within a number of IHEs, there are Black authors, sharing valuable lived experiences, to choose from, for inclusion among the proposed recommended reading list. With concerted effort, these narratives and those via folx from an array of backgrounds can be made accessible to students in search of references needed to explain a variety of phenomena in scholarly spaces.
During my tenure as a Professor, a curriculum developer, a curriculum team & accreditation team lead, and within the education consulting space, I have advised educators, content developers, and instructional designers on steps they may utilize to diversify the content that students will draw upon within a given course of study, via multiple modalities.
While curating and adding these enhancements to curricula and course or program learning objectives may take time, the positive impact on our students, derived from accessing a broader worldview through windows into the lived experiences of others, is an achievable process.
As a starting point, below are four (4) areas of focus for learning & development teams, striving to broaden the scope of lived experiences represented among their student-facing body of resources:
1. Unfamiliar does not equate unknown. Begin with researching authors whose lived experiences differ from those on your current reading list. Initiatives including the African-American Read-In (AARI), (launched in 1990 via the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English), and Black-owned bookstores, are great places to begin. Include diversifying your scholarly reading list among the objectives your faculty, course custodians, and/or PLC leads take on as a priority this year. These authors already have eager audiences, now you may join them.
2. Context Matters. The need for valuing frames of reference we don’t recognize due to differing lived experiences is imperative. Kinthaert (2023), like myself, recently ran across the NY Times piece (2023), that examined the lived experiences of Black authors, literary agents, marketers, publicists, editors, and booksellers, who offered insight into the context with which they view their professions and how that is expressed in their respective crafts. The richness of their perspectives offers an additional example of why lived experience adds to the tapestry students can glean from, as they inform their own scholarly journeys within IHEs.
3. Including authors from an array of backgrounds does not negatively impact rigor. As a consultant to curriculum development teams and professional learning communities, I have been in the room when someone has said, “But if we bring in too many personal stories like these, it will lessen academic rigor.”
During one of my earliest round tables with several dozen doctoral students (two-thirds, describing themselves as persons of color), I listened to them share a number of disappointments they harbored about the required reading and assignments within their program. A recurring concern from students who participated in this discussion was that there was a “lack of representation” in their program’s learning, from authors whose lived experiences they could identify with, or from those whose lived experiences spoke to their journey from the lens of a ‘person of color.”
4. Perspectives are subjective. We must recognize that our colleagues’ perspectives have been shaped by their lived experiences (as noted within the ECP framework (Johnson, 2019)) and in turn, influence the context with which they view the development of course content, thus influencing and shaping the perspectives they offer students within the classroom and in assigned coursework. It is our responsibility as educators to broaden our own scope and frame of reference equal to what we ask of our students.
Honoring lived experience within academia allows for a coalescence of ideas, enhancing diversity cognizance, yielding greater representation, and offering more opportunities for many of our students to see a range of identities within the curriculum. Acknowledging that the lived experiences of members of minoritized groups are both significant and valued added perspectives, enhances scholarly discussion. Students seeking to see themselves, in addition to students who have varied backgrounds, eager to learn more about cultures that may be distinct to them, will benefit from this informed recognition.