Welcome to Race on Campus. Last year, student activists pushed college administrators to offer or require courses with racial justice and people of color as the main subject matter. Enter new race-and-ethnicity course requirements. Now, on some campuses, the challenge is getting administrators’ approval of the course content. Our Oyin Adedoyin has more.

If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: fernanda@chronicle.com.

‘Policing Diversity’

Race-and-ethnicity course requirements were in high demand last year following a nationwide push to diversify course curricula. On campuses across the country, student activists urged administrators to provide more courses about the experiences of people of color and the issue of racial justice.

A number of colleges decided to do that, but on some campuses, choosing which content satisfies the requirement is proving more contentious than anticipated.

At Emory University, in Atlanta, a history professor is confused about why his proposed race-and-ethnicity course was initially rejected and is calling the university out for “policing diversity.”

Clifton Crais rewrote his history course on South Africa to satisfy the added race-and-ethnicity requirement, but he was surprised when administrators told him his initial course proposal fell short. Administrators said that it needed to include more about gender and sexuality. The race-and-ethnicity requirement, which Black student activists have been asking administrators to consider since 2015, was approved by the Emory College Faculty Senate in May 2020 in response to nationwide protests over racism and police violence, The Emory Wheel reported.

Crais’s course discusses the history of South Africa, including its struggle with apartheid and the social and political implications of white supremacy. According to emails between Crais and Michelle Wright, a professor of English and the chair of the faculty committee that evaluated the proposals, Crais’s course was initially rejected because while it “substantially covers race and ethnicity,” it did not “explicitly include gender and sexuality as course topics.”

“Literature on race and ethnicity has not always addressed the different experiences of women, or queer and trans communities, and we hope that Emory’s courses on race and ethnicity will address this gap,” Wright wrote in an email to Crais.

Emory’s committee says that the race-and-ethnicity requirement should take a holistic approach, but Crais believes that the members of the committee are policing diversity more instead of encouraging it. He pushed back on the rejection of his proposed course; he felt like it did adequately address gender and sexuality. The committee later approved his course, with the recommendation that he consider adding more about the experiences of women and LGBTQ people in his lessons.

With the addition of the race-and-ethnicity requirement, the committee feared that the experiences of different racial and ethnic groups might be taught as a monolith and wanted to ensure a broader range of coverage. But the committee debated how to incorporate that feedback to the faculty proposing the courses, said Joanne Brzinski, senior associate dean for undergraduate education, in an email to The Chronicle.

Crais says administrators should include faculty and students in conversations about their expectations of what race-and-ethnicity requirements mean.

“That’s a really important distinction and it’s a very hard conversation that faculty, administrators, and students need to and should be having in how they think about the curriculum,” he said.

A Push for Reform at Michigan

In recent years, other campuses have grappled with different ideas about the content that should fulfill race-and-ethnicity course requirements. In 2018, students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor asked the university to reform its three-decades-old requirement. Courses like History 101: What Is History and Anthrcul 101: Introduction to Anthropology satisfy the requirement, but students argued that those classes are too large to encourage meaningful discussions and that the subject matter is too broad.

The university had investigated its requirement in 2016 and established a task force to collect data that would later allow administrators to recommend improvements. Little to no major changes were made, according to a petition that sought amendments to the requirement. The petition demanded that race-and-ethnicity classes be more specific to issues within the United States, that the requirement expand to all undergraduate schools, and that more than one course be mandatory for students.

According to the university’s website, “Every course satisfying the requirement must devote substantial, but not necessarily exclusive, attention to the required content.”

Students said that expanding the course topics in this way defeats the purpose of the requirement. “Open-ended guidelines leave students with the choice to be ignorant to race issues within the United States,” Yashasvini Nannapuraju, a student, said in The Michigan Daily.

Saving Face?

Last year the California State University system adopted an ethnic-studies and social-justice requirement in response to the growing outcry against racism. But even then, The Chronicle reported, faculty members were against lawmakers’ dictating what subject matter fulfills the requirement.

Kenneth P. Monteiro, chair of the California State University Ethnic Studies Council, felt that the requirement put in place is more of a Band-Aid solution than an actual fix.

“They don’t want the appearance of being racist, as opposed to, they don’t want to be racist,” he said.

For Monteiro, an effective requirement on racial and ethnic studies would have university leaders consult the diverse communities whom they claim to want to serve to ensure accountability.

“A lot of us in education have been on cruise control,” he said. “We believed we were watching a cultural backlash when we were in the midst of it.” —Oyin Adedoyin

Correction (November 2, 2021, 9:30 a.m.): This article originally misidentified the course that Clifton Crais, a history professor at Emory, rewrote with the intention of meeting the university’s race-and-ethnicity requirement. The course was on the history of South Africa, not the origins of capitalism. The article has been updated.

Read Up

  • The new lexicon to describe race is changing quickly. That leaves questions about which words to use. For some, the changes in language do not satisfy the demands of last summer’s protests for racial justice. (The New York Times)
  • Speaking of the lexicon, we’ve written previously in this newsletter about the words Latinxand Bipoc, Minority, and People of Color. (The Chronicle)
  • Last week, survey data from the website Intelligent suggested that 34 percent of white respondents said they had lied on a college application about being from a racially marginalized group. This Twitter thread throws some cold water on the survey’s findings. (Inside Higher Ed, Twitter)

—Fernanda