To the Editor:
Last week’s op-ed piece by Seth Brown ’01, “P & C Requirement should be abolished” is wrong in its assertion that we should abolish the Peoples and Cultures Requirement. Although Brown’s article is well argued and brings to light many of the problems with the P&C requirement, its proposal to abolish it is a step in the wrong direction.
Williams has a history as a bastion of the white, wealthy, Protestant, heterosexual male. As an institution, we have wisely made a conscious decision to diversify. The Peoples and Cultures requirement is one of the many tools that we are using to bring Williams into our increasingly multicultural society. Williams has been at the forefront of multicultural education. Our progress has been astounding, but we still have a ways to go. We must not and cannot regress.
Brown contends that “cultural diversity is all around us; at this point people who are going to be understanding are understanding and people who aren’t, aren’t.” This challenges the very notion of education. People come to Williams to learn and to “understand” new things. If we operate under Brown’s assumption, we would not learn anything new at college. Most people, I hope, actually learn at college. I, for one, now certainly “understand” many things that I previously did not before coming to college.
Like most institutions of higher learning, Williams has a moral obligation to make up for its exclusive segregation of “non-traditional” cultures in the past. We must require that our students be exposed to the experiences of non-western and traditionally marginalized peoples. We must maintain and enhance our commitment to non-Western, African-American, Latino/a, women’s, Asian American and queer studies.
Instead of abolishing the P&C Requirement, I would argue we should go the opposite direction and strengthen it. Considering we take at least 32 courses during our time at Williams, requiring that 1 course be non-western or minority in nature is not much to ask. If, as Brown says, taking just one course will not “[change one’s] life and worldview,” perhaps we should look at increasing the requirement to 2 courses. After all, it would only be 2 out of 32 courses. Or, maybe we could narrow the scope of the current courses. Brown contends that the current selection of classes is too broad, that the method in which we select P&C courses lacks “objectiveness.” To remedy this, perhaps we could streamline the courses currently on the P&C list, and include only those that are truly and exclusively multi-cultural.
As long as ignorance exists, as long as Williams still has vestiges of its white male, exclusively straight past, we must require that our students study those peoples and cultures that have been historically underrepresented. It is in the best interests of our students that they get a multicultural education in an increasingly culturally interdependent world. The P&C requirement is a good idea and we should be proud of it.
The P&C requirement must stay; we need it.
Dan Elsea ’02