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Does Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Belong in a College Curriculum?

The hot topic on college campuses is whether issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) should be included in the college curriculum and, if so, how should it be incorporated into the curriculum. These issues have grown in importance because of recent events on campus including discrimination on campus, the acrimonious political climate on campuses, deep racial tensions, and the emphasis on doing whatever it takes to make all students feel welcome, appreciated, and supported by campus administration.

There's no doubt increased attention is being given to these issues. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found almost 60% had instituted requirements for students to take at least one course addressing diversity. Another study found that 34% of the 196 colleges and universities surveyed had a multicultural general education requirement, 33% offered course work in ethnic and women's studies, and 54% had introduced multicultural material into their departmental course offerings.

Is there broad-based support among faculty and administrators for EDI? It's too early to tell. But, first things first. Do we even have an acceptable definition of these areas of curriculum? I have my doubts. We all know what equity means – basic fairness – and who would argue that it’s an essential part of every college curriculum and the campus environment. But, do we need a separate course in it? Isn’t fairness already covered in general education courses – i.e., philosophy, sociology, political science? Why not just require every college student to take one of these courses to graduate?

Diversity issues tend to focus on the similarities as well as the differences of broad groups in a population. Diversity curricula could address the abilities, culture and ethnicities, experiences, genders, and religions of such groups. Once again, I have to ask whether we need a separate course to adequately address these issues.

As for inclusion, the curriculum would address why and how to appreciate and respect distinctive characteristics of groups of people, such as those from a historical context, and the multicultural dimensions of faculty and students on a college campus. The key here is for each campus to create a climate where members of that community feel valued and appreciated, interaction exists between a broad spectrum of groups, and a representative of each group participates in the decision-making on campus – i.e., representation on policy-making committees, advisory councils.

There are many issues to deal with before a decision is made to include EDI in the curriculum. The overriding issue is how best to facilitate cross-cultural communication and address multicultural differences. Individual issues should be fully discussed within the unique community of an institution of higher learning. Here are a few issues:

  1. Getting faculty, students and administrators to buy into the need for EDI curricula.

  2. Determining how EDI fits into the overall college curriculum and the academic goals of the institution?

  3. Discussing where, when and how EDI should be taught.

  4. Finding ready, willing and able faculty to teach EDI.

  5. Allocating funds for EDI instruction and new faculty, if needed.

  6. Defining the scope of the curricula.

  7. Identifying resources to incorporate EDI into the curriculum – i.e. teaching materials, speakers.

  8. Assessing whether the goals and objectives of teaching EDI have been met: holding instructors accountable for the outcomes of their instruction.

  9. Evaluating instructor performance by students.

  10. Developing campus programs to bring groups of students together and address EDI issues in a holistic manner.

As you can see, the decision to incorporate EDI into a college curriculum is not easy to make. I’m not necessarily against it. However, I have to ask whether the standard college curriculum needs to cover it with a separate course. Is this the best way to go? Are colleges ready to reallocate funds from one existing program to a new one on EDI?

I’ve identified a viable alternative. San Diego State University created the first Cultural Competency Certificate Program in the California State University system. The goal is to provide interested students with the knowledge and skills to develop their cultural awareness and be able to apply those skills in their chosen careers. After completion of the Cultural Competency Certificate Program, students will be recognized at the President’s Diversity Awards.

The San Diego State program makes sense to me. It rewards and acknowledges students who complete the program. It has a clear end-goal that addresses life after higher education. It provides the tools for students to work with other students, learn from their experiences, and become more responsible members of society. In short, it is a learn by doing approach to higher education.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 17, 2017. Dr. Mintz is a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Visit his website for contact information and to find out more about other blogs, sign up for his Newsletter and learn about his professional services.

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