IC Leaders, Faculty Discuss Strategy to Introduce Social Justice Requirement

social justice requirement

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Leaders of Intercultural Center (IC) groups and several faculty and staff members met on Monday evening to discuss proposing a new academic requirement for classes involving gender, race, class, sexuality and also climate change. The thirty-plus participants discussed the merits of this new academic requirement and a strategy to push a proposal forward.

Andrés Cordero ’17, one of the organizers of the meeting, noted that Swarthmore students need to be well-informed when they graduate and enter the professional world. Regardless of political orientation, the requirement would get students “to also have a social justice alignment and theoretical basis.” The names proposed for the requirement included “Social Justice requirement”, “Diversity requirement” and “Global Citizen requirement.”

Acknowledging some Swarthmore students are already engaged in the many contemporary social justice issues, there was a concern that some students might graduate without being fully aware of the issues. “Not everyone in Swarthmore is getting that experience,” said Bobby Zipp ‘18, another organizer.

Additionally, having this mandate was seen to offset contemporary pressures for students to pursue more STEM majors and careers. The academic requirement can be considered as a counterbalance to the “neoliberal impact on the liberal arts,” as Professor Sa’ed Atshan ‘06 noted.

Cordero likened the proposed social justice requirement with other academic requirements, and said a holistic education is beneficial for Swarthmore students. He recalled being initially reluctant to take a calculus class to fulfill the natural sciences requirement, but later acknowledged the benefits to being forced to take such classes.

“Even if it was against my will, it ended up being in my best interest to have a holistic education. It’s the same conception when it comes to social issues,” Cordero said.

Cultural competency at Swarthmore itself was also an issue. A’Dorian Murray-Thomas‘16 raised concern about whether the faculty has the capacity to discuss sensitive social justice issues. She noted her experience with “these really awkward moments in class that we’re going to gloss over.”

A few voiced opposition against having a social justice academic requirement. One of them was Gilbert Guerra ‘19, who is a leader in the Achieving Black & Latino Leaders of Excellence (ABLLE).

“I believe that mandating what classes other students should take based on our values without giving them a say in the process is unjust, especially since these are classes students are paying a lot of money for. I believe that forcing students to take classes they are not interested in is likely to breed apathy and even resentment, thus defeating the purpose of the requirement. I believe that we can work in the community to drum up enough enthusiasm and support for this initiative that it won’t have to be mandatory,” Guerra wrote in an email.

Despite being among the minority who dissented, Guerra also noted the civility of the discussion and the “fair treatment of opposing views on the requirement, especially my own”. 

The logistics of getting an academic requirement passed was also a key concern of the many participants. Salman Safir ‘16, the SGO Chair of Diversity, researched the previous efforts of introducing such an academic requirement. He discovered proposals in the late 1990s that did not gain much traction, while a diversity requirement was one of the demands put forward in the Spring of 2013.

“We fall into the trap of creating the opportunity to have the conversation, but then we only have the conversation and then it was a nice conversation, a civil conversation, but there was no change,” said Education Professor Edwin Mayorga.

Some called for practical measures to be taken now before a requirement is introduced. “Denote certain classes that already exist as an ‘SJ’ (social justice) or ‘GC’ (global citizenship). To me that is a practical first step in approaching a more just solution with the resources we currently have,” said Barbara Taylor ‘18.

An academic requirement would need to pass through a faculty vote. Nonetheless, a well-crafted proposal “could be in front of faculty next Spring,” Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Diane Anderson said.  

An academic requirement was not the only issue being discussed. Orientation was also seen as an avenue to introduce more social justice related programming. The current Tri-College Multicultural Institute program that occurs every summer was seen as a model for orientation.

“Maybe this is a tip of a much bigger iceberg,” Professor Mayorga said.


*Correction 2/27/2016: ABLLE is not working on an alternative plan for the social justice requirement currently. 

Isaac Lee

Isaac is an economics and political science major. He is a Singaporean who grew up in Hong Kong. In America he discovered the wonders of Netflix and Uber. Other than devoting his time to The Daily Gazette, he is probably reading The Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal, or skim-reading the hundreds of pages assigned to typical Swatties.


  1. I believe that there were exhaustive college-wide conversations concerning an academic requirement for courses in “multicultural” subjects in the late 1990s? One might consider those debates and the fate of those proposals as part of the larger institutional history in which these perennial discussions occur.

