Members of the Undergraduate Council of Students raised concerns about potential changes to the Diversity Perspectives course category and a proposed three-year undergraduate program while showing support for possible sophomore seminars and a five-year undergraduate program.
The council discussed the changes at its meeting Wednesday night in one of the first formal student reactions to interim recommendations released Jan. 25 from the strategic planning committees. The six committees will seek community input before submitting their final reports, the contents of which are expected to influence President Christina Paxson’s agenda for the next several years.
“How (UCS) reacts to these reports will really make a difference,” said Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn, who presented the strategic planning report’s key initiatives to UCS along with Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron. The strategic planning report contains dozens of potential initiatives, and council members’ feedback will help determine which half dozen or so will become reality, Klawunn said.
Bergeron pinpointed renaming and reevaluating the Diversity Perspectives course category as one key initiative that emerged from the strategic planning process. “The definition right now is something we worked on 10 years ago, so it doesn’t reflect current scholarship right now,” Bergeron said.
The strategic planning committees considered changing the term Diversity Perspectives to “Social Justice,” but ultimately decided the new terminology would deter many students with its connotations of activism, she said.
The committees also considered making Diversity Perspectives courses a requirement comparable to the Writing Requirement, but “didn’t want to add too many requirements to the Brown curriculum, or else we’d end up looking like some other schools,” Klawunn said.
Instead of creating a Diversity Perspectives requirement, the committees considered adding a question to the concentration form about whether students have made diversity a part of their education, Klawunn said.
Holly Hunt ’13, UCS general body member, said the University must remember the term diversity is often used as a euphemism when discussing race, whereas in reality the term encompasses other aspects of a person besides race, such as socioeconomic status.
Maahika Srinivasan ’15, UCS Corporation liaison, said the University should work on extending Diversity Perspectives courses from the humanities to the sciences. “There are tons of biology classes that introduce (diversity) in a biological context,” and these courses might as well have the Diversity Perspectives designation, Srinivasan said.
Council members raised qualms about a proposed three-year undergraduate program. The three-year program would benefit students who struggle to afford four years at the University, those who have taken a gap year and those who have taken college courses before enrolling at Brown, Bergeron said.
“It would be really hard to enter a class where people have already made friends,” said Kiera Peltz ’16. “I know I wouldn’t trade my freshman year experience for anything.”
“I’m not sure a potential employer would think someone with a three-year degree would really be ready for the job market,” said Abigail Braiman ’15, chair of the Committee for Admissions and Student Services.
Though the proposed three-year plan came under attack by council members, the five-year plan received more support. Council members said they appreciated the intent of the five-year program, which was to support students seeking to “interrupt their time on College Hill to do meaningful activities” such as jobs, internships or community service, Bergeron said. “So yes to the five-year plan and no to the three-year plan,” Klawunn said in summary of UCS sentiment.
A proposal for sophomore seminars also received support from council members. Sophomore seminars would cater to second-years who were unable to take a first-year seminar but desired a smaller classes, Klawunn said. A proposed group of sophomore seminars called Randall seminars would explore issues of diversity and would “pull a number of students in who aren’t necessarily interested in those issues” with their appealing small size, Klawunn said.
“I think it’s a great idea to introduce students very early in their Brown career (to diversity issues), especially at a critical point when they’re about to declare their concentration,” said Anthony White ’13, UCS president. “It would be a great alternative to requiring students take these courses,” White added.
The strategic planning committees will continue to seek feedback from UCS at its forums in the future, Bergeron said.