By Susila Gurusami
UCLA’s community needs a greater academic commitment to educating students and staff about issues of discrimination and bias on campus; in the wake of Alexandra Wallace’s infamous tirade of ignorant speech against Asian students, the sale of a “Still Filthy” shirt by ASUCLA in the campus store and the hate speech written on a Latina student’s apartment door, our university needs to take intra- and extra-curricular steps toward preventing similar incidents from occurring in the future.
As UCLA”˜s Faculty Executive Committee makes preparations about whether to proceed with the implementation of the “Community and Conflict in the Modern World” requirement, our campus stands at an institutionally critical juncture: Will students, non-academic parties and marginalized populations at the university continue to shoulder the burden of fostering a more inclusive campus climate, or will we see a shift in which there is a sustained academic commitment made to educating our students, faculty and staff about diversity? The UC claims a commitment to “achieving excellence through diversity in the classroom,” yet, as it stands, UCLA largely plays lip service to this commitment. In the absence of a GE requirement that fosters knowledge-building about living in a diverse world, undergraduates can enroll, graduate and enter the world beyond college without ever critically engaging with realities of life for people unlike themselves.
Columnist Ani Torossian holds that a GE diversity requirement is a “band-aid approach” to a much larger campus climate of hostility against marginalized groups, and further that students with a narrowly-established worldview will require more than a single introductory course to change their perspectives. Her assertion is well taken; students with extreme viewpoints will rarely have their positions shifted by a single introductory course, but that hardly means that students with more moderate viewpoints would fail to benefit from such a class.
Despite students’ interests in taking classes outside of their college and major requirements, the reality remains that enrollment is a challenge when classes are consistently filled to capacity soon after enrollment starts. Undergraduates then find themselves with few opportunities to take electives and are forced to make difficult choices about how to best structure limited opportunities to expand their academic horizons. For students with some type of minority identity, this often equates to a course that academically engages with their groups’ histories or experiences. However, this also produces a milieu in which students of color take classes on race, women take classes on gender, and LGBTQ students take classes on sexuality; from my informal observations as a student and teaching assistant, I have noticed that enrollment in these classes is drastically skewed towards the people who are already experiencing marginalization, and oppressive structures are perpetuated by placing the responsibility of inequality squarely on the backs of those who already live the consequences of lacking privilege. The implementation of the “Community and Conflict in the Modern World” GE requirement will help to shift some of this population imbalance and further contribute to more productive class discussions by introducing a wider range of perspectives.
In addition, the new requirement will help to sustain and expand existing courses that engage with diversity and conflict. With university-wide budget cuts, non-required classes are ever at risk of disappearing from the course catalog. The diversity GE will ensure that courses and faculty who engage with marginalization and diversity remain funded and available to students.
Finally, we must remember that students have asked for a diversity GE; students voted 62.9 percent in favor of advancing what they termed as “the Communicating Unity Through Education Initiative”. Undergraduates recognized a distinctive need to formally integrate diversity into the academic curriculum. UCLA remains the only UC without a diversity GE requirement. Addition of the “Community and Conflict in the Modern World” to the undergraduate curriculum will not detract from the University’s ability to support student groups that make applied efforts toward addressing marginalization, but rather supplement and strengthen these initiatives in the classroom. As a student affiliated with the Intergroup Relations Program, I strongly believe that our classes on intergroup dialogue are an important step towards helping students recognize their own stake in fostering a more inclusive campus. For information on intergroup dialogue and our 2- and 4-unit courses on diversity, conflict, and community-building, please visit www.igr.ucla.edu.
Gurusami is a sociology graduate student and Intergroup Relations Program graduate student researcher.