  2. This is an absolute joke. I am not wasting my time studying this shit when i could be learning about political science and econ. I hope the school is smarter than this

  3. +1 to This is an absolute joke.


  4. Critical race theory and feminist theory have more in common with Scientology than with actual science. They reject empiricism and reason, pillars of Western academia, in favor of the stories of those individuals that can check specific grievance boxes. In sum, they are belief systems or mythologies created out of thin air with obvious and very biased goals. No student should be forced to pay thousands of dollars (often with loans) to be indoctrinated, rather than educated.

    • Have you read any Critical Race Theory? It’s not meant to be a science and does not pass itself off as such. It’s a discipline that’s not prescriptive and is explicitly meant to challenge belief systems and mythologies.

      CRT evolved out of the deconstructionist philosophies that many would consider the pinnacle of Western academia, relying heavily on Barthes and Foucault among others. It’s main focus is the hierarchies of power that operate in the world — hierarchies that are impossible to not notice once they’ve been pointed out.

      Also, a “diversity” requirement would, if implemented, likely take the form of Swarthmore’s writing requirement, which can be fulfilled by classes in each of Swarthmore’s 3 divisions.

      The last point I want to make is that rarely are these classes blindly “indoctrinating.” They reject guises of objectivity (not reason, just premises) that are reified in almost all discipline that students are “forced” to study. In other words, they are deeply critical of indoctrination and didactic methodology, which necessarily implies that they are deeply critical of their own discipline, too.

      Also, it’s silly to think that the stuff we learn in any class is free from “biased goals” or “mythologies.” Any good Critical Race Theory course will show that to you.

      • “In other words, they are deeply critical of indoctrination and didactic methodology, which necessarily implies that they are deeply critical of their own discipline, too.”
        I don’t think this is necessarily true. E.g.: Dr. Necessitor criticizes what they see as indoctrination in CRT, but seems to uphold the indoctrinations of traditional science/academia. In the same way, why couldn’t CRT and its theoretical siblings criticize the premises of objective science while at the same time being blind to their own fallacies (I’m not saying that’s what’s going on, tbh I know very little about CRT).
        Also: “hierarchies that are impossible to not notice once they’ve been pointed out” sounds like a claim to objectivity to me, unless you have a more subtle definition of objectivity in mind which I would be interested in hearing.
        Longform news editor

        • Eduard,

          Your first point: yeah totally true. More accurate would be to say that they aren’t necessarily more critical of their own discipline but are rather more likely to be. Thanks for that

          Your second point: When I said “hierarchies that are impossible to not notice once they’ve been pointed out” I was speaking from my personal perspective. In other words, it’s my opinion that it’s impossible to unnotice hierarchies.


  5. It would be immoral to impose an ideological requirement as an academic requirement. This should be obvious to students, faculty, and administrators.

    If narrowly defined (as it surely would be), “social justice” is an ideological concept, not an academic one. If broadly defined (i.e. to include any course covering issues about the desirability of social institutions), then about any social science course should qualify, and there is already a requirement for social sciences.

    This is a proposal that deserves to be ridiculed.

  6. Gilbert Guererra is right. With STEM and language classes I think that a requirement is useful, since those are usually larger time commitments and people might avoid them otherwise, and even then some people are still grouchy about the requirement; but given that pretty much everybody knows that Swat’s a ridiculously liberal school–and I say this as a socialist–it would be frankly absurd to think that people aren’t coming here expecting to be in a multicultural atmosphere. Better to mark some current classes as “multicultural awareness” or “global citizenship” and encourage people to take one of those, no need for yet another requirement on our schedules; hell, I’m having a hard enough time meeting my W-course requirement as it is.

    tl;dr: While I do think that some action in making students more aware of social-justice issues is a good thing, I think that making it a requirement is just too much to throw at the students.

  7. This is something that needs to be done. An institution’s requirements are a huge reflection of its values. Swarthmore can say it values social justice but without requiring students to take a class like this then it shows that they don’t uphold this.
    To those who say that they have enough requirements to fulfill as it is, this requirement can take many different forms as user Keton Kakkar points out. It could be joint with another requirement or can be a series of workshops to attend throughout our 4 years here.

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