New course to analyze history of diversity efforts at Northwestern

Tyler Pager, Assistant Campus Editor

Touted as an example of what the proposed University-wide diversity requirement would look like, a new class examining diversity and inequality at Northwestern will be offered this spring.

The Social Inequalities and Diversities requirement was proposed by the Diversity Council last February and was recommended to be implemented in the fall of 2015. While the requirement is still in the works, it includes an academic curricular component and a discussion-based activity outside of the classroom. 

“Many, many schools have requirements that are about diversity or something like that, so this is not a radical idea,” said Nitasha Sharma, an African American studies and Asian American studies professor who will be teaching the course this spring. “We’re a little bit behind when it comes to that. We got to this point, however, because of a lot of the student protest and activism, which came about as a result of a number of on-campus racist incidents.”

(Diversity Council rolls out proposal for university-wide social inequalities, diversity requirement)

The course, titled “Diversity and Inequality at Northwestern University,” is listed under African American studies and Asian American studies. It is open to 90 students.”

“I want this class basically to talk about, very deeply, local issues that impact all students at Northwestern, but what it also does is question this idea of ‘One Northwestern’ or one culture,” Sharma said.

Sharma said the class will analyze a variety of different issues from three different lenses. The class will first look at how an issue can impact NU’s present state. It will then compare the topic to issues at other universities around the country, and finally the course will examine these issues historically.

Some examples of topics Sharma plans to discuss are affirmative action in admissions, themed parties and campus organizations. When the class analyzes different issues at NU, she said she hopes to take advantage of primary sources. For example, when the class discusses admissions, she hopes to bring in a representative from NU’s admissions office.

Thaddeus Tukes, Associated Student Government’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, said he plans to enroll in the course. He is particularly interested in engaging in discussions with his peers about the topics.

“I think that it has the potential to do amazing things for Northwestern’s community and the student body,” the Medill-Bienen sophomore said. “It opens up more dialogue and I think that’s always a very important first step in gaining an inclusive community. It will formally educate people about certain things they may not know about.”

Weinberg senior Noor Hasan has already taken two classes with Sharma and said she is looking forward to taking the course in the spring.

“It’s an opportunity for Northwestern students to not just reflect on materials that are historical and critical, but also relevant to their own lives on campus,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to what kind of experiences are shared and what students think about social inequalities and diversity at Northwestern.”

Sharma said the diversity requirement, if enacted, will fill an essential component of a university education.

“It is to expose students to understanding power and inequality in the world and at home, and the idea is how can you graduate from university without ever having taking a class like that?” Sharma said. “We know that based on how students think and act that they don’t know how to analyze power and inequality.”

Editor’s note: Following the publication of this story, the course listing was updated. The story has been updated with information from the new listing.

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Twitter: @tylerpager