New Social Justice and Diversity core requirement begins implementation phase

Efroymson Diversity Center is located in the basement of Atherton Union. Collegian file photo.

MATTHEW FLECKENSTEIN | STAFF REPORTER | mflecken@butler.edu

ALI HANSON | STAFF REPORTER | amhandson@butler.edu

New core curriculum requirement, Social Justice and Diversity, is currently in the implementation phase. Now the university is assembling a team of faculty to serve as an advisory committee.

Robin Turner, associate professor of political science, has been assigned the role of SJD coordinator, Terri Carney, a Spanish professor, said. Turner is currently working to establish the advisory committee that will determine what courses can already be given an SJD designation.

The advisory committee will identify SJD mentors to help other faculty create SJD courses, Carney, who brought the original proposal to senate and was on the following committees, said. Next semester, faculty will start submitting courses for approval and by the fall of 2018, students should be able to start taking courses with an SJD designator — that is when the pilot phase begins.

The SJD requirement was added to the core curriculum by a 35-3 vote in the Faculty Senate on April 25, 2017 after two years of debate.

No additional credit hours will be added to a student’s schedule, Carney said. It will be a designator like Writing Across the Curriculum and Speaking Across the Curriculum in the sense that there will be courses within major requirements, such as FYS and GHS courses, that will fulfill the designation requirement.

Social justice and diversity is a broad topic, but several goals are outlined in the proposal. The proposal states that every student should be aware of marginalized voices in readings and works of art in coursework and various forms of sexuality and gender in ancient times and in present day. They should also be able to contrast different religions and cultures and analyze environmental problems, according to the proposal. Students will be able to analyze data about discrimination using social-scientific methods and learn how to combat injustice today while not ignoring past issues, according to the proposal.

The goal is to allow diverse students to feel more welcome on campus through course content that reflects their experiences, according to the proposal. The SJD requirement hopes not only to make diverse students feel more welcome, but also educate other students on differences in people’s backgrounds and cultures and open their minds to new concepts and ideas.

Taylor Leslie, senior international business major, is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion on SGA and she had strong feelings about the proposal. She felt there isn’t enough education in the curriculum oriented around people’s different backgrounds and there could be more done about that.

“You’re going to be engaged with people from all backgrounds and so I think it’s just as important to be well-versed and know what certain groups in America are going through,” Leslie said.

Emem Udoh, sophomore political science major, agrees there is a need for a better understanding of social justice and diversity.

“There is a certain complacency in stuff like that and people don’t realize that once you choose that path [of ignorance and lack of education regarding diversity], it’s almost as if you are choosing the side of the oppressor, so being more aware of things that apply to marginalized groups on campus or being more aware in general would help this campus become more progressive,” Udoh said.

A pilot phase will be in place as soon as the SJD designator is added to registration and records, according to the proposal. During the pilot phase, SJD will not be a graduation requirement.

Once the pilot phase is complete, the SJD three-credit hour requirement can be fulfilled through a designator or a new, specific SJD course that meets student learning objectives determined in the proposal.

“The pilot phase may be extended as necessary until such time as the number of SJD courses is deemed adequate by core administrators to meet the needs of our projected student enrollment,” according to the proposal. “In the longer term, it is hoped that SJD may become a well-represented thread throughout the core curriculum as a whole, as well as a standalone separate requirement.”

Terri Jett, a political science professor, is special assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity and was on the provost committee. She said while some students graduate after having taken classes that would satisfy the requirement, others are not well prepared. There are students, often in the health sciences or business areas, who graduate with GHS being the closest thing to an SJD course.

“Marketing to Latinos, within the Latino group, there’s a lot of different Latinos, so to be taught to market to Latinos as a collective is problematic,” Jett said. “We really need to expand the way that students really think about people from diverse backgrounds and make sure that they’re not just coming from this position of all people of color are defined in particular ways — they need to understand there’s diversity within all communities.”

The original proposal would have required students to take two SJD designated courses at the 300/400 level and attend two SJD-designated BCR events, the Collegian reported.

The proposal was first brought to the Faculty Senate on April 2015. While it was originally passed, the Core Curriculum Committee withdrew it on July 2015 because it did not go through the proper channels. The senate then voted to make a subcommittee to make a new proposal on September of that same year.

Student enrollment around such courses will be monitored to see how likely they are to choose that avenue without it being required, the proposal states. The SJD coordinator and core director will study the level of difficulty students in particular programs experience when coordinating their strict schedules with this new requirement added.

“It’s going to take us some time to build in having enough classes to allow students to satisfy this requirement,” Provost Kate Morris, who was charged by the Faculty Senate to put together a committee to make the proposal, said. “The faculty has approved the requirement but the requirement doesn’t become effective until we’re certain that we have the number of courses available to meet the student need.”

Each section of the core will adopt the SJD requirement at its own pace because not every core area is at the same point, according to the proposal. Some will require more work to create or adapt SJD-oriented courses. This characteristic allows the integration of SJD to move as quickly as possible.

According to a provost survey conducted several years ago, there have been 210 separate courses from all six colleges that have an SJD element; of these, 42 were in the core curriculum. It is uncertain how many of these are ready to have an SJD designator without any modifications.

Carney said the goal of the oversight committee is not to reject every course that wants an SJD designator but make sure they meet the requirements of the label.

“We’re trying to do real work here,” Carney said. “Any course could potentially count, which is exciting.”

Each department must determine how their courses explore and reflect the SJD student learning objectives, according to the proposal. These courses can be customized so faculty in all disciplines can contribute to SJD, recognizing that social justice and diversity are multifaceted. Furthermore, multiple courses are needed for students to truly grasp the topic and see the importance across many courses they will encounter, according to the proposal.

“It is the conviction of the authors of this proposal that SJD can and must be integrated across the curriculum … this does not negate or eliminate, but rather accentuates, the need for those in the Butler community with academic expertise in matters of diversity and social justice to be involved in the oversight of this aspect of the curriculum, and to contribute to the training of their colleagues, as well as teaching SJD courses themselves…” according to the proposal.

Butler University’s history is founded on values of diversity and equality. It was built upon the principle that an education should not be limited to only white men, opening its doors to women and people of color. Despite this historical emphasis on diversity, the Higher Learning Commission, Butler’s accrediting body, has given the school low marks in diversity during their last two visits.

“We need to live up to the values of the institution that from the beginning really emphasized diversity and inclusion and really understanding and being very progressive when it comes to race relations and also relations with regard to gender and intersexual understanding,” Jett said. “We need to catch up and really move ahead of where we should be.”

Udoh said she recognizes that Butler is trying to become more progressive but also knows it has a long way to go.

“Adding this proponent to the school curriculum would bring more awareness in terms of social injustices and just being more aware of diversity and inclusion,” Udoh said. “Learning to understand this now in a school-like setting is important in terms of providing skills in how to interact with people of different backgrounds as one is entering the workforce, as well as having a better understanding of the social, political arena.”

Each course will look at social justice and diversity in a different way, but in the end, the point is to give students intentional focus about differences among people and how to be respectful of everyone even when tensions arise, Morris said.

“I want to encourage students not to just look at this like they look at some of the other requirements, as just something to check off,” Jett said. “I think they will find these courses to be rather intriguing and just inspiring and also motivating.”

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