The proposed changes in distribution requirements, which will be voted on by the faculty next week though won't affect any current Bowdoin students, contain a number of improvements over the current system. The addition of an arts requirement and a more narrowly-tailored quantitative requirement are especially welcome.
One element of the new proposal, however, deserves closer scrutiny. In place of the current requisite "non-Eurocentric" courses, the Committee on Curriculum and Educational Policy proposal creates two new requirements: one course in "Exploring Social Differences" and another in "International Perspectives." The "International Perspectives" requirement continues the laudable goal of exposing students to cultures and traditions around the world, and we are happy to see the restrictive "non-Eurocentric" modifer removed.
As it stands now, however, the proposal for "Exploring Social Differences" is hopelessly vague, an amalgam of timely, politically-correct topics with a healthy dose of environmental studies to boot. As defined in the proposal, a course meeting the "Exploring Social Differences" requirement would seek to "develop awareness, understanding, and skills of analysis for examining differences such as those in class, environmental conditions, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation across and within societies and the ways that these shape and are shaped by historical, cultural, social, political, and economic processes and outcomes."
Given the amount of difference-driven dialogue already on campus from Orientation onward, we wonder if requiring a course on difference is necessary. This question becomes more pressing in light of what is not required. What is it, beyond the institution's perpetual concern for diversity, that gives rise to such a requirement while neglecting some of the central, timeless tenets of the liberal arts-history, literature, philosophy, among others?
We feel that the College should not require students to take a course on social differences, especially one that-under the current definition-could include virtually any class in the social sciences and much of the humanities.