Plans underway to accomplish multicultural requirement reform by next spring
Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 16:05
Students from the Diversity Committee and the multicultural requirement working group are wrapping up a year-long effort to gauge student opinion concerning the current multicultural requirement. The reform campaign culminated in a series of roundtable discussions held in the beginning of this month. Students are hoping to rally enough student and faculty support to pass a plan for reform through Academic Council in the upcoming spring.
The multicultural requirement currently stipulates students must complete one unit of coursework in at least one of three categories: African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Latin American, Native American or Pacific Island people, cultures or societies; a minority American culture, such as those defined by race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical ability; or the processes of racism, social or ethnic discrimination or cross-cultural interaction. In an electronic submission to be approved by a class dean, students are responsible for explaining how their chosen course fulfills the requirement.
In the Fall of 2011, College Government Cabinet pledged to make progress on multicultural requirement reform by the end of the year. Under the leadership of Lindsay Barnes ’12, Multicultural Affairs Coordinator (MAC), the Diversity Committee outlined a plan to tackle the reform in four stages.
Phase one seeks to build student consensus around what the multicultural requirement should entail. Phase two involves rallying the support of professors. Phase three seeks to pass reforms through Academic Council. Finally, phase four consists of developing a new program for multicultural education.
“The idea with [the multicultural requirement reform] is that we build from the ground up,” Barnes explained. “First get students on the same page, then hold those conversations with faculty members... so by the time it comes up in Academic Council, we have two groups who are ready to work on this.”
Wellesley adopted a multicultural requirement in 1990. The policy was revised six years later to allow individual students to decide for themselves which classes fulfilled the requirement. The policy has remained stagnant since 1996. At the time of the policy change, professors were engaged in a lively debate around the multicultural requirement. Some argued that by requiring students to justify their class choices, the new policy would encourage students to reflect on how their class fulfills the spirit of the requirement. Others argued that the policy was unnecessary and even counterproductive to promoting cultural understanding on campus.
“I felt that by designating those areas of the world as ‘multicultural,’ we permanently marginalize them,” Yoon Sun Lee, associate professor of English and director of American Studies, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1996. Lee was one of 20 professors who voted against the requirement. Today, Lee has confirmed that her opinion is more or less the same.
“I think that I basically do feel the same way today,” Lee stated.
Reform of the multicultural requirement has been on the table for at least four years, yet little to no progress has been made. Many continue to debate the effectiveness of the policy.
Students are certainly troubled by the ease with which they can claim that a class fulfills the requirement, which they believe has turned what could be a powerful pillar of liberal arts education into another distribution that can easily be checked off a list.
“If you have a class that’s on one culture and that fulfills your requirement, that’s not good enough,” Luisa Reyes ’15, member of the multicultural requirement working group, said. “You don’t become an expert on that culture and definitely don’t become an expert on multiculturalism.”
Marjorie Cantine ’13, newly elected College Government President, satisfied the requirement by taking an art history class on the ancient empires of South America and Mexico. “It was one of my favorite courses I’ve taken at Wellesley,” Cantine said. “However, I think that it was a flawed way to fulfill the requirement because, while it taught me a lot of theories, they were about a different culture that I can no longer interact with because it no longer exists.”
Dr. Tracey Cameron, Assistant Dean of Intercultural Education, Director of Harambee House and Advisor to students of African descent, expressed concern as to the effect that substandard multicultural education could have on campus.
“Respect for the ‘other,’ so to speak, is what I think we’re lacking,” she said. “Recent incidents on campus speak to a basic disrespect for people who are different.”
Cameron referred to the incident which occurred on the first episode of the BoobTube during which a newscaster made an unintentionally disparaging comment about Harambee House and its efforts to organize programming in honor of Black History Month.
Diversity Committee members have already begun collecting student opinions through conversations in House Council meetings, roundtable discussions and surveys. An IDIS (Initiative for Diversity and Inclusion for Students) working group is developing a curricular and co-curricular program specifically designed for first-years, which may include a required course and could possibly integrated with Writing 125.
Students and faculty alike have many suggestions for potential changes to the multicultural requirement.
“I would like to have a part of [the multicultural requirement] be done first year,” said Lyndsay Coleman ’14 during a multicultural requirement roundtable discussion on April 17. “It’s really detrimental if you wait until your senior year. There should be more emphasis on fulfilling the multicultural requirement in first year.”