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Winter 01
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Taking Stock of the Curriculum: San Jose State University Develops and Assesses its Diversity Gains
By Heather D. Wathington, Director of Programs, Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives, AAC&U


GUIDED BY A VISION FOR A MEANINGFULLY RELEVANT UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE FOR ITS STUDENTS, SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY (SJSU) HAS INFUSED DIVERSITY THROUGHOUT ITS GENERAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM. SJSU HAS DEVISED AN INNOVATIVE, TWO-TIERED APPROACH TO INCORPORATING DIVERSITY INTO THE CURRICULUM. IN THE LOWER-DIVISION GENERAL EDUCATION COURSES, SOME ASPECT OF DIVERSITY IS INCORPORATED TO PROVIDE EXPOSURE TO DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES AND CULTURES. IN TWO OF THE ADVANCED GENERAL EDUCATION COURSES, DIVERSITY IS THE CENTRAL LEARNING FOCUS.

Undoubtedly, this model works because of ongoing faculty dialogue, collaboration, and assessment. Faculty at SJSU challenge each other with the difficult questions of what are they educating students for and how well are they educating them. When asked, "How does SJSU define diversity?," one faculty leader responded, "Well that conversation never stops. We are always asking who are we including and who are we excluding."

A highly diverse university with an Asian American student plurality, San Jose State believes that it is creating an educational experience that is vibrant and responsive to its' student body. The process of curricular change at SJSU began in the early 1980s when faculty and administration acknowledged the increasing diversity of the student body and subsequently the need for diversity in the curriculum. The decision was made to adopt a Cultural Pluralism requirement and twenty courses were developed. But in 1998, the campus took another look at the General Education program. This reevaluation resulted in the creation of an entire General Education program that is based on course-embedded assessment.

Faculty course assessment is part of an overall faculty governance structure that truly supports and enriches the curriculum. The Board of General Studies, comprised of 7 faculty members, evaluates individual course proposals against an established set of criteria. Learning goals are attached to the criteria. Diversity is a criterion in each general education course, and thus must be addressed appropriately in every course. Once a course has been approved, a course coordinator must submit periodic reports of student learning to the Board, one of which addresses how the instructor in the course successfully achieved the appropriate diversity learning goals for the course.

Faculty development teams work with faculty in the proposal phase and they also review the course assessments before they are sent to the Board of General Studies. As such, faculty work collaboratively on every step of the process: faculty propose strategies for achieving learning goals, one or more groups of faculty evaluate the proposals, and then again the same faculty groups that approved the course periodically review student learning accomplishments.

SJSU believes that any one course accomplishes only a piece of diversity education. But since SJSU has 17 general education course requirements, the university hopes that the entire set of courses "enhance[s] the ability to live and work intelligently, responsibly, and cooperatively in a multicultural society and an increasingly interdependent world" and "promote[s] citizenship through knowledge of the forces that shape the individual and modern society."

Of course, not all students that graduate from SJSU complete 17 general education requirements at the University. In fact, approximately 60% of SJSU undergraduates enter as transfer students from one of the many California community colleges and may have completed up to 13 general education courses at the community college. To ensure that students are prepared to live and work in a diverse democracy, SJSU requires all students to complete an advanced general education sequence that is unique to SJSU. This four-course sequence includes a junior-level writing course, an Earth and Environment course, a course on Self, Society and Equality in the U.S. and a course on Culture, Civilization, and Global Understanding.

It is in these four courses, especially the latter two, that the Board of General Studies looks the most deeply into the treatment of diversity. Lee Dorosz, Interim Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies said that "In these courses faculty must demonstrate that students are being called upon to grapple actively with diversity issues in the U.S. historically (Self, Society and Equality in the U.S.) and cultural influences from outside the U.S. that do influence the U.S. (Culture, Civilization, and Global Understanding)."

Developed with the keen understanding that our world is divided yet interdependent, the Culture, Civilization, and Global Understanding course illuminates connections between the U.S. and the larger globe we live in. This course is unique in its focus because it does more than engage students in a simple comparison of cultures or societies. Rather, the course demonstrates how culture, values, and influences transcend borders and that the U.S. has many connections with the world at large.

