The Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) introduced a motion to change the Exploring Social Differences (ESD) distribution requirement at a faculty meeting on Monday. It would instead be called “Difference, Power, Inequity” and a new definition of the requirement aims to address vagueness of the current requirement.
According to the Academic Handbook, courses that qualify under the current requirement “develop awareness and critical understanding of differences in human societies” and “build the analytic skills to examine differences within a society and the ways they are reflected in and shaped by historical, cultural, social, political, economic, and other processes.” Under the proposed change, courses would focus more specifically on power and/or inequity “within a given society.”
“We want to provide a requirement that respects the very different kinds of intellectual enterprises scholars take when they think about these issues while at the same time giving students robust ways to think about questions that exist in a broad range of topics from the macro to the very micro,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology Theo Greene, a member of CEP, who presented the motion and fielded questions during the meeting.
The ESD requirement was first approved by the faculty in May 2004 along with the four other distribution requirements—Mathematical, Computational or Statistical Reasoning (MCSR); Inquiry in the Natural Science (INS); International Perspectives (IP) and the Arts (later changed to Visual and Performing Arts). All the current requirements went into effect for students entering the College in fall 2006. If passed, the new requirement would apply only to students entering the College in upcoming years. Current students would still be required to fulfill the ESD requirement as it currently exists.
Over the past several years, students and faculty have pushed to change the requirement to better address contemporary social issues.
“The way the ESD requirement is written is very broad, and students accomplish it in different ways, but they don’t necessarily feel that they … have a grasp of things they need to know when they go into the world and examine these kinds of problems,” Greene said in an interview with the Orient. “And then, of course, we had a series of [bias] incidents that have occurred at Bowdoin over the past few years that sort of brought to light that the kinds of issues that we ought to be exposing students to have not been.”
“I think students feel that they haven’t been adequately prepared to talk about them … What [the requirement] is trying to do is arm students with tools to help them analyze the kinds of social issues that exist out there,” said Greene.
Greene explained that many students think of the ESD requirement as a diversity requirement, when its goals should go beyond that.
“It’s not simply exposing you to diversity for the sake of making you diverse but that this is a real intellectual enterprise,” Greene said. “To expose you to that hopefully will help you understand that this is serious intellectual work and not simply [that] we’re here to make you a better human being. We’re here to make you a better human being by being better intellectuals and being able to participate in conversations using language, to properly talk about these things, to properly question and push back and challenge inequity and inequality, or abuses of power, or ways in which things reinforce or re-inscribe that in the social world.”
According to Greene, if passed, the new requirement might mean reframing existing classes, but it could also lead to the creation of new courses. He hopes that these changes would allow departments that do not typically address topics of power and inequality to examine how these issues affect their respective disciplines and make these topics accessible to more students.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity to expand our intellectual imagination, to think about how power and difference and inequity sort of pervade the different kinds of intellectual worlds we occupy,” Greene explained.
During the meeting and on an online platform created in advance to post questions about the proposal, faculty members raised issues about the details of the language including why the committee chose “inequity” rather than “inequality” and whether courses consider difference, power and inequity separately or some combination of the three.
Greene said that these questions about the language of the motion are to avoid the problems of the current requirement and help the committee in crafting a more effective and specific requirement.
“I think so many of us feel that ESD is well intentioned but doesn’t necessarily have the teeth, the effectiveness. We don’t want to rewrite a requirement in a way that just echoes the kinds of challenges we’ve had with ESD. We really want something that can be an effective tool for measuring courses that help students think about these questions and issues in a very serious way,” he explained.
According to Greene the programmatic changes are designed to benefit students. “Our goal is to produce something that … is broad enough and expansive enough that students don’t necessarily feel this as a burden, but as an opportunity to really gain insight on how to build a better world,” Greene said.
The motion may be voted on as early as the next faculty meeting in March, pending debate.