Reading list lacks in diversity

by Angela Webber

Hanako Conrad (’10) and other students are working to include a requirement of one book by a person of color to the Exploration & Discovery core curriculum. The current first semester curriculum contains a list of shared books with an overwhelming predominance of majority males.

Conrad and other students have formed a group to address this issue. “After the poster incident, it became clear that students at LC don’t know how to talk about diversity,” said Conrad. Conrad also attended a forum for students of color put on by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, in which she heard concerns from students about the E&D curriculum. “They want to read a book by a person like them,” said Conrad. “Some of the students said that they even felt alienated. In a course that everyone has to take, this is unacceptable.”

Conrad believes that adding a book by a person of color to the E&D curriculum would be a “small step in a good direction” for creating a more culturally competent campus. “If we have these ‘practice’ discussions in E&D, it might be easier to have them later,” said Conrad.

Students and staff alike are seeking a place for this conversation. Dean of the College Julio De Paula and Associate Dean Jane Hunter sent an e-mail to the CAS faculty and staff, challenging LC employees to come up with ideas that will help the College develop a “vocabulary that would allow us to speak openly about race and ethnicity in our community.” De Paula also mentioned in Wednesday’s faculty meeting the idea of establishing E&D classes as a forum to have difficult discussions on these issues.

The curriculum for each individual E&D class is decided by the particular faculty member teaching that class, but there are at least three “common works” for all fall E&D classes.

These common works are determined by a meeting of the faculty members who are teaching E&D in a particular fall semester. This year’s E&D faculty selected seven common works for last semester’s class. The “common works” for next year will be decided in a meeting in mid to late April.

Conrad and her group, which includes five core members and a 25-member e-mail list, want to have two students on the committee to choose the common works, and to add a requirement that faculty choose one book by a person of color for the fall class. Conrad said that she did not want just one book to be chosen and mandated for all E&D classes. She would like to reduce tokenism and to allow faculty to choose a book that fits their idea of the E&D course.

“We realize that what we’re asking is complicated,” said Conrad. Since these initiatives would require revising the E&D charter, they are long-term goals. In the immediate future, Conrad has been working with Director of the E&D program Becko Copenhaver to solve the problem for Fall 2010 E&D classes.

Only 75 percent of the needed faculty for next year’s E&D program has been staffed thus far. Becko Copenhaver gave Conrad a list of the faculty members who are lined up to teach E&D next year. Conrad plans to lobby these faculty members to add a book to the curriculum for 2010. “We are asking them to agree on a book by a person of color for the common works, or if not, to include a book in their individual courses,” said Conrad, who is working with faculty to compile a list of suggested books.

E&D will have 27 sections in the fall, and is a general education requirement most first-years and some transfers complete during their first year at LC. Teaching E&D is not required of faculty, and getting teachers for the program is not easy, said Copenhaver. “Putting lots of additional constraints, even if they are good and justified, makes it even more difficult to staff,” said Copenhaver.

Conrad recognizes that some faculty might be uncomfortable teaching a book or having a discussion about issues of diversity. “We hope to create some sort of training for them,” said Conrad. She suggested that E&D faculty select a book they might read over the summer and discuss, in order to equip them for the discussions they will be having with their students in the fall.

Conrad’s group is also working on revising the way tenure-track faculty members are selected, seeking to change the way “service” is defined from the number of boards on which a professor sits to a criterion that reflects more visibility with students. They also want to see a policy for changing visiting professors to tenure-track faculty.

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