Students, staff, and faculty gathered in the Intercultural Center on Monday to discuss ways to increase awareness of social justice issues on campus via a social justice class requirement. Although there was no universal agreement on what the requirement should look like, the conversation mostly centered around the idea of designating certain courses as social justice courses, similar to the writing course classification.
The discussion was organized by Bobby Zipp ’18, Andrés Cordero ’16, Killian McGinnis ’19, and Abby Saul ’19. Those in attendance included a wide range of faculty and administrators representing a number of fields, including political science and education. About 10 faculty and 30 students were in attendance. The students ranged from freshmen to upperclassmen with students in many different disciplines. It was an open discussion where everyone had the opportunity to state their opinion on the issue.
Cordero said that his goal is to get a group of students together to write a proposal that would gain support among students. Once a popular proposal is written he hopes to present it to the Council of Educational Policy (CEP) by next spring.
Many thought the most important first step would be to evaluate current courses and find ones that already help increase social awareness on different issues including sexism, racism, and global warming.
“Denoting certain classes that already exist as an SJ, social justice, or a GC, global citizenship. I think that would be a practical first step in approaching a more just solution,” said Taylor Morgan ’19.
Many students saw a course requirement as key to a holistic liberal arts education and the pursuit of Swarthmore’s mission.
“In the same way divisional requirements force you to have a holistic education, because we consider that as in your best interest even if you do not do so…. And I think it’s the same conception when it comes to social issues,” said Cordero. “Not only will it improve the quality of life within Swarthmore, but it will be in the best social interest of the future professionals that [graduate from Swarthmore] when they have to make decisions about the world and they have better knowledge and capacities to make sense of race, sexism, and definitely global warming.”
Other students thought making it a requirement would make the class less valuable to students.
“I don’t get enjoyment from getting classes that I know I have to take,” said Allison Alcena ’17. “So if I were to come in with a perspective that isn’t one of inclusion and acceptance, it would just be another course to take. I don’t know that I would be sitting in it really [learning] as much as just feeling I do not want to go to class this morning.”
Some discussed using freshman orientation as a place to discuss social justice issues as an alternative to a class requirement. Alcena thought that making orientation more focused on multicultural identity, like the Tri-College Summer Multicultural Institute would help alleviate this problem. This idea was echoed by former Vice-President Maurice Eldridge.
“I think some of this work ought to start right at the beginning. So it ought to be a part of orientation, how we actually orient new students. And I don’t think orientation should take just a week or two weeks, I think it should perhaps take a whole semester or maybe even a whole first year,” said Eldridge.
Using orientation for this goal would alleviate some concerns about the idea of adding another requirement.
Many students were worried about the ability to make a tangible change to college policy and the urgency of the project. Kat Galvis Rodriguez ’17 and Salman Safir ’16 both spoke of how many students in the past have tried to complete projects similar to this one and how short institutional memory can be. Galvis said she had seen many students try to add a diversity requirement before and fail.
“I don’t know the politics, I don’t know the timeline, but I think there is a sense of urgency.” said Galvis. “A lot of us know that a diversity requirement is something we want … if we could see a timeline of when something like that could happen, then we have goals that we could look for, and not ‘let’s talk about this more.’”
The consensus of the meeting was that the next step for students interested in creating a diversity should be to define the goals of the project. Faculty and staff emphasized the importance of clarifying the purpose of the project before deciding on any action.
“Look for allies in places where you don’t think there are allies…. look for the categories that don’t always rise to the top,” said Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Educational Studies Dr. Diane Anderson. “When you start to think about ableism and mental health on this campus those are also categories of difference and marginalization and silencing that make people not feel that they belong in this community so these are some places you can look.”
After the conversation ended, students signed up to be notified about future organizing events. Students plan on sending out a campus wide survey through SGO to better understand the student body’s position on the issue. They will then use the data to create a proposal to submit to the administration.