The College has voted to mandate a race and ethnicity course starting Fall 2021, nearly five years after Black Students at Emory demanded the creation of a “General Education Requirement that focuses specifically on the histories and experiences of people of color.” 

President of Faculty Representatives at the Emory College Senate Elena Pesavento said on May 12 that the College Senate plans to pick a current course already offered at Emory that teaches students how “racial and ethnic antagonisms and inequality develop historically,” and how to communicate respectfully across “various racial and ethnic perspectives.” 

A working group of three faculty members and three students, formed two years after the demands, brought the proposal before the College Senate in April and faculty members passed it on May 6 with 73% in favor.  

When asked why Emory took five years to propose the requirement, Pesavento attributed a lack of faculty governance at the time of the student demands and the matter being a “difficult conversation.”

Black students protesting on Emory’s campus in 2015./Leila Yavari

“The senate is only five to six years old … now the senate is better established,” Pesavento said. “The other side of it is that it is a difficult conversation from a faculty point of view: there was discussion on whether it should be more broad, ecompasing gender, or more narrow.”

Pesavento also said Fall 2021 was chosen as the semester for the GER’s implementation given further setbacks in Emory’s recent hiring freezes and the financial burden exacted by the pandemic.

However, Pesavento underscored the continued pedagogical relevance and significance of race and ethnicity on Emory’s campus. 

“At a time where issues of race and ethnicity are still at the forefront of political discussions and issues that happen all around us,” Pesavento said. “It is very important that students be exposed to those types of discussions – especially in the context where Emory is located.” 

The College Senate proposal addresses the history of the requirement, stating that Emory once mandated a similar course in the 90s with similar goals to the proposed GER, which “was removed in 2009 when general education requirements were refined and reduced in number.”

“At various times in Emory’s history, student protests or faculty actions have highlighted conflicts related to race and ethnicity,” the proposal reads. “Through multiple faculty committees, forums, and discussions, there is faculty consensus (although not unanimity) around a diversity requirement.” 

The proposal stated the 2015 Black Students at Emory demands occurred in light of “sudden political tumult that had occurred in November of that year,” and was also a “reflection of the continued and intensified alienation and precarity that black students and students of color have experienced on Emory’s campus.”

The demands brought a “conversation already ongoing within the faculty” to the fore and was the driving force behind the proposal, the proposal reads. 

Where some faculty representatives wanted a more broad course to tackle the concept of diversity more generally, Pesavento said that the College Senate “wanted to focus on race and ethnicity for a reason” and aimed to narrow the requirement’s focus.