By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 11, 2014
As the #BBUM movement gained traction at the University and attention across the nation, one student began working behind the scenes to tackle diversity from inside the classroom.
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Public Policy junior Carly Manes, an LSA representative on the CSG Assembly and current CSG presidential candidate for FORUM, has met with University administrators since October to reform LSA’s Race and Ethnicity requirement, gathering a coalition of student activists along the way to promote the cause.
The group met Tuesday night to draft an initial proposal for a new “identity requirement” — its official name is still in the works — which the group’s members will present to the LSA Curriculum Committee on March 18.
The proposal is two-pronged: aiming to both expand the breadth of classes that satisfy the current R&E requirement as well as implement the component into the curriculum of all University colleges.
“It would highlight and it would focus on intersectionality as the core component of the educational model,” Manes said. “So, insuring that intersectionality is highlighted in every class that counts for this new requirement.”
According to Manes, intersectionality is meant to envelop a number of identity-based themes including sexuality, gender expression, religion, documentation status and race.
This type of broad connection to modern issues is something that Business and LSA senior Sagar Lathia, LSA Student Government president, said is lacking from the current R&E requirement. He added that many students see R&E classes as nothing more than a requirement, rather than as a valuable facet of their learning experience.
He said LSA-SG executives have worked for months with the LSA Executive Committee — comprised of all the school’s associate deans and numerous faculty members — to confront issues on an administrative level.
Currently, the LSA Curriculum Committee, which is responsible for approving all changes to the undergraduate college curriculum, leaves class certification to professors, Lathia said.
“One of the negative consequences of this is that there is a kind of disparity in classes that have the distribution versus those that don’t, but cover issues in a similar lens,” he said.
This disparity is one that Public Policy senior Donavan McKinney, a member of Manes’ student coalition, said frustrates students of all disciplines. As a sophomore, McKinney took Political Science 324: African-American Politics and was surprised to learn that the class did not satisfy his R&E requirement.
“It wasn’t labeled R&E, but all we did was talk about race and ethnicity problems, and the barriers Black people have to face in order to get to elected office,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are just really frustrated and really want to see classes they have taken that touch on the issues of race and ethnicity to be labeled as such.”
McKinney said the coalition’s vision is to eradicate this frustration by reevaluating the criteria of classes that fulfill the R&E requirement.
Lathia said it is necessary to put the responsibility of class certification and distribution in the hands of students. He said this change would allow the people taking classes to help develop requirements and a well-liked curriculum.
He added that student input could allow R&E-type classes to be tailored toward majors of all kinds, rather than just those pertaining to the humanities. He added that as an Economics major, he thought it would be pertinent to have a course that examines poverty, inequality and labor through the scope of race and ethnicity.
This kind of customization is what Manes is striving to enact. She and members of her coalition have met with deans from multiple colleges, including the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering.
Business senior Shayla Scales, a member of the Black Student Union, has been one of the leading advocates of curriculum reform at the business school.
She said intersectionality is key for business students and is working to develop either diversity-focused seminars or a Management and Organizations course concentrated on race and ethnicity. She is also working to have more corporate organizations visit and speak to Ross students about diversity in the workplace.
“I truly believe innovation lies in the crevices of diversity,” Scales said. “Making sure that we incorporate diversity in all of our thinking and the way that we see the world will only lead to innovation.”
While changing curricula across all of the University’s colleges is an important step toward modernizing the campus climate, McKinney said the additions would also require frequent reevaluation. Currently, a class that is certified to satisfy the R&E requirement is reexamined every five years, which he said is not frequent enough.
“Times have changed,” McKinney said. “Things change every single day. We think that it should be at least a two- to three-year process where classes can be evaluated, and looked at to see if they fit the criteria of R&E.”
Manes added that this process would be easier if the R&E requirement were expanded to “identity,” a more encompassing term that could also include Intergroup Relations courses.
“People come to Michigan with all different experiences, all different communities, and we want to ensure that people have the opportunity to expose themselves to a new set of ideas,” she said. “It is critical to have that kind of education to ensure that we are bettering ourselves as students, bettering our campus climate, and being better people when we go out into the workplace.”
While Lathia, who has also been working to implement this reform, is encouraged by Manes’ goals and initiative, he said everyone involved must keep the process in perspective.
“It’s a really tough issue bureaucratically to change such an inner process, because if you think about it, a change in distribution requirement for R&E may trickle down and change all distribution requirements,” he said. “This isn’t something that I think can be changed in one or two meetings. It’s something so core to the College of LSA that it’s gonna take some time to get a compromise.”