Increasing equity and student success through a campus-wide curriculum revamp
Watch the video and keep reading below to learn more about Long Beach City College’s Cultural Curriculum Audit Team
When a group of faculty at Long Beach City College saw their school ranked next to last in student success, especially among students who face long-standing systemic barriers linked to their racial and ethnic identities, they set out to come up with creative solutions to support students.
Through a collaborative and values-driven process, faculty members including Verónica Álvarez, M.A., Priscilla Bravo Arias, M.S., Jerome Hunt, Ph.D., Wendy Koenig, Ph.D., Suman Mudunuri, M.B.A., and Michael Robertson, M.A. lead the Cultural Curriculum Audit program to help their peers redesign courses through an equity lens. Faculty members across the campus are invited to opt-in to the audit process, and if they do, they receive support to update their courses to be more culturally relevant and their teaching approaches to be more inclusive and welcoming.
Every subject can integrate content that is relevant to the social and cultural forces that impact students’ lives. For example, a biology class at the college added a lesson on disparities in life expectancy based on different demographics to help students understand how factors like race, wealth, and geography affect individual health outcomes.
The team behind the Cultural Curriculum Audits knows the importance of representation. Arias, a microbiology professor who also serves as the Cultural Curriculum Audit coordinator, has experienced firsthand why an equity approach is critical to student satisfaction and support in higher education: “I’m a daughter of immigrants and the first person in my family to go to college, so I really got lost in the system. I didn’t know what to do. When I looked at my faculty, I didn’t see myself represented. I didn’t see folks who looked like me. The only place where I saw myself reflected in the halls of academia was among custodial and facility staff, because I never had a person of color as my educator.”
This program has confirmed just how much students value visibility and belonging. “I want to feel included and welcome when I enter the classroom,” said student trustee Richard Blackmon. “I want to feel like I’m being represented and that it’s not just the same lesson that the teachers are giving every single semester, every year, something that [they’ve] been doing for so many years. I think that’s what these classes have really shown me is that it’s not just something that’s the same old, same old.”
The cultural curriculum approach demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing equity and inclusivity by building a welcoming environment for students–as well as for staff. “I think one of the biggest impacts for me has been to feel like I can step into a leadership role,” says Suman Mudunuri, an assistant professor of computer and office studies who served as the college’s faculty professional development coordinator at the beginning of the audit. “We began to feel like our college truly started to care about equity and inclusion. And really, I think we started to feel like our voices mattered. The impact that it made on us as faculty of color has really allowed us to shine in a way that none of us had ever expected.”
Recently, Mudunuri became the academic senate president, breaking barriers as the second woman of color in 95 years and the first Asian American to ever assume this position. Alongside Christine Charles-Bohannon who is now the assistant president, they are making history as the first two women of color ever to lead the Academic Senate at Long Beach City College.
“I remember being in the first audit that was created with Suman, and I remember her speaking up and saying that she didn’t see herself in the culture of the curriculum when she was a student,” said Arias. “Even then, at that point in time at Long Beach City College, she didn’t know where she belonged. I just remember thinking this woman is so inspiring. And that it’s not just me. We can change this. And it’s just amazing to see how much change has happened in, really, a short amount of time.”
The team leading the Cultural Curriculum Audit is disrupting traditional, top-down approaches to leadership through a collective approach. “What really has allowed the Cultural Curriculum Audit to occur has been the very collaborative effort of not only our faculty, but really the concerted connection and effort of the entire campus,” said Mudunuri. “From our administration all the way to our faculty leadership and our Senate administration, [we] all really came together and made a decision that we wanted to break through those equity gaps that have just been sitting there year after year after year.”
The work is truly homegrown; it started as a group of dedicated faculty coming together to dive into the curriculum, teaching approaches and assessment strategies, in order to and look for ways to close equity gaps. The program has expanded with a dedicated team, and the creation of Arias’ audit coordinator position was an important step to demonstrate Long Beach City’s institutional commitment to advancing equity.
Faculty have rallied around the program. Almost every faculty member in a leadership role on campus has gone through the audit, infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the campus. Instructors also have the opportunity to go one step further in embracing an equitable approach to designing assignments, grading and student outreach. The Cultural Curriculum Audit team works with them to develop transparent assignments, which clarify the purpose and expectations for students so they have a seamless path to success.
Instructors are also encouraged to demonstrate trust and flexibility, for example, making room for students to submit late assignments if a personal conflict prevents on-time submission. And if they notice low engagement or inconsistent attendance, instructors are encouraged to reach out to students. This level of care makes a huge difference for students, who are more likely to stay in school and complete their degrees if they feel seen and supported.
Now, the Long Beach City College team is making sure this breakthrough is available to other colleges and universities. They’ve published their content to Canvas Commons, inviting anyone who is interested to view their approach and draw lessons to apply to their own contexts.
The Cultural Curriculum Audit team demonstrates the power of faculty collaboration and a deep commitment to equity at every step: from building a diverse, cross-departmental team, to updating course content for cultural relevance, to creating equitable assessment processes. And all of the partners who power this campus movement are working toward a shared vision of student belonging and success.
“What’s really beautiful about this team of leaders is that all of us are really focused on the student,” said Mudunuri. “It’s not about me, the faculty member. It’s about our students. We really love what we do and we want to see the students succeed.”
This feature is part of College Futures Foundation’s Leaders Driving Change recognition series. Through this series, we are lifting up leaders, institutions, and organizations committed to equitable, student-centered support and a culture of continuous improvement. We are showcasing leaders and teams who are easing student transitions, providing holistic student supports, and prioritizing equity and inclusivity. Learn more.