New university program requirement garners support, criticism
Students and faculty at Central Michigan University have been working to establish a non-race-based discrimination class requirement into the curriculum for the past three years.
Academic senators Cherie Strachan and Mary Senter drafted a proposal for the new UP subgroup IV-D, “Studies in Other Forms of Discrimination in the U.S. and Other Countries,” and introduced it to the Academic Senate in January.
After a semester filled with debate regarding the proposal, the Academic Senate approved the changes to the curriculum on April 4.
The UP will require students to take a non-race-based discrimination course. Courses in the category will focus on discrimination issues regarding sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability. Because the requirement will be implemented in the 2019 bulletin, it will not affect current students.
To maintain the same number of required credit hours, the category will replace the current elective in the university program.
“The point behind (the requirement) is that students are increasingly facing a diverse public sphere, whether that’s in their workplaces, marketplaces or in politics,” Strachan said. “In order to be a successful well-rounded employee (and) citizen, we have to have cultural competency. We have to learn how to get along with people who have very different experiences and backgrounds than we have.”
Need for the requirement became apparent in 2014, Strachan said, after the Academic Senate rejected the motion to add a sign language course about the culture of the hearing disabled to the race-based discrimination requirement.
At this time, Strachan was the director of Women and Gender Studies department. She said her students started questioning why the curriculum didn’t require courses on forms of discrimination that impact their lives. As a result, Strachan and Senter felt obligated to address these concerns.
Students and faculty who opposed IV-D had two main arguments: Forcing students to take discrimination courses is ineffective, and the new requirement may impact the four-year graduation track.
Midland Junior Cali Winslow, co-president of Students Advocating for Gender Equality, said arguing that discrimination education is best outside the classroom is exactly why the requirement is needed.
"The people coming to these out-of-class activities are the people who are already interested and already committed to this kind of work,” Winslow said. “The proposal was important because it reaches people who wouldn’t necessarily be aware of (discrimination issues). It forces them outside of their little bubble of thinking to consider how people engage differently with the world and how they can engage productively with people of diverse backgrounds.”
Though some argue that one class will not change a student’s mindset, Winslow maintains that repeated exposure to the topic will still have an effect. It’s important for students to understand different world views in some way, she said.
“It’s important for (students) personally (and) for the communities that they’re going to be engaging with, so they’re not perpetuating forms of oppression and continuing discrimination without even realizing they’re doing it,” Winslow said. “Being aware can never be a bad thing.”
Another opposition regards students’ flexibility to double count courses in the curriculum. Students often use an elective course to satisfy both a major requirement and the UP category at the same time.
Among those concerned is Ian Davison, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. Davison said he has no issues with the discrimination topic of the UP category, but is worried that the change will affect the four-year graduation track.
“We use the elective credits in the UP for most of our majors (to) double count,” Davison said. “It should be possible for a student to graduate in four years and I think we have an obligation to make that possible.”
To address graduation issues, Strachan and Senter introduced an exemption amendment to the proposal in March, which allows departments to submit an application that would exempt all students in certain majors from the new requirement.
Though they added the amendment, Strachan and Senter hope departments will create classes for their majors that satisfy the discrimination requirement. This way classes can still be double counted while students obtain the necessary education.
“One of the best ways to learn about diversity issues (is by learning the) way they’re connected to how you’re thinking about your own future,” Strachan said.
There will likely be classes created for the category, Strachan said, but those have not been established yet. For now, 15 departments across the university have designated classes that would fit the requirement. Classes still need to be approved by the General Education Committee.
Departments currently established with likely qualifying IV-D classes include:
- Department of English Language and Literatures
- Department of History
- Department of Philosophy and Religion
- Department of Political Science and Public Administration
- Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work
- Women and Gender Studies
- Cultural and Global Studies
- Department of Educational Leadership
- Department of Counseling and Special Education
- Department of Human Environmental Studies
- Department of Communication Disorders
- Department of Communication in Dramatic Arts
- School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts
- School of Music
- Department of Mathematics
Davison said he ultimately values the purpose of UP requirements to promote a well-rounded education for all students, but thinks departments applying for exemption takes away from its purpose.
“It seems to me that if (CMU is) going to have something that is part of the (general education requirement), all students should take it,” he said. “But (it needs to be) within the context of making it possible for students to take that course without delaying graduation.”