Embracing the Curricular Triad: Evaluating the impact of the College’s core requirements

Last month, the faculty of the College replaced the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) with the Difference, Power and Equity (DPE) requirement. This change is the result of years of work by students, faculty and staff to rethink one of the College curriculum’s fundamental tenets: the EDI requirement. And it is one of the most important curricular changes to happen during my four years at Williams.

The curriculum at the College is built on six pillars. Three of these pillars are the divisions – the arts and literature (I), the social sciences (II)and the natural sciences (III). These divisions define course exploration and the value of the liberal arts at the College. By requiring students to take three courses in each of these three divisions, the College is embracing the value of a well-rounded education. This is the fundamental groundwork for what makes a Williams education what it is. What you may learn in an English class could inform how you think in your math class and vice versa. And, after we graduate, all of these skills we gain, from literary analysis to fossil examination, will shape how we think about and make sense of the world. The divisional requirements are the foundation of a liberal arts education, built on the premise that learning disparate topics will come together to form one unified whole. That unified whole being you, a Williams graduate.

The value of the divisions is tied into the value of the liberal arts education, something we all bought into when we chose to attend the College. However, there are the other three pillars that define the Williams academic experience – the core requirements, if you will, that develop specific skills. These three pillars include the Writing Intensive (WI) requirement, the Quantitative and Formal Reasoning (QFR) requirement, and now the DPE requirement.

These three requirements define the Williams Curricular Triad. The purpose of the Curricular Triad is not one of breadth but rather one of fundamental skills. For students to succeed in the 21st century, the College believes, we should be able to communicate effectively, analyze formally and understand differing perspectives. These skills transcend the divisions and define how we think about the world around us.

Through the WI requirement, students learn how to communicate, conveying ideas in compelling ways. Through the QFR requirement, students learn formal analysis – how to construct a logical argument and rationally analyze problems. And, through the new DPE requirement, students learn the value of perspective and how to see the societal structures that define how we live and interact with each other.

It is this third component of the Triad, the new DPE requirement, that crystallizes the Triad’s importance. Communication is important, reasoning is important, but being able to understand how the structures we analyze function is fundamental. That is why DPE matters. It’s about understanding the fabric of the world around us, and it’s about how we think about that world.

These three core principles are the tenets of a Williams education. They give students the skills to critically analyze and make sense of situations around them. They work in coordination with the liberal arts divisional requirements, which empower students with a diverse range of academic experiences.

As a student, it’s often hard to see the value of this liberal arts approach and how it might actually help us be active and engaged citizens. While we on the Committee for Educational Affairs have constructed the Triad as three distinct units, the Triad’s true value comes from the cooperation of communication, analysis and perspective.

It is only when you, as a geoscience major, find yourself in a fiction writing class that the intersection between communication, formal analysis and perspective becomes evident. Because the act of fiction writing is not only about communicating, but also about making sense of the world.

It is only when you, doing a sociology independent study on food, find yourself analyzing 19th-century cookbooks that the importance of developing a formal analytical structure meshes with the need to understand the societal systems that created these cookbooks.

It is only when you, as a senior in your spring semester at Williams, find yourself drawing on skills you gained in classes from freshman year that the entire value of the Curricular Triad – and the three-divisional requirements – finally comes together.

For me, the Curricular Triad is something that I am actively seeing the value of through my studies. And I have no doubt I’ll continue to see the value of it when I enter the workforce next year. With the Triad of skills, Williams students graduate empowered to take on any situation, armed with a toolkit of knowledge allowing them to communicate effectively, analyze formally and employ different perspectives. So, when you graduate, don’t forget to take that toolbox with you as your Williams education empowers you to make a difference in the world.

Jeffrey Rubel ’17 is a geoscience major from Kansas City, Mo. He lives in Poker Flats.