Proposal for Core Curriculum Academic Diversity (Doyle Symposium Jury Prize)

By: Esther Owolabi

April 20, 2015

There has been a long history of student activism at Georgetown aimed to address a variety of social injustices experienced by students on campus and in the world, at large. One such area is the daily experience of students who, based on race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, and citizenship status, experience discrimination and marginalization from fellow students, faculty, and administrators. In addition to the negative emotional, professional, and social experience of many students in our community, a majority of the student population has never been prompted to think critically about this social order and their implication in this structure.

A major source of this phenomenon on our campus culture is the absence of a curricular requirement regarding issues of diversity, power, and privilege because Georgetown does not require its undergraduates to academically engage with these topics. Thus, academic reform in Georgetown’s core curriculum is one such “concrete project through which, together, we can build for the common good...rebuild trust in one another and to justify belief in the principles on which our American democracy was founded” (1). Since the 1990s and continuing in our work today, individuals in the Georgetown community have recognized this need and attempted to remedy the situation by passing academic reform.

In 1991, the Subcommittee on Cultural Diversity in the Curriculum acknowledged the absence in the general core curriculum of Georgetown College of issues of pluralism.

...We proposed that the College make attention to issues of cultural pluralism a hallmark of its curriculum beginning with the general education core curriculum. In our view this goal deferrable; the claims it makes upon us are urgent (2). (Subcommittee on Cultural Diversity in the Curriculum, 1991)

This Subcommittee called for the full implementation of a revised core curriculum to “open students far more widely to the possibilities and challenges presented by a diverse community” (3). 

In February 2000, a group called the Georgetown University Coalition, comprised of student leaders, submitted to then ­University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. a proposal entitled “Ending Hate and Intolerance: A Plan of Action.” In response to these student demands, Provost Dorothy Brown formed The Committee on Diversity in the Undergraduate Curriculum. This committee was charged with examining how issues of diversity would be incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum (4).

Responding to pressure from the Student Commission for Unity in 2007, Georgetown then commissioned a research study to investigate undergraduate student perceptions of discrimination, segregation, and institutional resources regarding bias reporting and hate crimes. This study revealed that 76.2 percent of students agreed that self­-segregation was a problem on campus; 78.5 percent of students said that they had witnessed some form of discrimination by a student against another student; 43.8 percent of students said they had witnessed discrimination of students committed by faculty; 46.5 percent of students felt targeted by fellow students as objects of discrimination. When asked if students of color face discrimination, 71.9 percent of students who identified as Black agreed; 42.3% of students who identified as Hispanic agreed; 40.5 percent of students who identified as South Asian agreed; 38.2 percent of students who identified as Asian; and 33.3 percent of students who identified as Middle Eastern agreed. Seventy percent of students agreed with the statement that “interacting with people unlike myself enriches my college experience” (5).  

After completing this survey and communicating with the administration, the Student Commission for Unity recommended a host of academic reforms in 2009. Among these reforms were:

Proposal 1: Institute a diverse, social justice­-oriented, “Equity through Diversity Cross Listing Curriculum Requirement” in all four Schools. This would identify courses that presently fulfill General Education Requirements and would also engage students in cultural, social, religious and political diversity. From this listing, students would be required to select two courses in their first four semesters at Georgetown that would simultaneously fulfill General Education Requirements. This will indirectly expand all course offerings into diverse fields by injecting a majority of students into small classes, while providing freedom for students and faculty to determine which courses to take and teach from a pool of offered classes (6).

In 2010, Provost James O’Donnell and Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny co­-chaired the Georgetown University Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness. The Academic Diversity Working Group from that Initiative issued detailed recommendations regarding implementation of a Diversity Requirement for all undergraduate students by Fall 2011. The Report of the Academic Diversity Working Group (AWG) Georgetown Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness stated the following:

We all agreed on how important it is for our university community to understand and confront questions of diversity. The working group defined “diversity” as asymmetries regarding class, culture, ethnicity, gender, identity, power and race that shape individual experiences and communal interactions… These members believe that a diversity requirement can serve as a concrete manifestation of Georgetown’s Jesuit identity, which seeks to promote social justice…Regardless of the different rationales, the consensus of our Working Group is that Georgetown University should implement a diversity requirement (7).

After recognizing the need for implementation of a core curriculum requirement for all undergraduates, this working group fleshed out an action plan, which was to be implemented in Fall 2011, though the University never made any concrete commitment to doing so. The requirement, unfortunately, was never implemented.

Last spring, 2014, President John DeGioia met with students at the annual Black House Dinner and discussed issues of discrimination on campus. In response, a group of students delivered the Black House 8 ­point plan to improve academic, social, and alumni life for minority students at Georgetown. In response, Provost Groves brought together a group of 30 faculty, administrators, and students to work together toward rapid, demonstrable progress on the specific set of proposed actions, including academic diversity reform.

Therefore, as a way to “rebuild the commonweal” of this university and the global at large, the Last Campaign for Academic Reform at Georgetown University proposes that our administration finally adopt the following Curricular Reform Platform by Spring Semester 2015:

Require all undergraduates to complete a two­-course matrix overlay “Engaging Differences” requirement, to be instituted by Fall Term, 2016.

Georgetown lags far behind its peer institutions, such as Yale, Brown, Cornell, and other Jesuit institutions, in educating its students on issues of power and privilege in American society. By not requiring that students learn about the “persistent legacy of segregation, discrimination, inequality: of injustice,” Georgetown does a disservice to students seeking a holistic education fit for the twenty-first century (8). 

Furthermore, as a school that generates high­-ranking policy­makers, advocates, ambassadors, businessmen and women, academic,s and innovators, Georgetown is responsible for educating students about the realities of those outside of their lived experiences. This education will create young professionals who acknowledge their own privileges, empathize with those different from them, understand how structures of power and privilege function, and energetically and proactively engage these problems in order to empower all people. In addition, this staggering lack of curricular engagement with issues of power and privilege produces and sustains a campus­-wide academic and social culture that endorses hierarchies of domination based on historically espoused and flawed privileges. This is highly inconsistent with Georgetown’s founding mission, academic imperatives, cura personalis philosophy, and norms for global progress.

To remedy the deficiency of education at Georgetown in issues of power and privilege, hierarchy, and oppression, we propose that the University finally implement a core requirement for diversity education. Participation in the Doyle Symposium 2015 to further discuss this possibility will not only amplify this conversation but also solidify the university’s stance on this critical issue. It is time now to act.

1. “A Message from President DeGioia”, Georgetown University President John DeGioia, December 10, 2014, Email Correspondence.
8. “A Message from President DeGioia”, Georgetown University President John DeGioia, December 10, 2014, Email Correspondence. 
comments powered by Disqus
Proposal for Core Curriculum Academic Diversity  (Doyle Symposium Jury Prize)