diversity digest
Winter 01
Curriculum Transformation
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Curricular Transformation Spurs Institutional Engagement With Diversity
By Heather D. Wathington, Editor, Diversity Digest and Director of Programs,
Office of Diversity, Equity and Global Initiatives


For the last decade, AAC&U has worked with colleges and universities that are diversifying their curricula to better prepare students to live and work in a complex world. We have seen over time that campus leaders throughout the country recognize that a high quality education should include learning about diversity both in the U.S. and around the globe. But in addition to curricula change, institutions are learning that there are many dimensions to tapping diversity as an educational and civic resource for higher education and society as a whole.

In addition to the tremendous growth of diverse populations on college campuses, curricular changes have pushed campus leaders to approach institutional engagement with diversity more comprehensively. Thirty years ago, institutions focused primarily on the recruitment of diverse students to campus. Eventually, institutions began to attend to the academic success of minority students, realizing that the old model of having underrepresented students do all the adapting to college environments neglected the resources students brought with them to campus. Today, colleges are beginning to understand that diversity, in all of its complexity, is about much more than a diversity program or having minority students on campus. Throughout the process of institutional transformation, the heart of the academy's purpose--advancing knowledge and raising ethical and societal questions about how to apply that knowledge has undergone dramatic changes over the last three decades.

What institutions are discovering as they seek to incorporate diversity into the content of the curriculum and campus life is leading to more profound questions about the purposes and practices of higher education. Instead of it being simply a matter of tweaking a particular course or offering a topical program, campuses find themselves rethinking what is taught, how it is taught, in what venues learning occurs, and finally who does the teaching. Under the scrutiny of such questions, successful institutional transformation becomes, then, less superficial and more fundamental.

Two years ago AAC&U through support from the James Irvine Foundation, published the results of the first national survey to examine diversity requirements in undergraduate education. The study found that sixty-three percent of colleges and universities report that they either have in place or they are in the process of developing a diversity requirement. This issue and the forthcoming Spring issue highlight detailed examples of ten exemplary institutions (Illinois Wesleyan University, Kent State University, Pacific Lutheran University, Pitzer College, St. Edward's University, Santa Ana College, San Jose State University, Scripps College, Temple University and University of California at Berkeley) and some of the creative curricular outcomes in a Hewlett-funded American Commitments project funded by William and Flora Hewlett Foundation involving 40 institutions. We thank both the Irvine and Hewlett Foundations for helping to support this issue of Digest.

The focus of this double issue to pause and take stock of how far we have come, how institutions have grappled with intellectual, societal and pedagogical challenges and what the current contour is of the curriculum, specifically with regard to diversity general education requirements. This issue highlights that curricular transformation is happening at all types of institutions and in all kinds of places--whether it be general education, electives or in the major. Courses are being transformed in many disciplines from biology, to political science, to art. Such broad curricular transformation signifies that institutions are changing and creatively rethinking the ways in which they educate today's students.


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