Steinman ’19: DPLL courses enhance open curriculum

Staff Columnist
Friday, April 22, 2016

Somehow, it’s already time for pre-registration for fall 2016. As students explore the new Courses@Brown website in a mad dash to shape the perfect schedule, I urge the administration to consider a change that would  ensure that every student graduates with a broadened perspective of the world. This can be accomplished by requiring one Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning course before graduation.

These courses, according to Brown’s website, seek to “expose and critique the diverse historical and cultural forces that shape the construction of knowledge in all disciplines; teach the arts of critical reflection: questioning thoughtfully, listening openly and speaking cogently about differing points of view; and develop responsible citizens by examining the ways that power and privilege affect human lives and providing pathways to meaningful change.”

They are designed to bring to the forefront the issues and identities that are left out of too many classrooms: race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status and ethnicity. Plenty of students find themselves gravitating toward these classes because they are interested in the topic, while others seek them out as a way to learn about new experiences or to have a space to discuss difficult issues. And yet, despite the vast array of courses at our disposal, it is entirely possible to graduate from Brown without engaging with these topics in the classroom setting. The open curriculum is valuable for a number of reasons, but one disadvantage is that it allows students to ignore issues — like those of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of marginalization — that they don’t come in contact with regularly. Obviously, no curriculum should be designed to tell students what they should or should not think, but a liberal education ought to encourage us to think, write and talk about things we might not otherwise.

The college experience is rare in that it surrounds us with people who are passionate about the things that make them unique. The open curriculum is crucial to fostering those identifiers and allowing us to forge our own personal characters. But if we are so caught up in the race to figure out who we are and what we care about by projecting inward and examining ourselves, we can lose sight of the broader picture.

Brown’s liberal learning goals, published by the dean of the College, encourage students to “make the most of the freedom (they) have and to chart the broadest possible intellectual journey,” which is Brown-speak for using the open curriculum to learn about a lot of different things. This is why we need DPLL. Broad as these courses are — the offerings for fall 2016 range from MUSC 0044: “East Asian Popular Music” to HIAA 0770: “Architecture and Urbanism of the African Diaspora” — they ask us to consider areas of study that have been pushed to the sidelines by traditional curricula. Most high schools teach social justice issues with little more than a cursory glance, if at all. If you come to Brown and don’t take classes that delve any further, it is more than a wasted opportunity — it is a distorted and simplified way of seeing the world. We can’t leave Brown without taking two classes on writing. Why should we be able to leave without taking at least one on the way that society views and treats people?

In the past week, the DPLL designation has been featured in The Herald in two salient ways. In the Herald’s spring 2016 poll, released April 14, 58.4 percent of students agreed that all students should be required to take a DPLL designated class before graduation. An article published the same day reported on the April 13 UCS meeting where the effectiveness of the designation was discussed. Members were concerned that the designation was too broad or that students don’t use it when picking classes. But a DPLL requirement is popular with the student body and would help to alleviate UCS’s concerns by bringing it to the center of the curriculum.

I don’t purport to claim that one DPLL class will make the student body universally informed and engaged on issues of diversity, tolerance and inclusion, but it would go a long way toward indicating the values that we, as a campus, seek to perpetuate. It is a simple, if small, step in the right direction. And rather than undermining the open curriculum, it has the potential to enhance it by introducing students to topics they might otherwise have overlooked.

Clare Steinman ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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  1. What would be better is a course teaching students GRIT and RESILIENCE in a world that will never be as PC or considerate as they would like.

  2. Man with Axe says:

    I find it hard to believe that the curriculum is not already super-saturated with race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status and ethnicity, no doubt looked at from a progressive point of view in virtually all cases, given the lack of conservative faculty.

    What i wonder is whether Brown students can graduate without any knowledge of American government and history, or economics.

    • Tom Butler says:

      ???? Aren’t the top three awarded undergrad degrees at Brown Biological Sciences, Economics, and Computer Science? I don’t know but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that U.S. history and economics are probably taught somewhere in the curriculum for those degrees. Then again, what do I know? I’m a man without an axe.

      • Man with Axe says:

        My point is about what students in other majors must take to graduate. They are supposed to be educated people when they earn their degrees, but if they didn’t have to take those courses, they have glaring deficiencies.

        • Tom Butler says:

          So during four years of undergraduate studies at Brown, there are no requirements to take a mandatory history, government or economics class of any type? Can someone with intimate knowledge help us out here?

          • Greek Alum says:

            Correct. There is no requirement to take a history, government, or economics class of the concentration does not seem it necessary (eg chemistry).

          • Greek Alum says:

            Damn phone. *if…*deem

          • Greek Alum says:

            >95% of brown students do fulfill traditional distribution requirements out of their own volition though.

  3. TheRationale says:

    I disagree that mandatory diversity classes are a good idea.

    The most convincing reason is also the least politically arousing. The same justification for mandatory classes can be given for any subject. American history, calculus, economics – all are indispensable subjects that everyone should fully understand. The essence of the Open Curriculum is the freedom it grants students to study anything they wish. Freedom requires responsibility, both to live with your own choices *and* to live with the choices of those with whom you disagree.

    The writing requirement should be abolished. It suffers from all of the same problems that gen-eds at other schools suffer from – low student interest, less learning, and wasted opportunity. “Writing courses” quickly pop up that legalistically adhere to the standards but clearly not the intent.

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