diversity digest
Winter 01
Curriculum Transformation
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Making Diversity a Focus: Illinois Wesleyan Flags Changes to the Curriculum
By Heather D. Wathington, Director of Programs, Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives



PART OF THE CURRICULUM CHANGE EFFORT AT ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY WAS REALIZING THAT DIVERSITY WAS A DEEPLY HELD COMMUNAL VALUE AMONG THE FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATION. ILLINOIS WESLEYAN (IWU) DID NOT SET OUT TO INFUSE DIVERSITY EDUCATION INTO THE CURRICULUM, RATHER IT EMERGED AS AN IMPORTANT SHARED INSTITUTIONAL VALUE. EVENTUALLY, WHAT BEGAN AS A FACULTY COURSELOAD REDUCTION PROJECT YIELDED AN ENHANCED GENERAL EDUCATION PROGRAM ENRICHED WITH TEACHING ABOUT DIVERSITY.

When IWU began a major curriculum transformation project in 1993 to reduce the faculty course load, faculty began to express the value of teaching students about diversity. Even as the faculty subcommittee developed a set of "models" for general education, none specifically included a diversity requirement. However, issues of diversity and social justice were articulated and found their way into several models. Expressed through statements such as "students should…be aware of and prepared to confront the many problems facing contemporary society (poverty, racism, sexism, disenfranchisement, intolerance of diversity) and learn something about how these problems may be addressed," it became clear that learning about diversity was a shared goal for the new curriculum. As the work continued, discussions about a diversity requirement became central to the design of the new curricular model.

An interesting feature about IWU's diversity requirement process is that the faculty struggled with what a diversity course should include. After substantial dialogue about what a diversity requirement should look like, a faculty committee wrestled with the designated course criteria. The committee found it hard to merge all of the criteria within one requirement. After participating in the AAC&U-sponsored American Commitments project, a faculty committee determined that issues of U.S. and global diversity should be separately addressed in distinct courses. The faculty as a whole agreed.

As a result, IWU created a two-course requirement that focuses on Encountering U.S. Diversity and Encountering Global Diversity. Because of the reduction in faculty workload from seven courses to six per year, IWU was not in a position to create special diversity courses. Instead, learning goals and special criteria for U.S. and global diversity courses were developed. The decision was made to flag existing and developing courses that met the criteria for the diversity requirements. The purpose of the U.S. diversity course is to introduce students to how diversity has shaped and continues to shape identity and experience in the U.S. The intent of the global diversity course is to prepare students for responsible citizenship in a global community.

One way that students satisfy the U.S. and the global diversity requirement is by travelling off-campus with a travel course. Travel courses are designed to expose students to new material while immersed in another country or cultural experience. Students have been taken to Ireland to study the history of Irish immigration, to a Native American reservation to study Native health and human services, and to Costa Rica to study biological sciences. However, courses that take place off-campus do not necessarily qualify as satisfying either diversity requirement. If the travel course is to qualify, the instructor must demonstrate that the students will have significant interaction with indigenous peoples and culture. Not surprisingly, this caveat regarding travel courses has frustrated some faculty who believe that their courses satisfy the requirement criteria. But the General Education Board has remained steadfastly committed to ensuring that travel courses include meaningful content.

On the whole, faculty at IWU are proud of the diversity requirements. Some say that the requirements are vital to educating a predominantly White, suburban, middle-class student body. Since most students have come into little contact with diverse others, diversity in the curriculum is imperative. Many students' knowledge and awareness of diverse others is fairly limited. Consequently, some key faculty proposed that IWU should make the diversity curricular flags more rigorous. Under the current flag criteria, faculty operate with a fair amount of latitude with regard to how they address diversity. For this reason, summative assessment of student learning outcomes and effective pedagogy is difficult to implement.

IWU was fortunate because it did not need to hire many new faculty to teach diversity courses. Many of IWU's faculty have retired in the last ten years, so a significant number of faculty are new and desire to place a special emphasis on diversity in their courses in spite of the requirement. The university also hires adjunct faculty to teach courses as necessary.

Students say that the classes encourage them to consider different cultural paradigms and other perspectives. Specifically, they mentioned courses in history, sociology and anthropology that have really challenged their ideas and pre-conceived notions. In these courses, they are given a new lens to view the world, and they begin to analyze and critique their own assumptions.

Building upon the values within the community, IWU created strong requirements that examine critical questions to meet the needs of its students. Illinois Wesleyan University believes that their diversity requirement provides students with an understanding of different cultures so that they are better able to meet responsibilities to the world community. Recognizing that IWUstudents are workers of tomorrow and leaders of the future, IWU is committed to developing student minds to meet the challenges of our changing world.

For more information, see www.iwu.edu.


DIVERSITY AT ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY

Encountering Global Diversity

Courses given this designation prepare students for responsible citizenship in a global community. Students examine the experience and values of one or more contemporary societies outside the United States.

Courses given this designation seek to:

o Develop students' ability to analyze and understand contemporary societies outside the U.S. in the context of individual courses;

o Enable students to understand the social and cultural frames of reference of one or more societies and see the world from its/their perspective(s).
Encountering U.S. Diversity

Courses given this designation introduce students to the ways in which diversity--as influenced by ethnic, racial, class, gender, religious, and/or sexual characteristics--has shaped and continues to shape identity and experience in the U.S.

Courses given this designation seek to:

o Develop students' ability to analyze and understand diversity in the context of individual courses;

o Enable students to understand the ways in which issues of difference are tied to issues of privilege and advantage, and to specific histories of groups and individuals;

o Encourage students to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity in their own lives.

 


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