FILE PHOTO: ERICK CASTRO FOR THE HOYA Demonstrations this past week drew attention to the campaign for the addition of a diversity requirement to the core curriculum.
FILE PHOTO: ERICK CASTRO FOR THE HOYA
Demonstrations this past week drew attention to the campaign for the addition of a diversity requirement to the core curriculum.

The Last Campaign for Academic Reform and the Provost’s Committee for Diversity are advocating for a diversity course requirement in the core curriculum of all four undergraduate schools, to be implemented in fall 2015.

According to the student-run LCAR’s platform, the two-course “Diversity, Power and Privilege” cross-list requirement would enable students to engage critically with issues of race, class, sexual identity, immigration status, gender and gender identity, and disability and ability within a safe classroom space.

A petition calling for the requirement was distributed to students by LCAR beginning Feb. 23, and it has already obtained over 800 signatures.

LCAR began campaigning for the requirement in December 2014 with the creation of a proposal through a committee beneath the Black House. The group works with, but is separate from, the Provost’s Committee for Diversity, which was formally institutionalized in February 2014, and is made up of select students, faculty and administrators. Vice Provost for Education Randall Bass, who has been heavily involved with students on the committee, said he is supportive of this initiative.

“A university’s core curriculum is one way that it communicates its values to incoming students,” Bass wrote in an email. “I believe deeply in expanding and modifying our core so that engaging difference and diversity is part of that communication.”

Although Provost Robert Groves did not respond to requests for comment on the issue, Bass said Groves is supportive.

“The provost is also very committed to the idea,” Bass wrote. “Of course, he believes that it has to be a requirement that is in synch with faculty across the main campus and makes sense for the curriculum.”

A History of Diversity Advocacy
In 2009, University President John J. DeGioia launched a Main Campus Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness in response to a series of bias-related incidents on campus. The Initiative released recommendations for improving campus inclusiveness in May 2010, including a proposal to implement a diversity requirement. The proposal was not passed through the university’s faculty approval process, and a requirement was not established.

The then-University Provost James O’Donnell said that of all of the President’s Initiative’s goals at the time, the requirement would be the most difficult to achieve.

“Here is where enthusiasm and academic time run up against each other,” O’Donnell said (The Hoya, “Provost Discusses Diversity Initiative Progress,” April 23, 2010). “Other issues of curriculum and general education requirements are complicated, and there are other things people are interested in seeing us advance and do. It is going to take some time.”

In November 2012, students re-introduced the push for a diversity requirement with the creation of the Cura Personalis Initiative. The entirely student-led group aimed to create a cultural and ethnic studies center, strengthen academic courses in minority and ethnic studies and grow support for mentorship and scholarships for minorities on campus.

“A student could go through Georgetown never taking a class [that is] not based on either the United States or Europe. Georgetown is very much behind its peer institution[s] in terms of the breadth of its academics,” Initiative member Carly Rosenfield (COL ’14) said (The Hoya, “New Initiative to Address Diversity,” Nov. 13, 2012).

In December 2013, students encouraged campus-wide discussion about diversity issues with #BBGU, a hashtag part of a Twitter protest. The hashtag, which signifies Being Black at Georgetown University, provided an online forum for students of color to discuss their Georgetown experiences. The university supported the movement, posting tweets on its Facebook page. In a Feb. 3 article in The Hoya, Groves cited the #BBGU movement as a catalyst for the creation of his committee (The Hoya, “#BBGU Prompts Discussion,” Feb. 3).

Most recently, a cartoon in the Georgetown Voice published Feb. 19 depicting a black student and a female student being beaten in a horse costume sparked campus-wide discussion about racism and misogyny. Students organized a town hall discussion and demonstration to share ideas and educate others about different student experiences on campus. At the demonstration, students passed around the diversity course requirement petition.

“This is what coming together looks like,” organizer Kimberly Blair (COL ’15) said during the demonstration. “I want to stand today in solidarity with each other. … We’re trying to create unity and consciousness so that you can put yourself in somebody else’s shoes while you’re here at Georgetown.”

LCAR Proposal
Provost’s Committee’s Academic Sub-Committee co-chair and LCAR member Esiwahomi Ozemebhoya (COL ’15) emphasized that the campaign does not aim to add courses to the existing curriculum. According to a fact sheet compiled by LCAR and posted on the group’s Facebook page, over 80 courses have already been identified that could potentially fulfill the requirement. Some classes on the list include “Hindu Religious Traditions,” “Fame: Harlem Renaissance Celebrity” and “Ethics: Global Justice.” The courses fulfill a theology, humanities and writing and ethics requirement, respectively in the core curriculum.

