Exploring Diversity committee proposes EDI requirement change to the faculty

At a faculty meeting last Wednesday, the Exploring Diversity Committee proposed changing the College’s single-course Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement to a similar, single-course “Difference, Power and Equity” (DPE) requirement. Like the current EDI requirement, the DPE requirement could be fulfilled by various courses in a variety of academic departments and would be handled by the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA). According to the current proposal, a DPE course would become mandatory beginning with the Class of 2022.

The original motion to change the “Peoples and Cultures” (P&C) requirement to the EDI requirement in 2006 included a provision requiring periodic reviews, such as the one that served as the motive force behind the DPE proposal, according to Roger Kittleson, professor of history and director of the EDI committee. The committee’s analysis of the EDI requirement focused on its reception by faculty and students as well as the distribution of EDI-designated courses amongst faculty and academic units.

The EDI requirement replaced the P&C requirement, which was added to the College curriculum in 1989 with the goal of making diversity a more overt focus of the requirement in light of changing cultural circumstances. “Designating a course as a P&C course required nothing more than checking a box, sometimes without the instructor’s input. We wanted to make sure that the courses that met the requirement intentionally dealt with issues of diversity,” Jeff Strait, professor of physics and member of the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) at the time the current EDI requirement was passed, said. The CEP required instructors to designate a course as an EDI course and defined four discrete categories that a course could fall into to fulfill the EDI requirement.

The proposal to replace the EDI requirement with a DPE requirement follows similar logic to the replacement of P&C with EDI. One goal of the proposal is to clarify the definition of qualifying courses. Kittleson and Strait both noted that it is not always clear to students why a course is or is not designated EDI. “There were a lot of concerns about who the EDI appeared to be constructed for,” Kathryn Dix ’18, a student on the EDI committee, said. “For example, if courses that studied another culture could be listed as EDI solely based on the concept of difference from the norm, [then] that automatically assumes that students from that culture wouldn’t be at the school in the first place. The hope was to move away from a system that seemed to communicate that its purpose was to educate the elite on issues of social justice and privilege.”

Furthermore, the committee hopes the revised requirement will ensure the themes of the initiative are integral parts of all qualifying courses. “Something we’re trying to strengthen with our reformed requirement is really putting questions of difference, power and equality at the heart of a class – not just having it be something that you cover, but something that the class is very centrally about,” Kittleson said.

The committee hopes the proposal will simplify the process of designating a DPE course, by requiring that it be done by faculty through their departments. “Past and current EDI directors have said that the process is cumbersome and places an undue burden on the director,” Strait said. “The CEP in 2006 never intended for the application and selection process to be burdensome. The new proposal to ask academic departments to discuss and select EDI courses is sound. CEA, a successor to the CEP, will oversee the selection process, sharing this responsibility among several committee members.”

The faculty has not yet voted on the Exploring Diversity Committee’s proposal. One worry about the current proposal amongst the professoriate is that DPE is too narrow in scope compared to EDI.

“The DPE proposal seeks to repeal the four EDI categories and replace them with a single category that resembles the EDI ‘Power and Privilege,’ [dimension]” Strait said. “While I think that courses that focus on power and privilege are valuable, I believe that it is a mistake to narrow the criteria for selecting the courses. Partly this is a matter of preserving student choice. Narrowing the EDI requirement to Power and Privilege will offer students fewer opportunities.”

At the same time, Kittleson believes that the DPE requirement can be meaningful to the campus community and will require student and faculty engagement to remain relevant. “As with all changes and all requirements, we need faculty buying in, we need students to take it seriously, and we need students to keep giving us input,” Kittleson said. “Because if it turns out that it’s not working, we need to do something else. We feel this kind of things is very important to our curriculum and to our community. [The DPE requirement] is something we think will have a positive impact both in a classroom and on campus.”

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