In 2014, the University of Michigan reformed the Race and Ethnicity requirement after student activists pushed to include an intersectional approach to the classes offered under the requirement. Recently, the Race and Ethnicity requirement has come under fire by students for its perceived inability to critically address race and ethnicity, racism and discrimination in domestic and global contexts. Additional scrutiny has been placed on the requirement, after bias incidents, such as a blackface Snapchat on campus. To address the pressing concerns of students and the campus climate, the University should design specific Race and Ethnicity courses with the true goals of the requirement in mind, putting a focus on engaging students in in-depth discussions about race and ethnicity.
The Michigan Daily Editorial Board believes the Race and Ethnicity class requirement should be expanded to all of the schools for students in undergraduate programs at the University of Michigan. As it is currently only required in LSA, the Ford School of Public Policy and the School of Art & Design, this requirement should be for all students regardless of school and major. As of now, some schools within the University have their own requirements into which a Race and Ethnicity requirement could fit. For example, the College of Engineering requires 16 credits of “intellectual breadth.” Requirements like these could be ample opportunities into which a Race and Ethnicity course could be fit into. Another way these courses could be implemented within each school would be for each college to create a Race and Ethnicity course related to fields of study, which would allow students to understand how diversity can and does impact their future field.
The components of the requirement listed on the LSA website are also vague as it pertains to the structure of Race and Ethnicity courses. While the University mentions that, “Every course satisfying the requirement must devote substantial, but not necessarily exclusive, attention to the required content,” it does not define what could be considered “substantial.” This, along with the extent of classes which fulfill the requirement, provides too much room for vague connections to race and ethnicity rather than a structured focus. As the University focuses on its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, we would hope that additional focus could be placed on strengthening this specific classroom experience.
In order to address concerns that students have with the current Race and Ethnicity requirement, the University should revise courses with the actual goals of the requirement as their focus race and ethnicity are an ancillary component of many courses given the label. Courses need to be crafted with the requirement in mind for it to actually serve its purpose.
There are certain elements that could be implemented in Race and Ethnicity courses which could cultivate fruitful discussion and awareness. Namely, a move towards smaller, discussion-based classes, rather than large lectures, would be more conducive to having deep conversations truly centered around race and ethnicity. Many of the classes that count for the requirement are larger classes, including History 101: What is History? and Anthrcul 101: Introduction to Anthropology. While these classes are important to majors and may have a race and ethnicity component to them, the large class size is not an effective method for having critical and introspective discussions.
Race and ethnicity topics from the past and the present should be the centerpiece of courses fulfilling the requirement, particularly, issues prevalent on campus. We feel that these issues could be best addressed through a possible one-credit required mini-course for freshmen that focuses on race and ethnicity on campus and in the lives of everyday students. Starting discussions of this kind early on in students’ college experience is key to promoting a campus climate all students feel welcome and safe in.
As the University campus functions as a place to grow in our intellectual niches, it is also a place to think critically about issues that inherently affect us outside of our majors. The Race and Ethnicity requirement has not lived to its potential in fostering dialogue and awareness of pressing racial issues. As it stands now, it is more of a box to check off, instead of a course to think outside of the box. However, redesigning the structure and criteria of race and ethnicity could have profound effects in starting difficult conversations and shedding light on the topics we far too often gloss over.