For Ryan Kerr, MA, associate professor of English, the need for equity, diversity, and inclusion, or EDI, is obvious. “We know there are success or equity gaps in education for certain groups,” said Kerr. “Because these things have been happening since early childhood for some, it just compounds, and since we have inequity walk in our doors at Elgin Community College, we have to do something to help with it.”
Doing something about inequity in education has become a central part of Kerr’s focus on an institutional level and within his department and classroom. Kerr is a core member of the faculty group TIDE-Teaching/Learning for Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity, is active in providing contributions to the Multicultural and Global Initiatives Committee (MAGIC), and continues to consult on various Student Success Infrastructure (SSI) projects.
Within Kerr’s classroom, utilizing an EDI lens in the content he presents and how it is presented have become priorities. Kerr has made specific EDI-driven changes such as rewriting syllabi to enhance how students can be successful instead of how they can be unsuccessful. Within grading, Kerr adjusted his late work policy, giving all students a week extension, recognizing that they have many other obligations other than his class. “I’m still holding my students to the same standard,” said Kerr. “They still have to produce good quality work, but giving that little wiggle room has helped some students who have other things on their plate.”
In addition to changing the late work policy, Kerr allows each student to resubmit any assignment for a better grade. Each change made is to recognize that some students may struggle for many different reasons, and he has the ability to give them a chance to reach a high standard without lowering it. “The point of equity is to give everyone what they need to reach the same levels of success, the same levels of excellence,” said Kerr. “That’s one of the big things I’ve done, and try to promote others to do similar things.”
Kerr has pushed for more diverse texts and authors to be more than an add-on to the curriculum within the actual content taught in his classroom. “It needs to be in the core DNA of the course,” said Kerr. Kerr likes to begin classes where the first week includes discussions on different types of content that represent racial groups, ethnicities, and disabilities. These discussions help set a framework for the class to build upon throughout the semester. He recalls reading and discussing a novel with his class centered around a Black mother and white father, leading to one of his students, who is biracial, explaining they had never seen themselves represented in a book before and how positive that experience was for them. By sharing content bound in EDI, students can see themselves, sometimes represented for the first time.
As Kerr works through different methods of creating a more equitable classroom and department, he’ll share his findings not only through TIDE but with friends that can also utilize the positive changes he’s adopted. Kerr’s initial push to be active in equity work originated in a teaching experience before ECC.
Kerr was employed at a school with a student body that was majority African American and was encouraged to adopt a policy that led with a firm hand, inflexible deadlines, and locking classroom doors after him, leading to an overall negative atmosphere the students easily picked up on. With a district that dealt with a lot of poverty and the school unable to provide more than one computer lab, a simple grace period concerning assignments and late work could have significantly influenced some students. “I’ve pushed myself at ECC to not fall into those patterns of antagonism,” said Kerr. “It’s much more valuable for the students and myself not to focus antagonistically but still hold them to those high standards.”