Butler Core Curriculum introduces new requirement, Social Justice and Diversity

The SJD core requirement will be implemented for all incoming and future students. Photo courtesy of Butler.edu.

SOPHIA ESTES | STAFF REPORTER | sestes@butler.edu

New to Butler’s campus this year is the recent implementation of a Social Justice and Diversity requirement in the core curriculum for all incoming and future students. The addition to the university’s core curriculum has been in the works for nearly five years now. Its realization can be recognized as an effort by the university to align with societal changes in recent years.

This requirement is structured according to three objectives that center around critical analysis and discussion of many social issues that confront society today. The classes will be designed to analyze topics such as intersecting dimensions of identity and inequity, the causes and impacts of privilege, power and oppression, critical race theory and feminism, among others. 

Terri Carney, the recently-appointed faculty director for the SJD area of the core curriculum, said this requirement has been a long time in the making. Carney, a professor of modern languages, literatures and cultures explained the process of getting the requirement approved.

Carney brought a proposal for the SJD requirement to the faculty senate in 2015, but the proposal was rejected. In 2017, Carney and a small group of professors drafted a new proposal for the SJD requirement, and this time, it was accepted. 

Robin Turner, associate professor of political science, was the first faculty member to take the position of SJD director, and during the two years she held this position, the SJD requirement began its pilot phase. During this time, Carney was an SJD fellow. The SJD Fellowship is a program where Butler professors learn how to incorporate SJD into their courses. Then, Ann Savage, professor of communication and media studies, took on the position the following year. Last week, Carney took over the position of SJD director after 25 years of working at Butler.  

Now that the requirement has been approved by the faculty senate, and the pilot phase has been completed, Carney is excited to see her years of effort come to fruition.  

“We weren’t sure it was going to go live, honestly, and I do think it’s partly a result of the resounding cultural imperative in the streets right now, and I think Dr. Terri Jett was really pivotal in helping people to see that this is the time we need to roll this out,” Carney said.  

When asked about what these new SJD courses would entail, Carney said one of the main goals of these courses is to start and continue an important conversation over social justice and diversity in the community at large. 

“It’s a difference between volunteering on Thanksgiving and then on the other hand questioning the whole idea of poverty and charity and volunteering,” Carney said. “It forces you to take a larger view of the problem so that you don’t get lost in this idea that ‘that’s one crazy guy that doesn’t like women.’ No, he’s part of a culture. The whole culture is creating these situations. It’s that kind of thing.” 

Although there have been some concerns about the idea of adding another requirement to the core curriculum for students, the SJD requirement is a designator like the Writing Across the Curriculum requirement, which means it is often combined with other core requirements. There can be a First Year Seminar course with SJD elements or a Global and Historical Studies class embedded with SJD viewpoints, for example. 

Sholeh Shahrokhi, director of global and historical studies, explained in an email to The Butler Collegian why the SJD area of discipline and a GHS course mix so well together. She said both the GHS and SJD areas of the core share a commitment to the study of social justice and diversity and global and historical connections within those disciplines. She also noted the importance of these shared initiatives for the Butler community. 

“GHS was among the first programs to embrace and take part in offering SJD courses and we continue to explore new potential syllabi for consideration of their approved status, so that more of our students at Butler can benefit from these relevant and timely questions about our ethical, political, social, historical, personal and global connections,” Shahrokhi said in the email. 

Opponents of adding the SJD requirement to the curriculum point to the potentially heavier load on students as one of their main reasons for opposition. However, Carney said the importance of the discussion included in the SJD requirement outweighs any argument against its addition. 

“…The core curriculum represents the most fundamental values that Butler University has as an institution of higher learning, and for a core curriculum in 2020 to not require any sort of knowledge about gender, race, class, sexuality…how can we even take ourselves seriously if we aren’t doing that?” Carney said. 

While she stressed the importance of this new requirement, Carney also emphasized what the SJD requirement is not. 

“With SJD and other interdisciplinary areas, whether it’s like peace studies or science, technology and society, we need to be careful to explain to people what the academic core is, because SJD can be mistaken for having opinions about politics,” Carney said. “We want to make sure people understand that it’s an academic disciplinary area of research and theory.” 

Although there is a sufficient number of courses to fulfill the need for SJD-focused options for students, there are many more classes in the future that might apply to be considered for the requirement as well

Cate Clark, a dance pedagogy major and sophomore, said her environmental studies class, “injustice and justice in the food systems,” is working to become an SJD-recognized course right now. 

 Clark said this class has included a number of the elements outlined in the the SJD guidelines and she noted the importance she feels assigned to this new SJD requirement.

“Our generation can change, but that doesn’t mean that the higher-ups are going to change, so I think it’s important to have this social justice requirement because our generation is going to be the generation that makes the shift,” Clark said. “It’s important that we have these conversations so that people are more comfortable speaking about these topics, and not just in a classroom setting… So even if you come to Butler with a certain idea of yourself and of other people, maybe taking one of these courses will really open your eyes to everyone and everyone’s culture.”

Carney expressed a similar hopefulness in the potential of this new SJD requirement. She said she has a lot of faith in the Butler students and community, and in some ways, she feels the core requirements are just beginning to catch up to the mindset and discussions that some students have been having for years. 

“I guess what the SJD will do is, I think it’s going to get us up to date and just have us meet these students where they are,” Carney said. “I think these students are ahead of us [Butler faculty]. I think the students are ready for this. The only big revolution that the SJD represents is just really putting us up to date. And this particular cultural moment is really just a good time to kick it off.”

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