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Submission: Diversity course can now serve as tool in holding university accountable

By Jazz Kiang, Allyson Bach, Live Maluia, and Evelyn Tran

Nov. 5, 2014 12:05 a.m.

After nearly three decades, the proposed diversity requirement for UCLA’s College of Letters and Science has passed by a historic faculty vote.

Out of the ten campuses in the University of California system, UCLA is both the second oldest as well as the second-to-last to adopt a diversity-related requirement for a majority of its undergraduate students.

As a student-initiated movement that emerged in the 1980s among student activists, the diversity requirement has grown from a quiet endeavor to a purposeful, legitimate mission. Although past proposals in 2004 and 2012 fell short of garnering enough faculty votes, student efforts from previous campaigns were integral to this victory.

The repeated hate crimes on our campus in recent years have shown that UCLA is not adequately meeting its responsibility to prepare students to be competent, global citizens.

There is a reason why students responded to last year’s racist and misogynistic flyer sent to the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. There is a reason why students organized a largely attended town hall event covered by the Los Angeles news media. There is a reason why students launched a photo campaign for the diversity-related requirement that spread rapidly throughout UC campuses and other universities across the West Coast region.

These are some events in our collective memory, but they are compelling because they demonstrate student recognition of campus climate problems with regard to our lack of a diversity-related academic requirement.

This year, the passage of the diversity requirement proposal is unique because of explicit goals that could not be highlighted in past attempts, such as to “reduce prejudice on campus with regard to difference.” For student campaigners, this wording legitimizes the campus issues we know exists and serves as a reminder that the diversity requirement has a tangible mission at UCLA.

Fostering student understanding of the histories and narratives of underrepresented communities at UCLA requires more from the university’s curricula. If students are not encouraged in the classroom to further explore critical issues of a global society, then it unfortunately is not surprising that intolerance and bigotry exist on our campus.

While the diversity requirement is not the sole solution that will propel UCLA forward, it is one of many initiatives that will help improve the institution’s accountability to diversity.

At a public university known for its academic qualities, the classroom experience is pivotal in supporting students’ growth to become citizens of a society composed of complex identities. The diversity requirement will support that growth by intersecting issues of race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, citizenship status and more.

Although we have faced and will continue to face opposition when discussing much-needed diversity initiatives, we recognize the negativity as an additional symptom of UCLA’s historical lack of a diversity requirement.

Alumni who raised negative comments about the proposal demonstrate the flaws of our undergraduate education if students graduate UCLA with such viewpoints. Additionally, faculty who were adamantly against the student campaigning efforts shed light on other diversity issues in the faculty space, particularly with retrospect to the findings of the Moreno Report last year.

All of this encompasses a larger calling for a diversity movement that has been rooted in student advocacy over the last three decades. The diversity requirement is one out of many components for the success of this movement.

2014 is a momentous year for diversity-related issues at UCLA. And despite challenges that we will always expect to occur, passage of the diversity requirement is a long-awaited statement of progress for what students have identified as issues for so long.

With respect to previous attempts, we acknowledge the journey of UCLA’s diversity requirement to be one that should be celebrated by past, present and future advocates of diversity.

Tran is a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student and is the president of the Vietnamese Student Union. Maluia is a fourth-year sociology student and is the president of the Pacific Islands Students Association. Kiang is a third-year Asian American studies student and is the director of the Asian Pacific Coalition. Bach is a fourth-year political science student and is the USAC Academic Affairs Commissioner.

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