Let's talk about race

Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 5:07pm

I began my freshman year the way most people do: completely unsure of what classes to take. I decided to take a class that would fulfill the Race and Ethnicity requirement so I would not have to take it again in my undergraduate career. I took a class on the history of Islam in South Asia because it fit my schedule. And though the class was informative overall as a history class, it had little to do with my experiences as a South Asian woman and nothing to do with inequities as they exist relating to ethnicity. This class, along with many of the other options for the requirement, does not fit with the original intent of the requirement, which was made as a response to a request made by the student group Black Action Movement III in 1990.

The race and ethnicity curriculum has been criticized on multiple occasions in the past, but to no avail. There are still many classes that, despite fulfilling the requirement, are not in line with the goal of teaching students the value of new perspectives. Thus, students can still graduate without having taken a course that truly challenges them to think about issues of race and ethnicity in a new way, and the requirement is often viewed as an obligation, rather than an opportunity to learn more about different ethnic and cultural communities. The University of Michigan also has yet to extend the requirement to other schools outside of LSA and Art & Design.

It was not until I started taking courses in the School of Education that I saw what the Race and Ethnicity requirement should look like. My “Education: Schooling and Multicultural Society” course not only taught about racial and economic inequities, but also teaches how to take that knowledge and use it in the classroom and careers. The class is discussion- and activity-based and focuses on discussing some of the nuances of these issues. This is a model that the Race and Ethnicity required classes should all be based on, so that not only are issues being taught, but they are also being discussed in a larger group.

This model is also particularly important when thinking about other disciplines which do not require students to take courses that both fulfill the Race and Ethnicity requirement and pertain to eradicating inequities in their own future career paths. Every class in the Race and Ethnicity requirement should be carefully selected so students leave the class feeling well-informed on issues of race and ethnicity that are timely and are equipped with the tools they need to inquire about these issues and be lifelong learners.

Refining the Race and Ethnicity requirement is just one of many possible proactive steps to create a more inclusive environment on campus, but it is still only an attempt to educate students on issues they should have learned about long before attending the University. And yet, since the truth of the state of American education currently is that many children do not get the education they need about race and ethnicity, ensuring students recieve this education in college has become even more important. Refining the requirement will also help take the burden off minority students who are expected to provide education to other students on diversity, which can sometimes encourage the tokenization of these students, who should not bear this responsibility in the first place.

And yet, it should be a collective effort to ensure that all students at the University get an education where current issues of diversity are being discussed in all classrooms, not just those that fit the “Race and Ethnicity” requirement. This is something that some student leaders have discussed, but also one that students complain about when there is discrimination on campus that is not being discussed in the classroom. The University’s faculty should be educated on issues of diversity and should try to build curricula with this ideal built in wherever it fits. Professors should not fear bringing up these issues, for it is the fear of discussing diversity that ultimately keeps open discussions from happening. It would not be difficult for a student to go through their entire academic career at the University without learning about diversity in a classroom setting. University administration has to react to an issue. The University must create a culture that fosters this discussion so diversity does not only come up as a reaction to hatred.