“What’s new about our approach is that we’ve created a two-course overlay,” Ozemebhoya said. “A class can double count for two different disciplines and also engage these five learning goals that we’ve created, which aim to engage with the ideas of power and privilege and provide a reflective component for students.”

LCAR member Dan Zager (COL ’18) stressed the importance of instituting a diversity requirement in the context of the social, political and economic environment surrounding the Georgetown community.

“Currently there’s no requirement in the curriculum that allows students to really analyze the different positions in society,” Zager said. “It’s still obvious that depending on how you identify, you have a certain type of social capital — whether it’s through gender, race, ethnicity or religion. What we’re trying to do with the requirement is to study how society allows for this inequality. Through that, we can better connect not only within the university community but also with the wider community outside the campus.”

The results of the Provost’s Committee’s research into the implementation of the requirement have yielded promising results, indicating that students will be able to complete the requirement within their first two years, according to Ozemebhoya.

Ozemebhoya added that instituting the requirement could influence the outlook of future students regarding administrative change.

“I think that it could give students hope about changing things within the university,” Ozemebhoya said. “Students currently don’t have a say in what the core curriculum looks like. It’s not mobile or malleable, as education and learning are supposed to be — it’s not changing with the times. I would hope that students would be able to have more of a stake, to hold the university responsible for what they’re required to learn.”

MCEF Consideration
In February 2014, student committee beneath the Black House began working to draft an official proposal of the requirement, which they presented to administration in early December. This proposal, which has been adopted and edited by the members of the diversity committee, will be presented to the Main Campus Executive Faculty March 27.

The proposal must pass with a majority vote in the MCEF, before being sent to the university board of directors for final approval. The MCEF is comprised of 57 faculty members from each Georgetown school, and any vote requires a minimum of 29 votes to reach a majority.

The MCEF is a legislative body comprised of representatives from each academic unit of the main campus, including department, program, faculty senate and student representatives. The two students currently on the MCEF are Kathryn Crewdson (SFS ’15) and Sonya Nasim (NHS ’16). The body works to determine, create and implement academic policy for the university’s main campus.

According to Bass, the board seems receptive and interested in making this change.

“They know it is coming and are likewise supportive,” Bass wrote. “There are also many dimensions of the actual implementation that need to be worked through in order to integrate into advising, degree audits, integration into the bulletin, etc. That will take time.”

Zager said that if the vote passes the initial MCEF vote, students can immediately begin work on implementation.

“If the MCEF votes yes, we can start taking steps to work with the university registrar,” Zager said. “We will start cross-listing classes that could be vetted as diversity courses and be considered a part of the requirement.”

Professor Mark Rom, who represents the McCourt School of Public Policy in the MCEF, expressed support for a focus on diversity, but did not explicitly state support for the proposal itself.

“I fully support the concept that Georgetown should be highly attentive to issues of diversity, whether regarding the student body or the course curriculum,” Rom wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I have not yet seen the proposal for a diversity course requirement and will give it my fullest attention when I do. That, together with the discussion at the MCEF, will determine my judgment on this matter.”

Professor Lioudmila Fedorova, representative for the department of Slavic languages in the MCEF, echoed Rom’s views.

“There is no doubt that MCEF will and does support the spirit of the policy,” Fedorova wrote in an email. “But such a major change has profound effects on each department and the curriculum in general, and a clear procedure of approving certain courses for this requirement should be established. It is not enough to just vote yes. The task is to work out the details of the policy.”

LCAR and the Provost’s Committee have contacted a student groups on campus to gauge support and gather feedback. LCAR will also host a town hall March 5 to provide an open forum for dialogue regarding the proposal.

“The administration wants this to be done as quietly as possible,” Ozemebhoya said. “But I don’t think that something as major as this should be done quietly — it should happen with students knowing about it and having an opinion about it. Whether it’s negative or positive, we want to hear from you.”

Ricardo L. Ortiz, associate professor of U.S. Latino literature and culture, one of several faculty members who helped draft the proposal, explained that the conversation facilitated by this campaign could have a long-lasting impact.

