February 11, 2013

Cornell Students Protest Proposed Diversity Course Requirements

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The Campus Liberty Project — a student group that believes “every undergraduate should have as much freedom as realistically feasible to craft an individual academic curriculum” — created an online petition Sunday decrying the proposed creation of University-wide curriculum requirements promoting diversity. The petition had garnered 145 signatures as of 12 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The petition was developed “in response to calls from other student organizations and members of the Student Assembly to increase the homogeneity of the Cornell curriculum in certain areas,” according to the petition website.

Alfonse Muglia ’14, editor-in-chief of The Cornell Review and one of the creators of the petition, said he considers himself a “part of a growing number of students that believe that [implementing a social justice requirement] is an ineffective way to promote social justice and diversity on campus.”

Instead of requiring certain academic coursework, Muglia said the University can promote diversity by “encouraging students to explore their individual interests.”

However, S.A. members said no steps have been taken thus far to implement University-wide diversity requirements.

“[The petition’s] language assumes that the S.A. has taken steps, and that’s actually not what is taking place at this time. We are only investigating the possibility,” said Ulysses Smith ’13, S.A. vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Though the S.A. has spoken to different college representatives about the types of diversity requirements they would create if they were compelled to have such a requirement, no such requirements have yet been established, according to Smith.

But Muglia said such discussions by members of the S.A. were indicative of their desire to work toward creating University-wide diversity requirements.

“I would say that S.A. members speaking with different colleges regarding their opinions about diversity requirements and publishing a seven-page report detailing those options are considered steps taken toward implementing University-wide diversity requirements,” Muglia said.

The seven-page report — which was released in January and presented by Smith and S.A clerk Chelsea Cheng ’15 — detailed three options for the implementation of the proposed diversity requirements.

The first option involved the creation of courses that will fulfill the potential requirement — including a central course that would be mandatory for all freshmen, as well as courses across the University that would function the same way as distribution requirements. The second option was to use existing courses to fulfill the proposed requirement. The third focused on the integration of diversity into core curricular classes through “explicit course goals and objectives.”

Among other points, the petition stated that “the Student Assembly’s attempt to impart prefabricated, narrowly-focused concepts of morality through required classes on social justice and diversity disregards true diversity.”

Smith said requirements such as Tapestry of Possibilities –– a required presentation on diversity issues for freshmen during Orientation Week –– do not intend to impose moral values on students, but rather “to introduce you as a first-year student to some situations that you are likely to encounter at Cornell.”

“A lot of people here come from lots of different backgrounds … So it’s kind of one of those things where they introduce you to different things you might encounter, pointers on how to handle those situations,” Smith said.

Smith added that he felt it is unlikely the University will immediately adopt a universal diversity requirement.

“It took 10 years for [the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences] to implement [their diversity requirement],” he said.

Still, sponsors of the petition said such requirements limit students’ freedom to create their own academic experiences.

“I think that by adding more requirements, Cornell is limiting students’ ability to take classes they are genuinely interested in,” said Ashleigh Bowie ’14, who signed the petition. “We can only take so many courses each semester and we should have the flexibility in our schedules to pursue courses that aren’t required by our majors.”

Echoing Bowie’s sentiments, Gustav Fellows ’15, who also signed the petition, said that “added requirements will increase student stress as they struggle to complete an increasingly complex web of University, major and pre-professional requirements and decrease the possibility for self-directed intellectual exploration.”

“I think it is antithetical to Cornell’s autonomy of colleges to implement University-wide requirements,” Fellows added.

Though the petition called for the discontinuation of S.A.’s efforts to promote diversity requirements, Smith said he felt optimistic about the fact that students want to be involved in the decision-making process.

“Whoever it is, I’m happy students are getting involved in this because we’re getting feedback,” he said.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee