Students Push for Mandatory Diversity Lectures

After years of abstract discussion among students, Peter Amadeo ‘15 is leading an effort to implement a diversity requirement in hopes of creating a community more aware of their peers’ diverse backgrounds. Amadeo’s plan is still in flux, but he is currently envisioning a series of 12 lectures, held from 1:00pm-2:00pm on Friday afternoons — a time typically reserved for collections. These lectures, held by professors, would focus on topics such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability. The series would be mandatory for first years, but available to all students if space allows.

Discussions of a diversity requirement are not new to campus. Amadeo has been thinking about such a requirement since the controversial 2013 spring semester (sometimes referred to as the “Spring of Discontent”) but said his momentum this year was kickstarted by the recent counter-Pride Month chalkings. “I mobilized the people who were angry about the SQU chalkings,” he said. “If you’re angry about that, you should be angry about a lot of things. And you should try and fix those things with me.”

While some administrators and professors are officially on board with the requirement (Professor Sarah Willie-LeBreton and Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen have both agreed to give lectures, said Amadeo), the proposal is far from concrete. Amer Ahmed, Director of the Intercultural Center and Dean of the Sophomore Class, encouraged students pursuing a diversity requirement to “really think about what their desired outcome is.” He said, “I’ve seen, at other institutions where there is a requirement, students feel like those requirements are not meeting the purpose, and the need, and the intention of what those requirements are.”

Mosea Harris ‘17 is in favor of the general idea of a diversity requirement, and — like Ahmed — said with careful planning it could be a success. “Ideally these are things we wouldn’t necessarily have to address, but I think the goal of a diversity requirement is to fill the gaps in education that […] your traditional education doesn’t already teach you,” Harris said.

“There’s been instances that have proven that people need to know these things,” Harris said, referencing a recent incident at Bryn Mawr where a student displayed a large Confederate flag in their dorm. “To me, it seems like a terrible mark of an education to have gone through four years of college and to still hold views […] and to act upon them the way [that student] did,” he said.

After being asked how students can bridge that gap to create effective implementation, Ahmed said, “It’s all about what courses qualify to meet that requirement. Sometimes people would take classes that would not really address any specific issue […] That would frustrate some students, because they would feel like that’s not the point of the requirement.”

“What we really want is for people to interact better with each other and to learn and know the social justice issues and social identity issues […] that would make a difference in our experience on this campus. So I’d really encourage students to be thinking about that, while also recognizing the fact that the requirements are completely up to faculty,” Ahmed said.

Diversity requirements are present at Univeristy of Michigan, University of Southern California (USC), Loyola University Maryland, and University of Maryland. At USC, students are expected to enroll in a class that helps them “understand the potential resources and conflicts arising from human differences on the contemporary American and international scene” in order to “prepare students through the study of human differences for responsible citizenship in an increasingly pluralistic and diverse society.” The other universities express similar sentiments with regards to their diversity requirements, though these institutions use a curated list of classes to fulfill requirements rather than an entirely new course curriculum.

Amadeo said he expects resistance to the requirement for several reasons, including how quickly he would like to see it implemented and the fact that it’s mandatory. For those who object to more mandatory credits, Amadeo compares a diversity requirement to Swarthmore’s writing requirement. “Just like I think it’s important to be able to write by the end of your Swarthmore career, I think it’s important to be able to engage with your community and the world around you in an appropriate and sensitive way,” he said.

“I’m going to get a lot of pushback about these being liberal ideas,” Amadeo said. “People make it sound like a political issue. […] To me, though, this isn’t political. I understand how it’s been politicized, but it’s not political to say, ‘we need to discuss these things.’”

Harry Leeser ‘18 is more concerned with scheduling rather than the political nature of the requirement. “Friday afternoons are busy for a lot of people, so I’m not sure having one be-all-end-all lecture series to fulfill this requirement is the right way to go. Can’t we teach people about diversity without forcing them into a room full of tired students on a Friday afternoon?” he said.

Gretchen Trupp ‘18 understands others’ concerns with the requirement, but is in strong support of developing an effective plan. “As much as we like to pretend we’re super progressive, we still have quite a ways to go,” she said. “I strongly support the addition of a diversity requirement that is well thought out and implemented, not something created in a hurry.”

Any students who have thoughts on the diversity requirement may reach Amadeo at pamadeo1@swarthmore.edu or attend discussion meetings on Sundays from 2:30pm to 3:30pm in the Big IC Room.

Featured image by Vija Lietuvninkas ’14/The Daily Gazette.


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Allison Hrabar

Allison is double major in Political Science (Honors) and Film and Media Studies. When not working for The Daily Gazette, she cajoles people into watching the The Americans (Wednesdays at 10:00p.m. on FX).

One comment

  1. 0
    Maria Rogers '14 ( User Karma: 14 ) says:

    I would have loved to go to a series like this. Having a basic foundation would have been nice as I pieced together an understanding of diversity and social issues from what other students taught me, from classes, and from what I read by myself.

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