Despite the criticism it has drawn from some observers, the recent proposal to implement a diversity requirement in the undergraduate curriculum is admirable. But before taking any concrete steps, the university must carefully prioritize its goals.

The plan outlined by the Academic Working Group of the Diversity Initiative includes the addition of a diversity aspect to the undergraduate core requirements; the expansion of ethnic studies programs; and the hiring of additional faculty from minority backgrounds.

Under the current proposal, students would be able to count specified courses toward both diversity credits and other general education requirements. Courses that are applicable to the diversity requirement would be categorized as either domestic or international in focus, and students would need to take one class in each of the two subfields.

Critics have asserted that imposing an academic focus on minority issues would only create an artificial, forced diversity. One of the primary focuses of any college experience, however, should be fostering discussion among students of different backgrounds. As such, even an obligatory dialogue in the classroom can be nothing but helpful. A diversity requirement would expose students to new cultures and force them to think critically about their own standards and assumptions.

While the working group’s intentions are spot-on, there are serious logistical challenges associated with their three major proposals. Science majors, math majors and students in the School of Foreign Service, for instance, may find it difficult to fit in two diversity-based classes, given the highly prescribed nature of their coursework. For this reason, the university should begin by mandating only one diversity-related course. By easing into the two-course requirement, the university will give itself time to sort out issues of scheduling with students in different schools.

The university should also identify a broad range of existing classes that could fall under the diversity umbrella. A diversity requirement should not feel like a burden. As such, courses in several university departments should be designated as eligible to be double-counted as diversity courses. English courses that cover texts focusing on minority perspectives, or history courses dealing with African-American or women’s history are some examples of courses that could fit the bill. The goal would be to provide class options that interest a wide spectrum of students. To that end, the working group has already begun an effort to expand the very short list of relevant courses it provided in its report.

Where the working group seems to overreach is in its recommendation for creation of new majors within ethnic studies programs. Specifically, the group’s report emphasizes the need for an African-American studies major. While that is certainly a sound long-term goal, the university’s limited budget makes the formation and staffing of expanded or new departments unrealistic. It is more important at this moment to create a strong diversity focus in existing departments. A diversity requirement cross-listed with courses in various departments will engage a wider swath of students than will a specialized major.

The hiring of more minority faculty members should also be pursued with financial considerations in mind. Money should be invested first to hire qualified minority professors to teach in already established departments, rather than in programs reserved for ethnic studies; this approach will maximize their influence on students.

Acting at once on all of the suggestions put forward by the Academic Working Group would be too ambitious an undertaking for the university. If, however, the administration collaborates with the working group to create an achievable plan that emphasizes, first and foremost, a general diversity requirement, it will significantly improve the Georgetown academic experience. The university curriculum already demands the study of subjects like philosophy and theology; it should likewise promote exposure to the diversity and ethnic studies that necessary in a modern liberal education.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*