There is some question as to whether the general education overhaul involved only faculty and was established without much student input. Students spoke out in favor of an ethnic studies requirement that would require specific knowledge and substantial treatment of issues of ethnicity and race in the course. Ultimately, the faculty senate rejected this model in favor of the broader U.S. and global diversity courses. Some faculty believe that the new courses are achieving their intended effect based on the course reviews and learning goal appraisals. In addition, they feel that having the interdisciplinary advanced general education courses encourages faculty to retool and stretch themselves in order to learn and teach the courses.

Faculty retooling and development has been encouraged at SJSU. Recognizing that resources were needed to support the curricular changes, the university committed substantial resources to developing faculty knowledge in areas related to diversity. SJSU awarded several departments faculty development grants. These grants have enabled almost every faculty member an opportunity to develop and acquire new skills. They have also opened up the doors for more faculty to teach general education courses. One of the greatest challenges, according to one campus leader, has been to convince the faculty that simply having a diverse classroom does not mean that one is teaching diversity.

SJSU has not ruled out the possibility of creating an ethnic studies requirement in the future. Perhaps, they will discover that an ethnic studies requirement is what is really needed at SJSU. But for now, they are committed to taking the time to observe and assess how their current requirement works. Their plan is to continually assess their gains and improve upon them. SJSU's ultimate goal is to provide students with meaningful learning frameworks so that they can understand the world they live in and participate in its continual evolution.

For more information, see www.sjsu.edu.


DIVERSITY AT SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY

Self, Society,
& Equality in the U.S.

Culture, Civilization,
& Global Understanding

Goals

Students will study the interrelationship of individuals, racial groups, and cultural groups to understand and appreciate issues of diversity, equality, and structured inequality in the U.S., its institutions, and its cultures

Student Learning

After successfully completing the course, students shall be able to:

o Describe how religious, gender, ethnic, racial, class, sexual orientation, disability, and/or age identity are shaped by cultural and societal influences in contexts of equality and inequality;

o Describe historical, social, political, and economic processes producing diversity, equality, and structured inequalities in the U.S.;

o Describe social actions by religious, gender, ethnic, racial, class, sexual orientation, disability, and/or age groups leading to greater equality and social justice in the U.S.; and

o Recognize and appreciate constructive interactions between people from different cultural, racial, and ethnic groups in the U.S.

Goals

Courses in Culture, Civilization, and Global Understanding should give students an appreciation for human expression in different cultures and an understanding of how that expression has developed over time in different cultures. These courses should also increase students' understanding of how other cultural traditions have influenced American culture and society, as well as how cultures in general both develop distinctive features and interact with other cultures.

Student Learning
Students shall be able to:

o Compare systematically the ideas, values, images, cultural artifacts, economic structures, technological developments, or attitudes of people from different societies;

o Identify the historical context of ideas and cultural practices and their dynamic relations to other historical contexts; and

o Explain how a culture changes in response to internal and external pressures.


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Communication tips
Since September 11th, reporters are very interested in how colleges and universities are educating today's students about issues of foreign relations, the Middle East, terrorism, and other related issues. If your curriculum includes a required component like the one at San Jose State that seeks to illuminate for students the connections between the United States and the larger globe, consider reaching out to reporters to cover this aspect of your campus' response to September 11th. The national media has covered extensively the recent criticisms lodged by critics of curricular transformations about higher education. These critics have suggested, for instance, that colleges and universities haven't been sufficiently patriotic in the ways in which they have responded to the events of September 11th. Some have even suggested that recent efforts to diversify the curriculum are responsible for students' inability to respond effectively or thoughtfully to recent events. Reporters are always looking to "balance" opinions on which they are reporting in stories. A reporter, therefore, might be interested in hearing an opposite point of view. Consider discussing with a reporter or sending a letter to the editor explaining the ways in which diversity courses might better prepare students to understand recent events and become responsible leaders in challenging times.