diversity
digest Curriculum
next
story
home
previous issue
archives
search
campus profiles
feedback
topical leader's guide
diversity web
related topics
Curricular Recommendations from American Commitments
Advice on Effective Curriculum Transformation

Curricular Change Gains Momentum
New Requirements Focus on Diversity and Social Responsibility

By Debra Humphreys and Carol Geary Schneider, Digest Editors

This issue of Diversity Digest examines the renaissance in curriculum, teaching, intercultural understanding, and civic dialogue fostered by higher education's strengthening focus on diversity. Colleges and universities across the country are transforming their curricula to correct past exclusions; to better prepare students for increasingly complex and diverse communities and workplaces; and to provide students with the most current and intellectually comprehensive understanding of history, culture, and society.

The contours of this far-reaching curriculum transformation remain partially hidden, obscured both by the extraordinary diversity of higher education itself and by a public dialogue still framed in terms of "culture wars."

This public narrative too often misses the real power and excitement of what is happening in curricula and classrooms across the country. In every part of the United States and in every kind of institution, faculty members are discussing what it would take to educate students for a world that respects distinctive traditions and also to create new forms of inclusion, equality, and connection. This search for a richer development of American pluralism has led to new energy in general education courses, to dialogues about diversity in almost every field, and to new links between the curriculum and the community. The debates on American pluralism have become civic dialogues about the learning we need in a diverse democracy.

Diversity Digest has reviewed curricular reforms at more than one hundred colleges and universities around the country. We report here on major themes we found in new campus diversity requirements and the courses developed to meet them.

Addressing Diversity Both at Home and Abroad

For more than a decade, campuses have been revising more traditional "Western Civilization" courses to better account for global realities and cross-cultural interactions. Initially, far fewer campuses were developing required courses that addressed diversity in the U.S. It may have seemed easier to deal with cultural diversity internationally than to grapple with domestic diversity realities still resonating with tension in our own backyards.

Today, many more campuses are infusing their curricula with domestic diversity issues. Some institutions are also beginning to make more explicit the interconnections among the dynamics of pluralism in the U.S. and those globally. Many campuses that once had requirements that allowed students to take a class in either international or domestic diversity, now believe students need knowledge both about non-Western cultures outside the U.S. and diversity issues in the U.S. and are therefore instituting requirements that address both goals.

Moving from "Identity" to Discrimination and the Search for Equality

Early cultural diversity requirements frequently involved courses that dealt with one or more previously excluded or neglected identity groups. There certainly remains a need to infuse the curriculum with voices and perspectives long excluded from it. More recently, however, there has been a movement away from courses driven primarily by identity categories toward courses that focus on systemic examinations of prejudice and discrimination. Haverford College, for example, moved from a required course that examined either (1) the history, perspectives, and cultures of non-Western peoples, U.S. minorities, or women or (2) the nature, history, and workings of prejudice to a single Social Justice requirement. Temple University requires students to take one course in American Cultures and another in Studies in Race. American Cultures courses cover the evolution of such ideas as equality of opportunity, classlessness, social mobility, and equality under the law. Studies in Race courses examine the impact of race and racism on social, cultural, and political institutions. SUNY–Buffalo requires all sophomores to take a course on "American Pluralism and the Search for Equality".

Expanding Definitions and Comparative Perspectives

Campuses are beginning to see value in inclusive definitions of diversity. The University of Massachusetts–Boston credits its success in winning widespread support for its two-course requirement to the breadth of its definition of diversity. Diversity courses there include not only issues of race, gender, and social class, but also age, disability, and sexual orientation. At other institutions across the country, issues of disability, sexual orientation, and religious diversity are being explored more frequently, but, as yet, fewer courses have actually been approved in these areas compared to courses that address issues of race, class, and/or gender.

"A curriculum for diversity must do more than relate the individual stories of racial and ethnic minorities. It must integrate their cultural perspectives, divergent socioeconomic experiences, and political histories into a broader, enriched discussion about both the commonalities and differences among cultures and values, the tragedies and triumphs in the making of American society."

--Manning Marable
Columbia University

Some campuses are also stressing comparative perspectives. The University of California, Berkeley requires all students to take a course in American Cultures that examines comparatively African Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, Native Americans, and European Americans. Iowa State University's recently passed requirement is designed to educate students concerning the nature and history of exclusion and oppression and must engage them in comparative and cross-cultural study. Most of the campuses we have reviewed have also begun incorporating a more sophisticated understanding of the multiple and intersecting influences that affect how one defines one's own identity and how one is defined by the larger society.

