Professors vote to implement Exploring Diversity for 2008-9

Faculty members are taking the final steps towards instituting the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) in place of the current Peoples and Cultures (P&C) requirement, long considered too nebulous to engage the current understanding of diversity. Despite concerns about foreign language and study abroad, a list of approximately 85 courses has been approved for EDI credit. The initiative was originally slated to take effect this academic year, but was postponed until 2008-9 to allow a subcommittee to develop EDI requirements and class listings.

At last Wednesday’s faculty meeting, members voted to pass the bulk of the EDI material for the course catalog, which stresses the College’s commitment to “creating and maintaining a curriculum, faculty and student body that reflects and explores a diverse, globalized world and the multi-cultural character of the United States.” The remainder of the catalog material describes the aims of the initiatives and categories of classes involved, then lists the classes that will fulfill the EDI requirement.

While this list is far shorter than the previous P&C list, and not all classes will be offered at one time, the subcommittee is confident that it will suffice. “The number of courses on offer does not need to be as large as the number of P&C courses,” said Chris Waters, EDI subcommittee director and professor of history, “First, because some students will be able to use study abroad to meet the requirement, and second, because students who have already fulfilled a P&C requirement will not have to meet the EDI requirement.”

The only part of the EDI proposal that was not passed was the paragraph about study abroad, as many felt that the wording was vague. “We hope to have a revised proposal for the ways in which study abroad experience can count for the EDI requirement to bring to the faculty meeting in April,” Waters said.

The concerns of the faculty focus on whether or not study abroad programs should count for EDI credit, as some consider it possible for students to study abroad without having an experience that emphasizes diversity. As a result, the EDI subcommittee proposed a two-part system by which students could request that their study abroad program be counted for EDI credit. Before leaving, students would write a letter informing the EDI director why they wanted their program to count. Final credit would not be granted, however, until the student had returned and written another formal letter, “reflecting on their study abroad experience in terms of the various issues of diversity that are central to the initiative.”

In addition to the vague language, the potentially cumbersome process has been called into question. There is also debate over whether to emphasize specific programs, individual experiences or particular coursework in considering the eligibility of a study abroad program for EDI credit. Before the next faculty meeting in April, which will be the last chance to confirm the language of the catalog for the coming year, the subcommittee will consider setting guidelines as to which study abroad programs can fulfill the requirement – stressing aspects like living arrangements and language immersion.

Aside from study abroad, the EDI requirement is ready to go into effect for the class of 2012. Several courses have been created or restructured with the EDI in mind, in addition to many existing courses that have been approved. Throughout this approval process, one of the biggest concerns pertained to language courses, which were counted much more easily within the P&C, but, according to Waters, were originally not going to be counted at all under the EDI.

Language departments had to argue for their classes fitting into the EDI framework against the concern that learning a language does not necessarily entail “exploring diversity.” Departments stressed that learning a language is not only about learning words, but also the cultural context of language. “Linguistic and cultural differences in using language and in thinking about the world can be mind-expanding for students and help them better understand the diversity of human experience,” said Neil Kubler, chair of the Asian studies department. As a result of convincing proposals, a number of Chinese and Japanese language courses will receive EDI credit.

While the smaller number of courses may require students to work a bit harder to fulfill the EDI than they did to meet the P&C, it is hoped that they will find themselves in courses that bring into focus a purposeful engagement with diverse cultures and societies. “The EDI focuses on process, not content,” said Monique Deveaux, chair of the Committee on Educational Policy and professor of political science. “It calls for critical reflection on and consciousness of cultural differences.”