Who chooses which courses meet the race and ethnicity requirements?
“Policing Diversity”: a professor calls out to his university
Race and ethnicity requirements were in high demand last year following a nationwide campaign to diversify curriculum. On campuses across the country, student activists urged administrators to deliver more classes on the experiences of people of color and the issue of racial justice.
A number of colleges have decided to do so, but on some campuses choosing what content meets the requirements is proving to be more controversial than expected.
At Emory University in Atlanta, a history professor fails to understand why his proposed course on race and ethnicity was initially rejected and calls on the university to “monitor diversity.”
Clifton Crais rewrote his history class on the origins of capitalism to meet the additional requirement of race and ethnicity, but was surprised when administrators told him that his original course proposal was not up to date. height. Directors said more should be included on gender and sexuality. The race and ethnicity requirement, which black student activists have been asking administrators to consider since 2015, was approved by the Emory College Faculty Senate in May 2020 in response to nationwide protests against racism and police violence, Emory’s wheel reported.
Crais’s course deals with the history of South Africa, including its struggle against apartheid and the social and political implications of white supremacy. According to emails between Crais and Michelle Wright, English professor and chair of the faculty committee that evaluated the proposals, Crais’s course was initially rejected because even though it “essentially covers race and ethnicity “, it does not” explicitly include gender and sexuality as course topics.
“The literature on race and ethnicity has not always addressed the different experiences of women or queer and trans communities, and we hope that Emory’s courses on race and ethnicity will fill this gap,” said writes Wright in an e-mail to Crais.
Emory’s committee says the race and ethnicity requirement should take a holistic approach, but Crais believes committee members are controlling diversity more than encouraging it. He rejected rejection of his proposed course; he felt he was adequately addressing gender and sexuality. The committee then endorsed its course, with the recommendation that it consider adding more about the experiences of women and LGBTQ people in its courses.
With the addition of the race and ethnicity requirement, the committee was concerned that the experiences of different racial and ethnic groups could be taught as a monolith and wanted to ensure wider coverage. But the committee debated how to incorporate that feedback into the faculty offering the courses, said Joanne Brzinski, senior associate dean for undergraduate education, in an email to The Chronicle.
Crais says administrators should include faculty and students in conversations about their expectations about what the race and ethnicity requirements mean.
“This is a very important distinction and it is a very difficult conversation that faculty, administrators and students need and should have about how they think about the curriculum,” he said.
Michigan students push for reform
In recent years, other campuses have grappled with different ideas about what content should meet course requirements for race and ethnicity. In 2018, students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor called on the university to reform its three-decade-old requirement. Courses like History 101: What Is History and Anthrcul 101: Introduction to Anthropology meet the requirement, but students argued that these courses are too numerous to encourage meaningful discussion and that the topic is too broad.
The university had investigated its needs in 2016 and set up a task force to collect data that would later allow administrators to recommend improvements. Little to no major changes have been made, according to a petition calling for changes to the requirement. The petition called for courses on race and ethnicity to be more problem-specific in the United States, for the requirement to extend to all undergraduate schools, and for more than one course to be mandatory for students.
According to the university’s website, “Each course that meets the requirement should devote substantial, but not necessarily exclusive, attention to the required content.”
Students said expanding course topics in this way defeats the purpose of the requirement. “The open guidelines give students the choice to be ignorant of race issues in the United States,” said Yashasvini Nannapuraju, a student. Michigan Daily.
Last year, the California State University system adopted a requirement for ethnic studies and social justice in response to growing outcry against racism. But even then The Chronicle reported, faculty members were against lawmakers dictating which topic meets the requirement.
Kenneth P. Monteiro, president of the California State University Ethnic Studies Council, said the requirement put in place is more of a quick fix than a real solution.
“They don’t want to appear to be racist as opposed to, they don’t want to be racist,” he said.
For Monteiro, an effective demand on racial and ethnic studies would force university leaders to consult with the various communities they claim to want to serve to ensure accountability.
“A lot of us in education have been on cruise control,” he said. “We thought we were seeing a cultural backlash when we were in the middle of it. “