“I would be delighted if it is approved,” Ortiz said. “But if it’s not, I feel it would be a step in the right direction. It won’t feel to me like we’ve wasted our energy or our effort, because it’s still an important conversation for Georgetown to have with itself. I don’t think it would be the last time something like this would come up around questions of what I feel are the urgent demands that diversity puts on the world today.”

Many Jesuit colleges and pier institutions have already established diversity requirements, including Boston College, Loyola University Chicago, Dartmouth College, Brown University and Yale University.

“Georgetown is kind of playing catch-up here,” Ozemebhoya said. “I think that the way it handles this situation will say a lot about the future of the university and our place in academia. This diversity core requirement is a long time coming.”

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8 Comments

  1. “Most recently, a cartoon in the Georgetown Voice published Feb. 19 depicting a black student and a female student being beaten in a horse costume sparked campus-wide discussion about racism and misogyny”

    Shouldn’t this sentence mention that the Voice is liberal or left-wing? We all know that if the cartoon were published in a conservative or libertarian campus publication, that affiliation would be mentioned.

  2. I’ve said before that professors in certain department and programs at GU are behind this initiative. After all, as the LCAR literature states, it’s been going on for 25 years. And if you can’t keep seats filled with students interested in taking your courses, you’re not likely to either last long or feel fulfilled professionally, especially if your main motivation is to indoctrinate, rather than teach, your students. The involvement of Associate Professor Ricardo Ortiz proves my point.

    The proponents claim that 80 classes have been identified that can fulfill the requirement which “would enable students to engage critically with issues of race, class, sexual identity, immigration status, gender and gender identity, and disability and ability within a safe classroom space.” Of course, students can do this (and already do this) without a diversity course requirement foisted on them. There are already a large number of diversity initiatives at Georgetown, starting with NSO, and any student who wants to take one of these 80 courses is free to do so.

    Students shouldn’t be forced to take what will no doubt be courses that focuses on political and ideological fetishes of the professor, rather true scholarship. This is especially true with the possibility of moving from five to four courses each semester.

    And just think of the complaints and lawsuits that will occur when some student who rejects the thinking of a left-wing professor and speaks in class, ends up getting poor grades out of the experience. The net is effect is negative for the University. Not only do you now have unhappy students who will not donate after graduation, but you’re likely to generate a slew of controversies as students fight back.

    Also, not everyone has a victim complex or is ideologically motivated, and the majority of students, both left and right, who support equality and don’t discriminate, will see how this works out in practice and are also likely to have their Georgetown experience reduced as a result. Electives they want to take in an area that interests them, either personally or professionally, will no longer be an option because they now have to sit through two classes telling them how privileged they are and how horrible a country America is, and that they need to be discriminated against to make the world more “fair.”

    That list hasn’t been released, but who wants to bet the majority of these courses will come out of the “grievance studies” departments and already have a low number of student who choose to take these courses. A useful research project, once this list is published, is to see how many students those classes average compared to others in their department, school, and the university as a whole. The truth is this requirement would be a jobs program for Women’s Studies, English, African American Studies, and the Peace and Justice Program.

    There is a reason why such courses are under-subscribed. It’s because students don’t see value in them. Some students will no doubt enjoy those courses (whether they benefit from taking them is another matter), but the majority know that taking such courses is not an optimal use of their time or tuition dollars. When you look at the cost of tuition, each course at GU costs about $7.5K. Now you’re forcing students to waste $15K in tuition dollars (paid for likely by student loans, or a part-time job), to sit in courses they don’t want to be in and from which they gain nothing?

    The only way this proposals works is as a check the block type system which defeats the purpose of the activists. For instance, your Arabic or Guns and Bombs major can use his or her Middle East History and Introduction to the Arab World courses to fill the requirement. Otherwise, there will be a lot of unhappy students will enjoy their Georgetown experience a lot less than they could have, and will be less likely to donate in the future.

  3. DisgustedAlumnus says:

    Will Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson be guest lecturers?

  4. Why doesn’t the diversity curriculum include diversity of creed/belief?

    • because there’s already a theology requirement?

      • Non-liberal thinkers are marginalized at Georgetown, and at other campuses across the country, to the detriment of the university. If the proponents of the diversity curriculum are serious and honest, they would acknowledge this and include respect for and discussion about non-liberal values systems… but they aren’t, right?

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