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.
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
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
Working closely with their advisors to plan their programs, students
will meet this objective in one of the following ways:
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).
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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