College of LAS « Illinois

Illinois revises core curriculum to add course in U.S. minority culture

University Senate approves change for Fall 2018

Ron Bailey chaired the committee that proposed the new approach in core curriculum.
Ron Bailey chaired the committee that proposed the new approach in core curriculum.
Following years of discussion, Illinois has added a course in U.S. minority culture to the core curriculum for undergraduate students in hopes of helping better prepare students to live in an increasingly diverse society.

The University Senate approved a committee proposal to make the course part of the university’s General Education requirements beginning in Fall 2018. The senate is a group of 200 faculty, 50 students, and eight academic staff charged with overseeing educational policy.

“This discussion about undergraduate education is another manifestation of how we adjust our curriculum to encompass these other concerns that society brings up,” said Ronald Bailey, head of the Department of African American Studies and chairman of the Committee on Race and Ethnicity that proposed the new approach.

The current General Education standard for Illinois undergraduates includes one Western culture course, and then they choose between a non-Western culture course or U.S. minority culture course. The approved changes to the General Education curriculum mean they will take all three types of cultural studies courses.

The committee’s report to the senate stated that action of this kind was “urgently needed.”

“We are fully confident that the University of Illinois has all that is needed to develop a significant, positive, and timely response to this important issue,” the report stated.

Similar requirements have been implemented at a number of peer institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern University, and the University of California-Berkeley. According to the senate proposal, an evaluation at Wisconsin found that students who completed a new ethnic studies requirement “were more likely to think about ethnic diversity and the experiences of those in a different ethnic group, more likely to talk to their friends about diversity, more likely to seek information, and more likely to interact with people outside their racial/ethnic group.”

Administrators in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences are supportive of the change. In a letter of support for the proposal, Brian Ross, executive associate dean of social and behavioral sciences at LAS, wrote, “We want LAS graduates to be prepared for a lifetime of discovery about themselves and other people, so gaining this kind of cultural competence while they are students is key.”

He added, “LAS has considerable strength in terms of the number of courses and faculty in the area of U.S. minority cultures. We believe that our faculty can play a leadership role in developing new courses that can satisfy this requirement.”

With two years left before the change is implemented, departments have time to review how the new proposal will fit into their own curriculum. The committee’s report states that students can replace one of their elective classes with a minority culture class and not lose time. Additionally, there are many courses that allow students to fulfill more than one course requirement at once.

Bailey hopes that faculty will explore creating new courses that address both minority cultures and core curriculum requirements in the future. For example, Kathryn Oberdeck, professor of history, told the News-Gazette that one possibility is a course addressing the effects of engineering initiatives on different communities, or racial diversity in business.

“It’s another opportunity,” she said. Bailey compared it to how international politics led to changes in science curriculum decades ago.

“My view is that it’s no different from when Sputnik was launched and higher education geared up to beat the Russians to the moon,” he said. “This is an attempt to continue that process of fine-tuning what we do and what our students have access to.”

Matt Silich

Related Topics

  • Collegewide
  • African American Studies