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University reworks multicultural requirement

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Allison Hageman/THE REVIEW
The university is reevaluating the multicultural requirement.

BY
STAFF REPORTER

While diversity continues to be a prevalent issue on campus, James M. Jones, director of the Center for the Study of Diversity, is working to update the university’s multicultural requirement in order to keep students and faculty educated.

Jones worked with sociology professor Barret Michalec to explore the courses currently being offered to satisfy the requirement and enhance the system as a whole. He is interested specifically in understanding how and where students have learning opportunities. From there, he wants to help broaden student perspectives, deepen their understanding and inform student decision making and behavior, he said.

“The idea is that you learn things, but then you actually apply them to your own life,” Jones said.

He said in order for courses to satisfy the multicultural requirement, professors must submit various materials such as syllabi and lists of speakers and field trips in order to prove that their courses meet certain criteria.

When Jones evaluated this system, he found that the courses were inconsistent. He said that a lot of the time, as long as the title of a course had words such as “race,” “culture” or “religion” in it, it was assumed that it would fulfill the requirement, even if the course didn’t actually meet the criteria.

There are currently 250 multicultural courses, and every student is required to take at least one. Jones said this will not do much when it comes to educating students on diversity.

“The learning consequence of taking one course over four years of college is not very substantial,” he said.

Jones said he is concerned about creating something meaningful that will give students knowledge that is both sustainable and impactful. He created a diversity competency model in order to simplify diversity and allow educators to integrate it into education.

The purpose of this model is to take the broad concept of diversity—which includes all of the history and psychological processes associated with it—and make it manageable.

The model is broken down into six evaluations: diversity self-awareness, perspective taking, cultural intelligence and communication, personal and social responsibility, understanding global systems and applying knowledge.

In spring 2014, Jones and Michalec chose nine multicultural courses to evaluate based on the terms of the model. They surveyed students and faculty to find if the courses they were enrolled in or teaching successfully accomplished the model’s six evaluations.

The data showed that cultural intelligence and communication, diversity self-awareness and perspective taking were most commonly reported to be taught successfully in the courses. Jones said these three evaluations are consistently higher than personal and social responsibility, understanding global systems and applying knowledge.

He said it might have something to do with class size because those three are more endorsed in smaller classes. He also said not every course needs to be designed to meet all six competencies of the model.

Jones and Michalec surveyed additional students with high levels of diversity about the origination of their competency. In the survey, most of the 16 respondents said their classes, membership in a student organization and residence in student housing taught them the most about diversity.

“One of the things we need to think about is that diversity competency happens intentionally through courses, but it also happens through living with people coming into contact with each other,” Jones said. “We have to find ways to bring people together.”

Jones also provided several recommendations for how the university can improve diversity and inclusion. He recommended that diversity learning be integrated into general education courses, such as First Year Experience and English 110 to create opportunities for dialogue.

In terms of the multicultural course requirement, he said it should utilize a rubric for certification, employ a graduated, incremental approach over four years and also encompass co-curricular activities.

Communications professor Lindsay Hoffman said the current multicultural requirement system is not rigorous enough.

“I know when I advise my students, I don’t even think about it,” Hoffman said. “I tell them that they’ll fulfill it with other requirements because so many things count for it.”

English professor Emily Davis, the chair of the Faculty Senate’s committee for diversity and affirmative action, is working to redesign the rubric that will be used to recertify all the multicultural courses. She said the biggest challenges with the new rubric will be implementation and enforcement, but it will be hard to expect rigorous engagement with the courses that will count toward the requirement.

Another issue moving forward is whether faculty members should be trained to teach diversity subjects.

“In theory, I’m so for the idea of diversity being part of all of the general education curriculum courses,” Davis said. “But I’m terrified of what that means when we tell people who have no training or interest to do diversity.”

She also said students have expressed concern about instructors teaching subjects that they don’t know much about. Davis and Jones both said that mandated training for faculty would not be an easy sell.

“I think you have to build a culture and make it something that people fall into, and part of that is to acknowledge that there are meaningful things that people can learn,” Jones said.

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