Relational Knowing and Education for Social Responsibility

The development of new diversity curricula has also been powerfully influenced by two other important pedagogical developments: an emphasis, advanced through women's studies, on "connected" or "relational" forms of knowing, and the related emphasis, emerging from many quarters, on "experiential" as well as analytical learning. The influence of these movements toward experiential and relational knowing can be seen in the design of many diversity courses, which frequently include such pedagogies as cultural encounters, service learning, reflective journals, collaborative projects, linked courses, and a variety of other strategies designed to give students direct experience with the complexities of negotiating difference in a collective setting.

While few campuses actually require service-learning courses that address issues of diversity, many have begun to see that the goal of providing students with skills for a diverse world can be served well by engaging them in "real-world" situations in diverse settings. Very promising conversations and collaborations have begun that bring together experts in diversity learning and service learning. Hobart and William Smith Colleges are developing an interdisciplinary program in community-based learning that is thoroughly infused with issues of diversity. Issues of diversity and justice are explored in traditional classroom settings and with traditional texts but are also studied in the context of the work students are actually doing in local communities. Olivet College, with support from the Kellogg Foundation, is currently reorientating all campus activities, including its curriculum, to infuse an ethic of individual and social responsibility into all aspects of campus life.

Some campuses have decided that it is essential for students to make the connections between what they are learning about diversity in the classroom and what they are experiencing outside of the classroom. Efforts that bring together student- life programs with classroom instruction about diversity show enormous promise. Iowa State University, for example, offers a one-credit course on "Dialogues in Diversity." Facilitated by three-person teams that include a faculty member, a student, and a staff member, these courses involve weekly seminars that explore diversity issues related first to campus life and then gradually to local community issues and wider societal concerns.

Skills as Well as Content: Defining Learning Goals for Diversity Courses

Many campuses are now working to achieve greater clarity in delineating learning goals for diversity courses. These goals now include not only the knowledge students need about the history and current status of previously neglected groups, but also the skills students need to function in a diverse world--skills at recognizing the role of diverse backgrounds and influences on political decision-making and civic life, intercultural communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving. North Seattle Community College requires that students in diversity courses learn how "to deal constructively with information, ideas, and emotions associated with diversity and conflict." Bloomfield College has identified multiracial/ multicultural awareness as one of a series of competencies viewed as the responsibility of all areas of the college curriculum and co-curriculum.

"Education for today's democracy in a more multicultural America must reacquaint students to the possibility and idealism of an inclusive, intercultural democracy....The arts of democracy, namely, dialogue, engagement, and responsible participation, help students grow from intercultural experience and create democratic sensibilities."

--Richard Guarasci
Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Faculty Development and Ongoing Assessment

In order to sustain the vitality and continued growth of curriculum transformation efforts, campuses are focusing increasingly on faculty development. As John Noonan, president of Bloomfield College notes, "faculty can't teach what they don't know." Campuses are instituting faculty development efforts that range in scope from modest course development grants to ongoing summer institutes. Many are making effective use of "Teaching and Learning Centers" to develop faculty development opportunities and especially to help faculty members develop new pedagogical techniques as well as new content for their diversity courses.

Student Involvement in Curricular Change

Across the country, faculty report that students' quests to make sense of their own experiences with identity, campus diversity, and inequality are a significant driver in curriculum transformation. The real challenge, many campuses are realizing, is to create safe spaces where students can explore complex issues honestly and with respect for one another's histories, perspectives, and aspirations.

Maxine Greene of Columbia's Teachers College crystallizes this merging of lived experience and reflection that infuses new diversity courses and programs. Educators, she urges, can help their students tell "the stories of what they are seeking, what they know and might not yet know, exchanging stories with others grounded in other landscapes.'It is at moments like these that persons begin to recognize each other and, in the experience of recognition, feel the need to take responsibility for each other."

Critics Note Diversity Momentum

According to a report issued by the National Association of Scholars, of 50 top-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges (ranked by U.S. News and World Report as of fall 1989), diversity requirements were found at 25 institutions. These requirements had an average of about 44 courses available to fulfill them and constituted an average of 3.8 percent of the baccalaureate requirements at the schools where they were found. These requirements include, among others, the "American Cultures" requirement at the University of California, Berkeley; the "Social Justice" requirement at Haverford College; and the "Cultural Diversity" requirement at Davidson College.

Source: National Association of Scholars, The Dissolution of General Education: 1914–1993 (Princeton: NAS, 1996): 43.

Source:
Maxine Greene, "Diversity and Inclusion: Toward a Curriculum for Human Beings," Teachers College Record 95 (2): 211–221.


back to top