Rigor as Inclusive Practice

Thursday, August 31, 2023, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, Inn on Boltwood

The Provost's Retreat on Teaching and Learning offers an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues before the semester begins, explore pedagogical ideas, and celebrate our teaching and learning successes. This year's theme is "Rigor as Inclusive Practice."

Rigor is a complicated concept; our definitions are informed by our own backgrounds, experiences, and training. What do we mean by rigor? Do we need to use a different term or set of terms to more transparently convey what we mean? Why does this conversation matter? On college campuses across the country, faculty, staff, and administrations are grappling with how to equitably and effectively address the student well-being crisis and disparities in students’ ability to engage in the work they are expected to do for our classes. At times, these conversations put key characteristics of an Amherst education in seeming tension. How can we maintain the compassion towards students that the Amherst College community has instituted as a result of increased awareness of systemic racism and lessons from teaching and learning through the pandemic? At the same time, is it possible, or even desirable, to work toward re-instilling pre-pandemic academic expectations? This Provost Retreat provides an opportunity for our community to engage these tensions - to unpack and refine our sense of “rigor” in order to identify pedagogical strategies and ways of being in the classroom that meet the multiple competing needs in our courses and curricula. What are our expectations for students’ intellectual engagement? Why? How do these expectations align with supporting students (and ourselves) as whole beings in the classroom? How do we redefine “rigor” as a deeply inclusive practice? How can we empower students to build on and expand their strengths and step into taking thoughtful intellectual risk? 

Keynote Speakers

Loretta Ross - "Calling In: An Inclusive Practice for Building a Rigorous Intellectual Community"

Loretta J. Ross is an activist, public intellectual, scholar, the 2022 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" award and an Associate Professor at Smith College. She has a passion for innovating creative imagining about global human rights and social justice issues and started her career in activism and social change in the 1970s. In 1978, she was the third executive director for DC Rape Crisis Center, the first rape crisis center in the country. This was her entry point into the women’s movement where she learned about women’s human rights, reproductive justice, white supremacy, and women of color organizing. Through her organizing she helped launch the movement to end violence against women that has evolved into today's #MeToo movement. Throughout her 50-year career, she has worked with the National Football League Players' Association, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Black Women's Health Project, the Center for Democratic Renewal (National Anti-Klan Network), the National Center for Human Rights Education, and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

Loretta retired as an organizer in 2012 to teach and follow her passion to educate. In 1996, she founded the first center in the U.S. to innovate creative human rights education for all students transforming social justice issues to be more collaborative and less divisive. In her work Calling In the Calling Out Culture, she transforms how people can overcome political differences to use empathy and respect to guide difficult conversations. In 2023, Loretta was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Theodore Mason - "Threading the Needle: Making Good on the Promise of Rigor"

imageTed Mason is a scholar of African American literature and culture. As a teacher and scholar he is particularly interested in how narrative can foster a sense of cultural belonging and create an effective counter-history. He is also a transformative leader in higher education as well as in diversity, equity and inclusion. He began his academic career at the University of Virginia, where he helped develop the Carter G. Woodson Institute. He has been on the faculty of Kenyon College since 1989, where he is now a Professor of English. He has chaired that department and has directed the program in African Diaspora Studies. In addition, he served a term as Kenyon’s John B. McCoy-Bank One Distinguished Teaching Professor and has been a Teagle Foundation Teaching Fellow for the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA). In 2015 he began working in academic administration, becoming Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Senior Adviser to the President, and Kenyon’s Chief Diversity Officer. In those roles he helps coordinate Kenyon’s DEI and Anti-Racism efforts across the college. Beyond Kenyon, he has been President of the International Society for the Study of Narrative Literature, as well as President of the Associated Departments of English. He is currently Co-President and Co-Chair of the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Consortium and is also a member of the advisory board for the GLCA's virtual teaching and learning center. He holds a B.A. in American Studies from Wesleyan University and a Ph.D in English from Stanford University.


Amherst login required for some of the resources below.
Resources from the breakout sessions and keynote addresses

Bennett, J. (2020, November 19). What if instead of calling people out, we called them in? The New York Times. 

Manoush Zomorodi. (Host). (2021, December 3). Loretta J. Ross: What if we call people in, rather than calling them out? TED Radio Hour. National Public Radio, Inc. [Listen to the podcast.]

Ross, L. J. (2021, August). Don't call people out -- call them in. Ted Talks. [Watch the 14-minute video or read the transcript.]

Ross, L. J. (2019, August 17). I'm a black feminist. I think call-out culture is toxic [Opinion]. The New York Times.

Ross, L. J. (2019). Speaking up without tearing downTeaching Tolerance61, 19-22.

Additional Resources: 

Braxton, J., & Francis, C. (2018). The influence of academic rigor on factors related to college student persistence. New Directions for Higher Education 181, 73-87.

Brooks, J., & McGurk, J. (2022, October 6). Rigor as Inclusive Practice. [Listen to the 36-minute podcast.] [Columbia University CTL webpage for this and additional podcasts about rigor.]

Campbell, C., Dortch, D., & Burt, B. (2018). Reframing rigor: a modern look at challenge and support in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education 181, 11-24.

Chew, S. (2023, March 20). The (often misconstrued) relationship between learning, effort, and difficulty The Teaching Professor.

Draeger, J., del Prado Hill, P., Hunter, L.R, et al. (2013). The anatomy of academic rigor: the story of one institutional journey. Innov High Edu 38, 267-279. 

Draeger, J., del Prado Hill, P., & Mahler, R. (2015). Developing a student conception of academic rigor. Innov High Educ 40, 215–228.

Gannon, K. (2023). Why calls for a ‘Return to Rigor’ are wrong: what’s the point of pursuing “solutions” that exacerbate student disengagement, the very problem they are supposed to solve? The Chronicle of Higher Education 69 (20).

Jack, J., & Sathy, V. (2021). It’s time to cancel the word ‘Rigor’: if it’s code for ‘some students deserve to be here, and some don’t,’ then it needs to go. The Chronicle of Higher Education 68 (4).

Wolf, M. (2019). Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper.

photos from the 2022 Retreat showing attendees interacting

Schedule for the Day

8:30 - 9:00  Continental Breakfast

9:00 - 11:15  Welcome and Ted Mason Keynote 

11:15 - 12:30  Breakout Sessions

12:30 - 1:15  Lunch

1:30 - 2:45  Panel

2:45 - 4:00  Loretta Ross Keynote

4:00  Reception