diversity digest
Winter 01
Curriculum Transformation
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Breaking New Ground: St. Edward's University Forges a Cultural Foundations Program
By Heather D. Wathington, Director of Programs for Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives, AAC&U


"IF WE HAD TO TAKE FEWER THAN 18 HOURS, IT WOULD SEEM LIKE A RANDOM REQUIREMENT. CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT", SAID ONE STUDENT ABOUT ST. EDWARD'S SIX-COURSE CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS PROGRAM. AT ST. EDWARD'S UNIVERSITY, STUDENTS SAY THEY ARE STIMULATED BY A RICH, COMPELLING CURRICULUM GEARED TO DEVELOP THEM FOR A WORLD OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCE AND CHANGE. THE CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS PROGRAM IS REMARKABLY UNIQUE. DESIGNED TO GIVE STUDENTS A PRIMER IN DIVERSITY AWARENESS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE, IT IS ONE OF A KIND IN ITS MODEL AND IMPLEMENTATION. THE PROGRAM IS SUSTAINED BY STRONG LEADERSHIP, DYNAMIC FACULTY, AND THE UTMOST CARE FOR STUDENT LEARNING.

The momentum for the curriculum transformation began in the early 90's. Institutional leaders acknowledge that the increasing diversity of the student population persuaded the faculty to make changes to the curriculum. Approximately 35 percent of St. Edward's 3300 undergraduates are students of color. The College-Assisted Migrant Program (C.A.M.P.) has been instrumental in recruiting many Hispanics students to campus; nearly 26% of the student body is Hispanic. Executive Vice President Donna Jurick noted that curricular innovation was possible because it occurred during a time of rapid growth and transition for the university. Over the last ten years, the student population has grown steadily and resources have been sufficient for curricular transformation and university expansion.

In an effort to empower each faculty member, the curricular change process at St. Edward's was devised to provide for maximum faculty participation. As a first step, a curriculum committee developed learning goals. Institutional leaders invited faculty members to submit general education curricula designs. Ten proposals were received and from these the curriculum governance structure devised three major designs. Importantly, the governance structure recognized that two-way communication with university stakeholders as well as resource support is vital to any major curricular change. When the three designs were proposed to the faculty, the curriculum governance structure promised to provide financial support for the changes and promised that no one would lose their job as a result of the changes. The committee also kept the president, the academic affairs committee, and the Board of Trustees continually informed about the process.

Diversity emerged as a vital educational priority in each design. Subsequently in December of 1990, a Cultural Foundations Committee was convened and was given a charge to incorporate diversity education into the curriculum. Ultimately, the committee recommended and the faculty agreed upon an 18-hour requirement called Cultural Foundations. The purpose of these six required courses is "to help students develop a balanced understanding and appreciation for their own and other cultures." Core faculty groups were formed for each course to develop master syllabi and to design and participate in faculty development workshops.

The courses are multidisciplinary and many are co-taught by faculty from different disciplines. The program is partially sequential with the expectation that students will complete the full program by their senior year (although completion is not required by this time). Once the sequence is completed, students are expected to incorporate diversity into their senior capstone experience, a required component of a St. Edward's education. Marianne Hopper, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, believes that the "diversity across the curriculum" intensifies student learning at each step of the educational experience.

While there are six core courses in the Cultural Foundations program, classes vary by topic, section, and format. For example, a new cluster program team-taught by four faculty members has combined two Cultural Foundations courses with the Writing requirement. The faculty have invigorated the curriculum with a range of innovative, exciting classes that share the core educational objective of the course as a common thread. The American Experience which examines gender, race, ethnic status and social class in the context of American history is the prerequisite for American Dilemmas which uses the disciplinary approaches of economics, sociology, and political science to solve current social problems.

Cecil Lawson

Anne Crane

Cultural Foundations Faculty

Identity of the West focuses on the major developments in history that have been influenced by Western civilization. It is typically followed by Contemporary World Issues which deals with critical issues affecting societies outside of North America, often by comparing two non-Western areas. A diverse selection of poetry, fiction and drama is highlighted in the Literature and the Human Experience. Understanding and Appreciating the Arts is designed to introduce students to the visual, performing, and cinematic arts with diverse art forms as a centerpiece.

Of course, implementing a diversity curricular requirement of this magnitude raised many questions among the faculty. The significant number of courses required to fulfill the requirement was a contested issue. Because there are 57 credit hours required for general education and 48 credit hours needed for the major, many students are only able to minor or double major if they enroll at St. Edward's for an additional semester beyond the fourth year. Some faculty argued that the general education curriculum was too prescriptive and did not allow for enough student choice and exploration. These faculty supported the earlier model where students charted their own academic careers with the help of a faculty advisor. Still others raised concerns about the interdisciplinary nature of the courses and the faculty preparation needed to teach them.

Curricular changes of this scale require faculty who are willing, able and prepared to teach such unique, specialized courses. The university recognized that investing financially into the development of their faculty was crucial to the curricular change. St. Edward's has therefore provided monies for new faculty, faculty enrichment and course development. As one would expect, the faculty investment into the maintenance and support of this program is enormous. Faculty not only participate annually in faculty development workshops, they also meet frequently to team-teach and to assess student learning outcomes. To infuse fresh perspectives, they hire adjunct faculty, special artists and musicians, and other experts as guest lecturers and instructors. Fortunately, the wealth of talent and expertise in the Austin area means that there is a steady stream of dynamic teachers available to sustain the program.

Pioneers of the program believe that Cultural Foundations is an essential element of a St. Edward's education. According to one senior faculty member, "Broad preparation of our students to enter a complex, changing world is what is most important; it supports our mission statement." Certainly, the positive student outcomes are abundant and in some ways unintended. Humanities faculty say that Cultural Foundations has served as a recruitment tool for English literature and arts majors. History and social work faculty believe that history and social work majors are stronger students as a result of the requirement. While the academic gains are encouraging, ultimately, St. Edward's desires that students come to a much deeper understanding of themselves, the values, assumptions and varying legacies of their own cultures, and the cultures of others.

For more information, see www.stedwards.edu.



DIVERSITY AT ST. EDWARD'S UNIVERSITY

Goal
To help students develop a balanced understanding and
appreciation for their own and other cultures.

Literature and Human Experience
Students read, discuss and write about an ethnically and/or culturally diverse selection of fiction, poetry, drama and belles lettres.
Understanding and Appreciating the Arts
This course introduces students to a wide range of artistic expression, including the visual, performing and cinematic arts. This course explores the relationship of various art forms to each other, placing them in an historical and cultural context.
The American Experience
The purpose of this course is to examine gender, race, ethnic status and social class in experience throughout the country's history. The course places individual and group experience within the social, economic, and political context of various eras, exploring group differences in experience and perspective as well as the ideals and values of American civic culture.
American Dilemmas
This course presents the principles and methods of economics, sociology and political science to analyze current social problems.
The Identity of the West
The course deals with major developments in the history of the West which have made Western culture influential in the world.
Contemporary World Issues
The course consists of two seven-week modules, each dealing with a crucial issue in world affairs in different non-Western areas of the world. The two modules are linked thematically to ensure continuity.

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