diversity digest
Winter 01
Curriculum Transformation
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Intercultural Studies and Social Responsibility: Diversity Pervades Curriculum at Pitzer College
By Caryn McTighe Musil, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Global Initiatives, AAC&U


"Diversity is simply an integral part of our structure," says Pitzer College Dean of the Faculty Alan Jones. "You cannot come to Pitzer and not be exposed to it." How pervasive diversity is within the curriculum can be measured by the sheer number of courses in the college catalogue with diversity as a component or central focus. At first glance, it appears that Pitzer has chosen infusing diversity across the curriculum as its academic strategy. But, it has coupled that infusion with an additional curricular approach that frames critical questions Pitzer students are also required to explore before they graduate.

Instead of the more typical formal requirements for graduation, Pitzer has identified five educational objectives students must meet, the first two of which deliberately center on diversity. The first is Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Exploration, and the second is Social Responsibility and the Ethical Implications of Knowledge and Action. Founded in 1963, this liberal arts college has adopted an individualized program of study for its 850 male and female students. Working with their advisors and driven by their own intellectual interests, students map out their own course of study to fulfill the five educational objectives.

Students are asked to select three courses that illuminate a subject area of interest to them in order to meet the Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Exploration objective. The courses are to represent at least two disciplines and more than one cultural perspective. Thus, Pitzer affirms two of its most fundamental educational commitments: interdisciplinary study and comparative cultural perspectives. By exposing student to several disciplines, Pitzer believes it helps students see, as they put it, "the powers and limits of each field." By providing curricular space for students to explore their own culture and compare it with at least one other, Pitzer believes students will acquire a deeper understanding of how "thoughts and actions are influenced by culture and history."

This particular objective has been in place for more than a decade, although it has mutated along the way. At one point the interdisciplinary and intercultural aims were combined with social responsibility. At another point it became Interdisciplinary Explorations of Social Issues and Cultures. Its current language suggests the national leadership Pitzer has assumed through its courses and programs in deepening intercultural understanding. Some of that is a result of their consistent investment in faculty development through externally and internally funded initiatives over the years and in ones that examined traditional disciplines in conjunction with a focus on particular cultures. In one Ford Foundation diversity grant, to choose only one example, over two-thirds of Pitzer's faculty members were involved in clusters of small thematically focused seminars on diversity scholarship within different disciplines. The institution has also clearly made diversity a priority in their external fundraising, which has had a significant impact on the quality and breadth of their course offerings and programs.

One of the ways students can meet one of the three courses for their Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Exploration objective is through Pitzer's impressive External Studies Program. More than 50% of their students participate in this program before they graduate. Operating in eleven countries on five continents, Pitzer uses a cultural immersion model, often in Third World countries, and always regards the community as an asset and the relationship as reciprocal. Intensive language instruction is integral to Pitzer sponsored programs as is a core course on local culture. Students learn what it means to be someone in that community. For students who want an immersion experience within U.S. borders, Pitzer has also developed a series of exemplary programs that mirror the same deep respect for and genuine partnering with local communities that make Pitzer such a national model for campus-community relationships.

Underscoring the importance of the Interdisciplinary and Intercultural approach, Pitzer reminds students as they design their three courses that this is viewed as a minimum strategy for fulfilling this objective. Students are encouraged to deepen their understanding through other courses and co-curricular experiences. Eventually each student must write a synthesizing essay or research paper to reflect on the cumulative knowledge and perspectives they have gained through the process.

Social responsibility has been a distinguishing feature of a Pitzer education. It is therefore no surprise that their other educational objective which introduces students to questions of power, equity, and justice focuses on Concern with Social Responsibility and the Ethical Implications of Knowledge and Action. Forthright in its values, Pitzer wants its graduate to learn how to assess the social consequences of actions and policies. It aspires to have students, "take responsibility for making the world we live in a better place."


The Social Responsibility objective can be satisfied either through credit options or non-credit options. Credit options require taking a course that involves community service, community-based fieldwork, or an internship; or a directed independent study with an experiential component; or an External Studies program that has an internship or community service component. The non-credit option can be met through 45 hours of volunteer or community service or a semester or its equivalent of service to the Pitzer community, as say functioning as a Resident Assistant or working in the Ecology Center.

What makes Pitzer's educational objectives so effective is that they are nested within a comprehensive institutional commitment to diversity that is inescapable, whether through mission statements and majors, the diversity of the students and the faculty, the co-curricular programming and collaboration with local and global communities. What keeps Pitzer at the forefront of institutions striving to make diversity a central educational and civic component of all they do is their constant self-reflection. They no sooner reach a certain level of attainment and they strive to improve even more. It's a sign of a vibrant, engaged, learning centered institution.

For more information, see http://www.pitzer.edu


DIVERSITY AT PITZER

Objectives

Intercultural Understanding
By learning about their own culture and placing it in comparative perspective, students appreciate their own and other cultures, and recognize how their own thoughts and actions are influenced by their culture and history.

Concern with Social Responsibility and the Ethical Implications of Knowledge and Action
By undertaking social responsibility and by examining the ethical implications of knowledge, students learn to evaluate the effects of actions and social policies and to take responsibility for making the world we live in a better place.


Meeting the Objectives


Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Exploration
Students, working closely with their advisors, select a set of three courses which address a topic of special interest to them. Selected courses represent at least two disciplines and more than one cultural perspective. Students, in consultation with their faculty advisors, write a brief statement explaining the rationale for their selection of courses to meet this guideline.

Social Responsibility and the Ethical Implications of Knowledge and Action
Working closely with their advisors to plan their programs, students will meet this objective in one of the following ways:
Options with Academic Credit
1. A course that involves either community service, community-based fieldwork, or an internship;
2. A directed independent study with an experiential component;
3. Participation in an apposite External Studies programs (those involving an internship or community service).

Non-Credit Options
1. Involvement in a single semester of 45 hours (e.g., 15 weeks x 3 hours per week) of volunteer or community service.
2. One semester (or equivalent) of service to the Pitzer community

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