UW instates diversity graduation requirement

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Students gather in UW’s Red Square on April 25 to show their support for the diversity requirement. (Photo by Emile Pitre/UW OMAD)

A long-time student-led effort to pass a diversity course requirement for all University of Washington undergraduates came to fruition May 24.

The Faculty Senate approved the legislation, which is supported by UW President Michael K. Young, on April 25. Only 23 of a required 213 objections needed to amend or overturn the legislation were received by deadline, making it effective for new incoming classes at all three UW campuses.

“The UW has a long and distinguished history of exemplary diversity work,” said Sheila Edwards Lange, vice president for Minority Affairs and vice provost for Diversity. “The passage of the diversity requirement adds the final piece in our comprehensive array of student, faculty, staff and community programs at the UW.”

The requirement comes following a year of highly publicized racist acts on several American college campuses. In February, the Duke chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity hosted an Asian-themed party called “Asia Prime.” When the fraternity was advised to cancel the event by the university, they instead “changed” the name to “International Relations.” In April, two videos produced by an Asian-interest fraternity on the campus of the University of California at Irvine showcasing fraternity members in blackface surfaced. A few days later, a black student at UC Irvine found a note that said “Go back 2 Africa slave [sic] ” in her backpack.

The requirement will include three credits of coursework that focus on the sociocultural, political, and economic diversity of the human experience. The requirement is meant to help students develop an understanding of the complexities of living in increasingly diverse and interconnected societies.

These credits will simultaneously satisfy other “area of knowledge” requirements and will not add to students’ general education requirements. Approved courses will be chosen by the university’s deans from a list of classes recommended by faculty. The requirement will likely be implemented in 2014.

“In this fast-moving age of global interaction, it is vital that students learn about diverse cultures and complex societies,” Faculty Senate Chair Jim Gregory said. “This requirement brings our curriculum into the 21st century.”

The passage of the diversity requirement is the culmination of 25 years of work. UW students initiated proposals in 1991 and 1996 that encountered resistance at various stages of the approval process.

The current proposal for the diversity requirement originated three years ago by the UW Students for Diversity Coalition. The coalition’s membership featured students from several campus organizations, including the Black Student Union, First Nations, Filipino American Student Association, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan. Their proposal was initially approved by the Associated Students of the UW in the fall of 2012.

“The process was significant because students, faculty, and administration were able to come together to develop something that will benefit future generations of Huskies,” said Helen Fillmore, UW senior and a member of the UW Students for Diversity Coalition. “The importance of learning about diversity in the classroom and having education in that way is something that is really important to all of us so that we’re able to work better together. I’m super thankful for all those who fought for the requirement in the past and for those who kept it going.”

Last year, UW faculty also voted a code change to consider accomplishments related to enriching diversity in teaching, research, and service in faculty appointments and promotions decisions.

Currently, the makeup of the near 40,000-strong student body at the Seattle campus is 49 percent white Americans, 23 percent Asian and Pacific American, 12 percent international students, six percent Hispanic, three percent black, and one percent American Indian, with four percent not reporting.

Student reaction has been mixed. Online discussion on social media websites saw comments from both supporters and detractors of the legislation.

“The [fact] that no one is advocating for this just proves how important the requirement is,” wrote Reddit user erg5 in a discussion on the University of Washington Reddit forum. “The requirement really isn’t all that much of a change in the first place. Despite having laws on the books in our country and state, historical oppression is still heavily present. While many of you may have a diverse range of friends and experiences, there are still a large number of folks (of all colors) that come to the UW and stay secluded in their own race/religious/socio-economic backgrounds. … This isn’t going to force you out of your major, nor will it prohibit you from graduating within a regular four years.” (end)

Northwest Asian Weekly staff can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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