Editorial: MU’s proposed required diversity course pilot is a promising development

Students have wanted this requirement as a means of promoting a campus-wide conversation on inclusivity for decades.

For years, students have been urging our administrators to consider implementing a mandatory diversity education requirement. Now, after much resistance and gridlock, a pilot course of this request has finally being proposal. Needless to say, it’s been a long time coming, MU.

We’ve needed this requirement as a means of promoting a campus-wide conversation on inclusivity for a long time, and because the details of the pilot are promising, we can confidently endorse it. This requirement could be a compelling proactive effort to combat ignorance and bigotry, a refreshing change of pace from the perpetual reactionary responses we’ve seen from our administration.

It's encouraging to see that the administration has been evolving on this issue. Earlier this year, Angela Speck, Chair of Faculty Council's Committee on Diversity Enhancement, said that a cultural competency requirement was not realistic, stating that “it’s not going to happen.”

Now, it seems that Speck has since changed her position on the feasibility of such a requirement. An update on the proposal was released Oct. 14 and includes a detailed outline of a pilot version of the course.

This update shows that our administration is finally taking the possibility of this requirement seriously. Administrators have had doubts regarding whether it’s possible to implement and mass produce diversity education like this, and these doubts might prove to be valid. But we cannot know for certain until an attempt is made.

The goal of this course should be to engage students in reflection on the issues of institutional racism, classism and sexism that are ingrained in both MU’s and our country’s social structures. In short, the class should expose students to perspectives they’ve never considered.

In the pursuit of this goal, it can be easy to make mistakes. From reading the proposal, however, it looks as though Speck and the committee are right on the main premise regarding what this course needs to be.

The maximum class size of 30 is an essential aspect of this course. It’s impossible to have productive discourse on these issues in a lecture hall packed with hundreds of students.

In addition to their plans to observe the results of the pilot, the committee has been studying a similar cultural competency course that is required for all students at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Examining the class at Lincoln as a success story is a wise move, but it’s important to keep in mind how different Lincoln is from MU. It’s a far smaller school, with less than 3,000 students, and it is also a historically black college.

Similar cultural competency courses at MU, such as Cross-Cultural Journalism, have fallen flat because they are too large for successful discussions and rarely incorporate any campus current events regarding inclusiveness into class discussions. The pilot of this class cannot make this mistake. Discussion about these issues will not be productive if it does not incorporate current events, especially those on MU’s campus. One of the greatest problems surrounding this issue is simply how uninformed some students are about instances of social injustice on MU’s campus. Incorporating current events into the class would help dispel this ignorance.

In this class, there will be people who disagree, and that’s OK. It’s a part of the process. Discourse is a two-way street, and that means students will need to be prepared to encounter contrary views that might offend them. This class needs to ensure that students are informed so that they can fully understand the issues themselves through discussion, rather than simply having a professor tell them that there is a single right answer and that they’ll be penalized if they don’t agree.

At the end of the day, this class isn’t an end-all solution. The pilot is a promising step toward accomplishing the much larger goal of combating cultural ignorance at MU, but it is not the final step. If the pilot program does end up failing, we hope that the committee stays true to its promise to “explore other possible avenues for implementing diversity training” made at the end of the update while trying out the pilot.

In the meantime, we need students, faculty and administrators to get behind this proposal. This is a pivotal moment for MU. In the aftermath of all that has happened this year, the MU community is, in this moment, clearly focused on bettering themselves. This momentum must be taken advantage of.

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