Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The College of Arts and Sciences is planning to allow students to fulfill their language requirement with sign language in the Fall of 2020. They will also be implementing a new "social difference."

November 1, 2018

New ‘Social Difference’ Requirement One of Changes in Newly Passed A&S Curriculum Proposal

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The College of Arts and Sciences will allow students to take sign language to fulfill the college’s language requirement and will have a “social difference” requirement. The college is hoping to implement these changes in Fall 2020.

The college’s new curriculum proposal was passed on Tuesday, after an online vote for faculty from October 15 to 29. 182 faculty members voted in favor of the proposal, 90 voted against it and 18 abstained.

“I think it’s a good sign that the faculty has come together around the proposal that’s been endorsed by the majority of the faculty,” said Prof. Tom Pepinsky, government, chair of the curriculum committee.

The current distribution requirement system will be reorganized so there will be 10 distribution categories, and students need to take a course in each category. New categories include statistics and data science, social difference and global citizenship.

The Arts and Science Curriculum Committee released its final report in March. This report recommended shortening the current language requirement — which makes students take one non-introductory course or 11 credits of instruction in one language — to one non-introductory course or two classes of at least three credits each in the same language. This recommendation received pushback from language faculty and graduate students and was ultimately not included in a revised version of the proposal released in June.

Faculty also made amendments to the proposal in a meeting on October 3. The amendments included changing the name of the “human difference” distribution category to “social difference” and clarifying the meaning of “double-listing” courses under two distribution categories.

The March report also recommended that students be able to use sign language to fulfill the language requirement, and that recommendation remained in the new version of the proposal that was passed.

Mary Grace Hager ’19, president of Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project, said American Sign Language “meets every linguistic definition” of a language, so there is no reason that students should not be able to use ASL courses to fulfill the requirement.

“Taking such classes would also allow students to learn about Deaf culture, just as any other foreign language course at Cornell introduces a new culture,” Hager said. “Additionally, many students come to Cornell after having taken ASL classes in high school, but have no way to continue their ASL education here.”

According to Pepinsky, three years of work went into changing the distribution requirements. Pepinsky said he did not have any plans to propose any future changes to the curriculum.

“My guess is that this curriculum will remain for quite some time,” Pepinsky said.

Pepinksy said the new changes will not take effect until fall 2020, but “even that may be a little optimistic.” Current students will not face any changes to their graduation requirements. Before the new changes are implemented, however, there “could be some fiddling around the margins in terms of implementation,” he said.

The new social difference requirement can be fulfilled by classes that “take class, race, ethnicity, nativity status, religion, gender, sexuality, or ability as an object of study,” according to the proposal.

Prof. Durba Ghosh, history, director of the feminist, gender and sexuality program, said she is “pleased” that social difference is one the distribution requirements that students need to take to graduate from Arts and Sciences.

“I think most students think of questions of diversity and inclusion as a part of their education at Cornell so I am glad this set of requirements validates what many students are already doing,” Ghosh wrote in an email to The Sun. “This curriculum is a promising step toward affirming the college’s commitment to our motto, ‘any person … any study.’”

Ghosh said it is “unclear” how the requirement will change the appeal of FGSS and LGBT Studies classes and whether it will affect enrollments. She added that the reform to the curriculum “builds on” the programs’ current offerings, which she hopes “validates the important pedagogical and scholarly work done by all the programs with a strong presence in the college,” including American studies and Asian American studies, among other programs.

“It’s hard to know what lies behind the faculty who did not endorse the new curriculum,” Pepinsky said, explaining that faculty might have thought the new changes were not “meaningful” or “substantial” enough to vote for.

Pepinsky encouraged students to remain “engaged” in the changes to the distribution requirements.

“This is about creating a curriculum that matters for future Cornelians, and having their feedback and having their insights is very valuable,” he said.