The discussions that started last semester around issues of diversity and inclusion were much-needed, and brought to light many problems that had previously gone unaddressed. The recent Diversity and Inclusion Report as well makes clear suggestions for actions that the College could take to address these issues. We fully support the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Committee in their efforts to elevate the place of diversity in our community.
We support changes to the academic program to ensure that cultures are neither overlooked nor disrespected, and to promote students’ understanding of a variety of cultures and viewpoints. Swarthmore should make every effort to ensure that our academics reflect the diversity of our student body and the world in which we live.
This support is not, however, without reservation. In terms of specific changes to the academic program, we do not believe that we can be certain as to what measures will be most effective at fostering diversity both in and out of the classroom.
If a designation similar to ‘W’ courses were created, as is discussed in the Diversity and Inclusion Report, students may find it a chore to fulfill these requirements, and resent the burden placed on them. Moreover, the issues that currently exist with ‘W’ courses could appear, without improvement, in courses that received such a designation. Depending on the department and the professor, ‘W’ courses vary in their content and practice, with many offering little more writing work or support than non-‘W’ courses. Were this also the case with courses marked for a diversity requirement, the requirement could end up effecting little change, and exist solely as an administrative hassle.
Similarly, though the creation of required courses, be they more similar to academic courses or to workshops, may be productive, there could be unintended consequences. Students may feel resentful at being required to take certain courses, and thus may end up with a negative opinion.
What we would like to see first, before large changes to the academic program are made, is an internal audit of academics as they are. We encourage each department to evaluate all of its course offerings, to find what possible limitations and flaws exist in their own programs. Courses that seem to simplify or neglect other cultures should be considered, and improved. The cultural focus of courses should be taken into consideration, and efforts to broaden it made.
We support a reform of Swarthmore’s academic program to be more inclusive and represent greater diversity, but we do not think that the first step should be major administrative changes, nor the creation of new requirements. These may turn out to be useful down the road, but the first step should be taken by departments, by professors. Until we know exactly what the limitations are of our current curriculum, we cannot effectively improve it.