Student petition recommends US-centric diversity curriculum requirement

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

Students have circulated a petition throughout the past week urging Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences faculty to support a Social Inequalities and Diversity curriculum requirement focused on the United States.

The petition launched after students heard that some professors would support a more internationally-focused requirement.

“We want students to critically engage with social inequalities that happen in their own backyard,” said SESP senior Austin Romero, ASG vice president of accessibility and inclusion. 

The petition, which Romero launched Feb. 9, is co-sponsored by Associated Student Government and multiple student groups. As of Monday evening, Romero said it had 281 signatures. He plans to present the petition at a forum for student input on the requirement Feb. 23.

The requirement has been the topic of discussion among Northwestern faculty for two years.

The original proposal, rolled out in February 2013 by the University Diversity Council, called for all six undergraduate schools to adopt the Social Inequalities and Diversities curriculum requirement. If approved, the requirement would be the first University-wide undergraduate academic requirement.

The School of Education and Social Policy and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications have already implemented the requirement in their curricula.

The requirement was first proposed amid student activism responding to racially-charged incidents on campus.

The original proposal supported requiring students to take a course that would fit several learning goals, including the ability to “think critically about issues in political, social, scientific, economic and cultural life stemming from the diversity of experiences related to social inequalities and diversities.” The requirement, which the proposal suggested would be completed in a student’s first two years at NU, would also include an extracurricular component involving Sustained Dialogue discussion sessions.

The requirement’s goal is for students to interact and work with students of different life experiences and cultural backgrounds, Dona Cordero, former assistant provost for diversity and inclusion and head of the diversity requirement effort, told The Daily in February 2014.

In its proposal, the Academics/Education working group of the University Diversity Council said the focus of the requirement would be on the United States, “although it does not exclude global perspectives.”

Mary Finn, Weinberg associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, told The Daily last week that 45 Weinberg faculty members attended a forum earlier this month to discuss the requirement.

She said there was a “very interesting” conversation about the focus of the requirement. She said although the requirement may not have a U.S. focus, she expects courses will have students self-reflect on their relation to the material.

Romero said he and Weinberg senior Anna Rennich, ASG vice president of academics, met with Finn on Friday to discuss the “impact of the petition.”

“I explained to her that it was really to show faculty of Weinberg that this is really something that students are passionate about and believe in,” he said.

Romero said he heard that at the forum, faculty were in favor of an internationally-focused requirement. He said if the requirement is not United States-centric, it will lose its original focus.

Weinberg senior Xiaowen Chen, one of the two undergraduates on Weinberg’s Curricular Policies Committee, said there was a concern that the petition did not include input from international students who may have a different perspective.

“The main point is the student input is only from students who have the opinion that the course should be U.S.-focused … even though seven percent of students on this campus are international,” she said. “What’s important is to get everyone to let us know what they think.”

Despite this concern, Romero said most international students he has spoken with are in support of the petition.

“This is a requirement that benefits everyone,” he said. “While international students certainly have different perspectives, during the four years they’re on the campus the United States is their lived reality.”

Meanwhile, faculty are developing courses that would fit the requirement.

The original proposal for the requirement for all six schools was recommended for implementation in Fall 2015, and Finn told The Daily in November it would be added to Weinberg no earlier than Fall 2016.

However, Finn said on Thursday that when former Weinberg dean Sarah Mangelsdorf left the University in August, the search for the new dean caused a delay.

Although a revised proposal for Weinberg’s Curricular Policies Committee is still being drafted, Finn said this year has been focused on developing and piloting courses that will fit the requirement. Next year, she said, the proposal will go through a three-stage process: First, a meeting with the Curricular Policies Committee, then to a faculty meeting for discussion and then to another faculty meeting for a vote if a consensus is reached.

The goal for implementation of the requirement in Weinberg is the 2017-18 academic year. The requirement would only affect incoming freshmen that year.

“I think we’ve had some really good conversations, we have some great courses that are being piloted, so I think that we will have something very concrete and really high quality and we will be able to say we talked to a lot of faculty,” Finn said.

This year, 12 faculty members have been piloting courses, Finn said. She said by next year she hopes 20 more faculty members will pilot a course.

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Previous stories on this topic:

Diversity council rolls out proposal for university-wide social inequalities, diversity requirement
Faculty developing courses for diversity requirement