The Voluntary Core Curriculum lacks the geographically diverse range of coursework needed to foster comprehensive intellectual debate among the Emory community. The program claims to improve students’ ability to “think independently” and to participate in a “great conversation” by encouraging students to opt into the same philosophy, literature and politics courses about the Western tradition. While reading a common set of texts is vital for intellectual debate, the Eurocentric program should expand its offerings to best accommodate our global campus and society by inviting professors with more diverse class offerings to add their courses to the curriculum.
Not only is the Voluntary Core program confined to the Western tradition, it also fails to be comprehensive of the West altogether. Course offerings have included courses on Greek philosophy, the Bible and so-called “Great Books of the Western Historical Tradition.” Some authors assigned include Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith and Machiavelli. There are inevitable questions concerning the generalizability of these courses to the West as a whole: how comprehensive is the class on Ancient Greek philosophy? Why is the religious study of “The West” confined to Christianity? Who defines why certain books are “great,” and why are those books written predominantly by white, cisgender, socioeconomically elite and male authors?
There has been some recent attempt to mitigate the program’s lack of diversity among Western authors. This past semester, the program introduced Spanish 150, entitled “Great Works: A New Hispanic Canon” into its curriculum. The addition of this class is a step in the right direction for the Voluntary Core because the course integrates texts from the Spanish Golden Age with others from contemporary Latin America. Before the inclusion of the course, texts were only from the Anglophonic parts of the West. While the curriculum remains predominantly Anglophonic, the course broadens the curriculum’s scope by allowing the contextualization of Spanish texts within otherwise unrepresentative and predominantly Western courses.
But this approach should also be considered in the construction of other Voluntary Core classes. In existing classes, professors could mitigate the heavy Western-bias in their classes by examining the curricula in the context of a broader, globalizing society. For example, professors should ask why we consider the works of relatively homogenous authors “great” and should ask about the diversity of authors included in the canon.
There is room for even more global inclusion by adding classes that center on non-Western texts. While the program should increase its efforts to recruit a more diverse range of professors and departments, it must also take action to design new courses or to rework existing classes into the program. The word core implies that the specific texts should be at the heart of Emory’s values. With almost 18 percent of Emory students coming from an international background, and at least 41 percent of Emory students from a minority background, it’s safe to say that Emory has a strong interest in diverse perspectives. In its mission statement, the University promises to uphold a “global perspective on the human condition.” It only makes sense that Emory’s core curriculum aligns with the array of identities present on its campus.
These courses could come from a number of sources. The Voluntary Core program could, for example, invite professors in the Global and Post-Colonial Scholars (GPS) Program, which details “the evolving landscape of postcolonial cultural expressions,” to add their courses to the program. Professors teach courses on global literature, sexuality, race, economics and the manifestation of religion in various world regions. These courses could also come from courses cross-listed with a foreign language requirement, or courses under the proposed new diversity GER. As a whole, professors should opt-in their more global and comparative classes into the Voluntary Core program.
I understand that the Voluntary Core Curriculum is, as its title implicates, voluntary. There is no denying that students should learn about the Western attitudes and texts that influenced the very institution they attend. However, it is important to look towards a broader scope of texts for more inclusive classroom conversation. We must discuss Western texts in conversation with Eastern texts, and must critically examine the representation of authors within those regions. We must combat insularity by examining Eastern texts with as much detail as the texts of the West. The only way to do so is to encourage professors to add their diverse classes to the Voluntary Core Curriculum.
Shreya Pabbaraju (21C) is from Duluth, Ga.