University News

U. to add 15 sophomore seminars to curriculum

Part of Diversity Perspectives in Liberal Learning, seminars will span 12 departments

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 14, 2014

Approximately 15 sophomore seminars will run next year as part of a revision to the Diversity Perspectives course designation, which has been updated to Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning, said Interim Dean of the College Margaret Klawunn.

Sophomore seminars are an effective way to incorporate more DPLL courses into Brown’s curriculum, Klawunn said, because sophomores have already adjusted to life at Brown and many have thoroughly considered issues of identity in previous courses.

The seminars will make up a small percentage of the University’s total count of DPLL courses, which are expected to number about 200 next year.

Seminars will be offered in a wide variety of disciplines. The 15 currently in the proposal stage for next year are spread across 12 departments.

Three sophomore seminars under the program’s umbrella are already being offered this semester.

Klawunn said she was surprised by the extensive applicability of the DPLL designation to certain fields, which she attributed to “cutting-edge research” that has shed light on the multidisciplinary nature of issues related to diversity.

Chair of the Department of Economics Roberto Serrano “had no issue giving me a range of topics that … are a very clear fit” for DPLL, said Kathleen McSharry, associate dean of the College for writing and curriculum. “I’m not aware that we had any econ courses before in Diversity Perspectives.”

President Christina Paxson will teach a sophomore seminar in the economics department next spring titled “Disparities in Wealth and Health.”

Klawunn said Paxson, whose strategic plan listed the sophomore seminars as an initiative, has been very supportive of the sophomore seminar program.

And as chair of the University Resources Committee, Provost Mark Schlissel ’15 made an investment in the program, McSharry said.

Klawunn and McSharry said they were not yet sure if students would register for sophomore seminars like they do for most classes or if a lottery system like that used for first-year seminar registration would be implemented.

Though she expects sophomore seminar registration, particularly for next fall, to be carried out by regular means, McSharry said she is “concerned that when we have people like President Paxson offering a section, students would want some way to throw their hat in the ring.”

There has been widespread interest in the program among sophomores for several years, Klawunn said, adding that sophomores often want to take upper-level small classes or first-year seminars. The sophomore seminars program will fulfill those needs, she said.

As DPLL courses, the seminars will provide a consistent setting in which students can discuss social justice and equity — issues that boiled over last semester when student and community protesters interrupted a lecture by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The Kelly episode “told us that there are lots of things that our students and our faculty want to talk about,” Schlissel said. The seminars and other DPLL courses offer an opportunity to “regularize” the types of conversations the Kelly lecture sparked, he added.

In considering how to incorporate courses on diversity into the curriculum, administrators relied on records of courses on diversity, academic literature on effective teaching methods and current faculty and staff members’ perspectives on making Brown more inclusive, wrote Kendra Cornejo ’15, a research assistant to the committee tasked with reforming the Diversity Perspectives program, in an email to The Herald.

“While Brown has many people and centers dedicated to creating a campus that is more engaged in discussions of race, class, gender, etc.,” Cornejo wrote. “There is still a lot of work to be done institutionalizing these practices to create a meaningful change for all students on this campus.”

Sophomore seminars will provide an effective path for students to learn more about the world, Cornejo said, adding that the second year of an undergraduate’s study is a timely moment to reflect on DPLL topics.

Of the three seminars offered this semester, one — HIST 0980: “Becoming French” — is also open to students from other class years.

Though most of the students in the course are sophomores, life experience matters more than experience at Brown, said Harin Lee ’17, a student in the course. He added that classmates often reference their personal experiences with issues related to diversity outside of life at the University.

Though sophomore seminars are not geared toward first-years, Lee said the seminar has been a positive experience and has fulfilled the goal of educating students about diversity.