Beginning in Winter 2015, University students will have the opportunity to minor in Intergroup Relations. The new minor takes a variety of courses already offered to students and formalizes them into a defined program. Courses emphasize students exploring a variety of social injustices stemming from race, sexuality, gender, socioeconomic status and (dis)ability. The University should be commended for expanding academics to include studies of different identities and it should find more ways to encourage students to take these classes.
Students in the minor must finish between 19 and 22 credits and the program requires two intergroup dialogue courses that emphasize open discussions about a variety of topics. Students fill out their identifications for race, sexuality, (dis)ability, socioeconomic status and gender prior to receiving an override for courses. Then, applicants are sorted into groups on a specific topic to allow for diverse backgrounds in each space. Providing these courses helps students tackle tough conversations about diversity issues that are pertinent to the University. Students can become more aware of oppression, gain communication skills among those of different backgrounds and learn the fundamentals for exploring these conversations outside of the classroom.
After enrolling in the intergroup dialogues, students choose one of two tracks: facilitating or research. Facilitating teaches students to lead similar conversations in a group setting, and research seeks to explore and provide information on different prejudices. Either pathway leads students to recognize and challenge issues of oppression through a medium relevant to their future career. Without the minor, it may not be feasible for students to take so many classes to develop these skills. However, formalizing these classes into a program allows students to engage with relevant topics while receiving a certification that demonstrates their strength in dealing with these issues.
With the positive experiences that can come from enrolling in these classes, the University should work to expand these courses. First, the University could allow relevant majors to accept these dialogues as cognates, so more students would be able to fit these courses into their schedule. Second, with the creation of this minor, the University should create an initiative to raise awareness for these courses. Many students may not know about these classes simply because they aren’t heavily promoted, and their successes could grow with increased attention. Third, work should be done to separate students by level of knowledge on a subject. While those of a minority or underrepresented group will naturally be more familiar with certain concepts, work should be done to ensure the room isn’t an even divide of informed and uninformed participants. Rather, people’s knowledge of a topic should be on a spectrum to maximize the best possible education.
Providing students a formalized education in these social injustice issues shows strides by the University to spread awareness about prejudice. However, this is only the first step. While students are expanding their knowledge of diversity, the University must work to find additional ways to expand diversity on this campus.