Diversity in Departments: Institute reevaluates cultural perspectives

by Nathanael King / Beacon Staff • March 24, 2016

Emerson says it’s working toward creating a more inclusive environment, and each department has set goals to improve their curricula. Each week, the Beacon will feature the plans for an academic department. Previous installments include writing, literature, and publishing, visual and media arts, journalism, marketing communication, and communication studies, performing arts, and communication sciences and disorders.

 

The institute for liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies is reevaluating the courses for the required global and United States diversity perspective courses to ensure they adequately address issues of cultural competency, according to Cara Moyer-Duncan, an assistant professor of Africana studies.

She said the institute had formed a committee of about nine faculty members to rewrite the goals for these classes. The group reached out to academic departments and student groups to get their feedback in this process.

“We’re trying to get these goals to more explicitly engage questions of power, privilege, and inequity,” Moyer-Duncan said.

Moyer-Duncan said it was important that the global diversity courses exposed students to other cultures and perspectives, rather than just discussing another geographic area.

“So by rewriting these goals do we get there, so that they’re more meaningful and speak to these issues that students have so powerfully articulated their concerns with,” she said.

According to Moyer-Duncan, after the objectives are approved by the Liberal Arts Council, they will go before the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee for recommendation and finally Amy Ansell, dean of liberal arts, for approval. Then they will begin auditing courses to ensure that they meet the goals.

She said cultural competency training for faculty is still in discussion, but no resolution had been reached yet.

Moyer-Duncan said as a professor of Africana studies, it can sometimes be challenging to get students to think about privilege without them getting defensive or shutting down. She said an intersectional approach to classes in her field is necessary.

“I try to create a classroom space that’s safe, where everybody can bring all of who they are to our classroom and to our discussions,” she said. “Sometimes those kinds of conversations are hard, and they can be uncomfortable, but in my mind, as long as you keep the safe space, it’s okay to be uncomfortable.”

Alessandra Settineri, a freshman writing, literature, and publishing major said her required first-year honors seminar, which falls under the institute of liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies, discusses and reads about racial and cultural identity often.

“[The professors are] very good at facilitating the conversation and they always do it in a super respectful way,” she said.

Settineri said the one barrier to discussion was that her class was mostly white, so they were unable to relate directly to the experiences recounted in their readings.

Moyer-Duncan said the institute sponsored programming about issues of race and identity, such as film screenings and guest speakers.

“We think that programming events that students and faculty can go to around these issues is also an important part of the educational process and contributing to the culture here at Emerson,” she said.

She said in addition to the recently added African American and Africana studies minor, the institute has plans for a minor in Latin American and Latino studies. She said they hoped the new course of study would be approved in time for next semester.