Student group pushes to make racial issues part of Core curriculum

By Laura Bishop

Reacting to racial tensions on campus this year, a group of students has taken on the subject of race, honing in on racial issues within the Core curriculum.

The group organized a public panel of professors last Thursday to hear faculty views on race and gather wider campus sentiments on the subject. Around 50 students attended the panel, at which five professors from the humanities, social sciences, and biology departments spoke.

Students first considered the idea of changing the Core fall quarter at the Student Activists Conference and at a campus-wide meeting held after the “Straight-Thuggin’” party in May House.

The group, though in its early stages, has discussed creating a better reflection of diversity in Core course materials in order to provide greater exposure to racial issues and improve the campus climate.

Toby Kramer, one of the primary organizers of the campaign and a third-year in the College, said that the group wants to reach their goals through changes in the Core, but she is not yet sure of the form it would take.

“We’re either looking for a class specifically on racism and racial theory or finding a way that these themes can exist more explicitly in the Core classes,” Kramer said.

Kramer said the discussion held at Thursday’s panel would help the group identify its goals and understand the process it must work though to achieve them.

Ruth Anne Whitfield, a first-year in the College, said that the changes are necessary because discussion is often avoided in the classroom, and many people stay ignorant as a result.

“People don’t talk about race because it’s skirted,” Whitfield said. “When I bring up certain issues, people said they couldn’t talk about it, or didn’t want to talk about it, or didn’t have enough information to talk about it. Race really is not in class as much as it should be.”

Third-year in the College Zebulon Dingley said he thinks a strong change needs to be made within the Core. He said that a course dealing with race should be part of the general education requirements.

“It would be an opportunity for conversations about race which might not otherwise occur between non-white and white students,” Dingley said. “It’s the kind of conversation that has to be had. Otherwise, I don’t know what to do. I’m kind of despairing about the future of race relations in this country.”

Emma Jacobs, a first-year in the College who is involved with the Core change group, said that working to increase the amount of academic dialogue is important to improving the status of racial awareness and sensitivity outside of the college environment.

“If we start a discussion in the classroom, it will go outside of the classroom. When you have to write a paper, you have to look at your own opinions,” Jacobs said. “It’s about making us well rounded, educated citizens. It’s about improving our educational experience. What we get here shapes our worldview.”

Kramer agreed that race is an academic area that needs more attention within academia.

“This institution values diversity and it is an academic issue. It needs to value diversity scholastically,” Kramer said. “The issues are really complicated. There’s a lot of information you don’t learn just from reading the papers, even if you care about the topic.”

The group plans to continue pushing for change in the Core, but Kramer and Whitfield both acknowledged that such an involved process could take years to complete.

“We have a right to take a proactive role. There is going to be some movement, some organization,” Whitfield said. “This is a long-term commitment for the students coming beyond us. It’s about bettering the experience for them.”