From the Daily: Curriculum clash

Published December 13, 2004

Students in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts may soon have to prepare themselves for a rendezvous with the women’s studies department whether they like it or not. A group of students called the Gender and Sexuality Requirement Committee is pushing for the acceptance of a new LSA course requirement, mandating students take three credits concerning gender and sexuality. If LSA faculty adopts the committee’s proposal, the new requirement would not substitute for the existing race and ethnicity requirement. LSA faculty should acknowledge the importance of studying gender and sexuality, but should do so by incorporating it into the race and ethnicity requirement so as not to further limit students.

The beneficial impact the University and LSA students can acquire from learning about gender and sexuality cannot be understated. An increasingly diverse society as well as hotly-debated issues such as abortion and gay marriage make an understanding of gender and sexuality an important part of a liberal arts education. There are, however, a number of practical reasons why an additional requirement is not the best approach to the study of gender and sexuality.

Some faculty members in the women’s studies department are worried the proposed requirement would overload the small, intimate women’s studies environment with students not as interested in the material. Faculty members feel an uninterested or hostile atmosphere could negatively impact the quality of education students receive from women’s studies classes.

LSA faculty should also be aware that the passage of this proposal could encourage a proliferation of requests for targeted curriculum requirements. There are many socially relevant issues that are worthy of study, and it will be difficult for LSA faculty to draw a line between what should and should not be required. It is important to note that the existing race and ethnicity requirement was proposed in part to promote a tolerant environment on campus in light of incidents of racial violence. Supporters of a gender and sexuality requirement, however, have not cited such a motivation for their proposal.

Furthermore, adding another requirement would significantly impair students’ ability to obtain an LSA degree in four years. LSA students already experience difficulties in managing current requirements. Many degree programs, such as biochemistry, require numerous prerequisites before work on the concentration can begin.

Another requirement would also further limit the freedom of students to choose courses they find interesting, which a liberal arts education should seek to enhance rather than limit. Though LSA academic requirements aim to promote a broader liberal arts education, students unfortunately often approach such requirements with hostility or apathy, reducing the requirement’s desired benefit.

The proposal for a separate requirement seems inappropriate when many current classes for the race and ethnicity requirement already hold a gender and sexuality component. For example, Women’s Studies 240, an introduction to women’s’ studies, currently meets the race and ethnicity requirement.

Though a gender and sexuality requirement is a noble idea, there are simply too many practical problems associated with the current proposal. LSA faculty should strike an appropriate compromise, giving students a broader range of options to fulfill the race and ethnicity requirement, including those specifically concerning gender and sexuality issues, without adding the stress of an additional requirement.