Faculty Addressing Black Students at Emory Demand for Diversity GER

Emory first-year students may soon be required to fulfill a new general education requirement centered around educating students about diversity.

A faculty senate of the Emory College of Arts and Sciences working group has developed a program to increase awareness about diversity in freshman courses and orientation. Emory created the initiative in response to the 2013 demands by student group Black Students at Emory.

The program to address diversity education may include new diversity-focused freshman writing course sections and restructured freshman orientation and Pre-Major Advising Connections at Emory (PACE) classes.

A pilot for the program, which the University is aiming to implement by Fall 2018, restructures orientation and PACE and adds diversity components to some freshman writing sections, according to Professor of Practice in the Department of Biology and committee member Patricia Marsteller. Marsteller said that if the pilot program is deemed successful, the diversity component will be extended to all freshman writing and seminar courses.

The working group that is looking to implement the pilot program was commissioned October 2017 in response to demands made by student group Black Students at Emory to administration in 2015 that called for “an active change in University policy directed towards black students.”

In the demands, the students specified that Emory should create a general education requirement (GER) for “courses that explore issues significantly affecting people of color” by Fall 2016.

Professor of Pedagogy Arri Eisen, a co-chair of the subcommittee, which is composed of three students and three faculty members, said the course changes will occur Fall 2018 “if everything goes smoothly.”

Eisen said that Emory formed the  subcommittee one year later than the student group had demanded because Emory was transitioning in leadership and could not mobilize quicker.

“These demands were made two years ago, so we’ve been a little slow in uptake,” Eisen said. “The leadership of the University was in transition, College faculty governance was totally redone at the same time, so that’s why we’re a little bit slow.”

Marsteller said that the program would increase the amount of time students spend discussing diversity during orientation and PACE.

Faculty members who teach these diversity classes would be trained by experts in race relations like Professor of Philosophy George Yancy, Marsteller said. Yancy declined the Wheel’s request for an interview, stating that he believed other people would be more knowledgeable about the subject.

Marsteller said that these trained professors would then partake in a summer seminar where they would all participate in “revamping first-year writing courses, freshman seminar courses or other courses that are taken in the first one to two years because we really think it has to happen early.”

Eisen and Marsteller noted that they reviewed how other institutions, including Harvard University (Mass.) and Oberlin College (Ohio), implemented diversity GERs.

Oberlin adopted a college-wide cultural diversity requirement for all undergraduates in 1991. Students satisfy the diversity GER by completing at least three courses that are either conducted in a language other than English, studying disenfranchised groups in the United States or studying cultures outside of the U.S.

Harvard adopted a more limited initiative March 2017, which requires English concentrators to take a course “featuring authors who may have been overlooked in the past for their race, gender or sexuality,” according to The Harvard Crimson.

Eisen said that Emory is heading in the same direction as Oberlin of incorporating a diversity requirement throughout the whole undergraduate curriculum.

Before the subcommittee can implement a diversity GER, which would require the University faculty to vote in support of the changes at two consecutive faculty council meetings, the subcommittee plans to hold a focus group of Emory students and faculty Spring 2018 to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed pilot program.

Eisen said that the focus group is most important to the implementation process, as it involves the students who will be affected by this proposal.

“We have to talk to the people that it’s going to affect,” Eisen said. “We’ve talked about reaching out specifically to different student groups, like sororities and fraternities, any groups that have something to give feedback on this proposal.”

Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology Robyn Fivush, a co-chair of another working group that broadly reviews undergraduate curriculum and GERs, said that the faculty re-evaluates the undergraduate education structure every five to 15 years.

“There is broad agreement [among the committee] that one of the goals of a liberal arts education is an awareness of cultural strengths, differences, humility,” Fivush said. “The world is changing, right? We’re opening a conversation about whether we are accomplishing what we want to be accomplishing.”

Correction (1/30/18 at 10:05 p.m.): The working group is under the faculty senate of the College, not the Faculty Council.

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