New option for multiculturalism

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been increasing debate about requiring all students to take a mandatory course on multiculturalism before graduating from NIU. Undoubtedly, this issue is not a new one for it was thoroughly researched and debated when I was Student Association Academic Affairs Adviser in 1989-1990. At that time, many students agreed, given the many racial incidents that occurred on campus (I will not cite any specific incidents because it would be counterproductive), some cultural sensitivity training was necessary. As Academic Affairs Adviser, I attempted to navigate this issue through the different academic committees (i.e.., Academic Planning Council, University Council, Undergraduate Coordinating Council, etc), to no avail. During this particular time, we were told that more research was required by the university. (Now, perhaps all of the research has been completed and something can be actually accomplished.)

Much of the current debate stems from SA President Abe Andrzejewski’s recognition that students should be exposed to different perspectives and ideas. I concur wholeheartedly with the SA President that students should be given an opportunity to learn about other cultures. Especially given the cultural insensitivity that takes place not only at NIU but in the United States as well. An example of such insensitivity is when some (not all) non-minority females clutch their purses or quickly lock the doors of their car at the sight of a minority male even if he’s wearing a $500.00 Perry Ellis suit or a tuxedo for that matter—unfortunately, this has happened.

However, I am not certain if one mandatory class will achieve much of anything. Instead, I think all courses should be taught from a multicultural perspective. Wait! Before you pick up your pen and paper to write a response, telling me how dumb this sounds, please read on and if it still sounds dumb, take Milli Vanilli’s advice (if you dare) and “Blame it on the Rain”.

Seriously, I recently attended a conference in Columbus, Ohio where it was noted by a well-respected scholar from the University of California at Berkeley, a professor who has actually taught such a class, that mandatory classes are nice but fall short of what is really needed. According to this professor and other experts at the conference, what is really needed is a Total System Change (i.e.., fine-tuned mission statements, enhance recruitment efforts and the training of faculty).

One of the most interesting components of this change is the training of faculty members. In short, every summer, a volunteer group of professors attend a training program that assists them in developing a more diverse course. At the start of the program, each professor agrees to bring a copy of his/her syllabus to the training program. During the training program, the professors are introduced to new literature written from a different perspective and are provided with additional information about the scholarly work and/or accomplishments of minorities in that discipline, which may give a different approach to their course. At the conclusion of the program, the professors are then asked to develop a new syllabus that reflects this newly acquired information. Those professors who actually develop the new syllabus and agree to give it a try are given a summer stipend for their effort.

Amazingly, this program has been a HUGE SUCCESS. In fact, thus far, more than 30 percent of the faculty at Berkeley has attended the training program and are constantly recruiting their peers to participate in the program (Refer to the Chronicle of Higher Education, March 1992, for more discussion). Ironically, these professors, many of whom were on the verge of boredom from teaching the same material year after year, are actually reinvigorated as a result of the new information that they’ve required.

Moreover, in an effort to address the issue of funding for such training programs, there is a need to reallocate some of the summer research grants. To achieve this, the active participation of the Graduate School and the Committee for the Improvement of Undergraduate Education is vital. Thus, I strongly urge the SA President to take the SA Ad Hoc committee a step further by forming a joint committee, comprised of faculty, staff and students, to produce a document that will implement this proposal (while adapting it to the specific needs of this university).

Finally I wish the committee godspeed on this extremely complex issue. God bless NIU and God bless these United States of America!

The Northern Star encourages members of campus organizations to participate in our “guest editor” program. To find out more information or set up a visiting date please call 753-0117 and ask for Tinamarie.