Diversity courses to get a makeover by 2013

Daniel Moore

The university continues to designate more courses that fulfill a diversity requirement while exploring ways to better engage students to diversified education.

Immigration Law, Crime and Justice and The History of Jazz are the two newest courses to earn the diversity status, effective fall 2011, Donald Williams, Honors College dean, said in an e-mail.

Williams is co-chair of the University Requirements Curriculum Committee, which recommends a course be labeled “diversity” from the Educational Policy Committee. He said the EPC has the final say.

The criteria a course needs to be labeled “diversity” are on the Kent State website. A course must encourage global awareness, explore ways to communicate and participate constructively in a diverse community and participate in special programs that promote understanding of other peoples, among other objectives.

Every five years, the URCC surveys faculty and students to review the requirement, Williams said.

In the most recent 2008 survey, only 47 percent of students said their diversity courses covered global awareness and sensitivity, 30 percent said they covered ways to communicate constructively and 23 percent said they had special programs to promote cultural understanding.

Further, 94 percent of students said they took the diversity course to fulfill an LER requirement, while 22 percent thought the subject matter would help them in their careers.

Williams said he thought students learned in the courses, but students weren’t sure how the knowledge was relevant to their majors.

“The URCC recommended that we find ways for faculty members to better explain the purpose of diversity courses,” Williams said. “Another recommendation was that we develop methods for assessing the degree to which we attain the desired diversity learning outcomes.”

He said the URCC will address these issues before the next survey in 2013.

Timothy Chandler, Senior Associate Provost, said the university needs to change its thinking from what started as a sensible approach of designating courses as “diversity” and forcing students to meet the requirement. Instead, he said, diversity should permeate and integrate into the entire curriculum.

“A course is not an inoculation against something,” Chandler said. “We’re still thinking about courses in terms of inputs. Rather than add a course, it’s much more important that we measure and understand what the learning outcomes are.”

Christina McVay, a lecturer in both the English and Pan-African departments, said the diversity requirement is a good idea but the way it was implemented has not been very effective.

“It’s tricky,” she said. “Every department has to go through this whole procedure, fill out forms and take it to their college curriculum committee.”

McVay said she agreed with the idea to spread diversity to as many courses as possible. By the current system, she said, every class in the Pan-African department should be a diversity course.

Alfreda Brown, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, said her 15-month-old division

has no weight in the selection of diversity courses, but she would like to see that change.

“I want it to be a collaborative effort across the entire university,” Brown said. “I believe there are ways of infusing diversity into the curriculum, and I’m not just talking about race.”

Brown said she wants a “diversity of thoughts” in the classroom and suggests every professor think more globally.

“It’s a simple concept,” Brown said. “Even if it’s a math course. (We need to think), ‘how can we make this course different from how it’s been taught before?’”

Contact Daniel Moore at [email protected].