General education reform aims to address campus culture

Updated: Feb 2

Salisbury University Professor Elsie Walker’s African American Cinema course holds a dual purpose: to discuss concepts of identity and self-awareness.

Through a series of film presentations, from small independent productions to blockbusters like “Get Out,” Walker aims to engage students. The course explores issues of race, gender, domestic violence and privilege.


Walker said the course allows everyone involved – including herself – to embrace humility and curiosity in seeking new perspectives.


“I feel that these values are crucial to our movement forward as a human race,” she said. “Even if [students] can’t literally understand what someone else is feeling and going through, [they] can occupy a place in the world that’s like theirs, and that can change the way [they] feel about everything.”


Walker’s course belongs to a category expected to see dramatic growth in the coming semesters as SU’s new general education model becomes reality.


The new model's three-year implementation process began following a full-faculty vote Nov. 9 to approve the creation of the General Education Oversight Committee. The committee is tasked with managing the course requirements moving forward.


The model was originally scheduled to take effect for the 2023-24 academic year after receiving approval from SU faculty in May. It was delayed to fall 2024 to expand and adjust course offerings to satisfy the new standards.


The delay continued to prolong the more than two-decade process of revamping SU’s current model.


After proposed changes were struck down in 2000, the university continued with its decades-old model for 14 more years until a new committee was established to review the requirements. Seven years later, those efforts are now producing results.


Inclusion and diversity, environmental sustainability and civic and community engagement make up the three “signature” course requirements featured in the new model. These categories are combined with a mix of other university-specific and state general education requirements.


The oversight committee will review and approve which courses may fulfill each of the new requirements, including the three signature courses, on a case-by-case basis.


James King, former co-chair of SU’s General Education Curriculum Committee, said the university’s “bloody” record of general education reform has been slowed by conflict between academic departments and the inflexibility of some professors.


“If a faculty member is being asked to tweak a course to include this material and they resist as tenured members of the faculty, they have that right, but they do so at the expense of our students,” King said. “It’s really heartbreaking … to go for over 35 years without thoughtful and regulated change to a curriculum that is so central to the experience of every single Salisbury student.”


The inclusion and diversity requirement could bridge cultural divides.


One in five SU students, faculty and staff reported experiencing “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct” on campus, most prevalently based on racial identity, in a campus climate study conducted in Fall 2020.


More than one-third of individuals who identified as Black, African or African American reported experiencing such conduct, as well as 22% of all women who participated in the study.


The new inclusion and diversity course requirement will remain separate from the virtual diversity training mandated by the administration for all SU students, faculty and staff, Chief of Staff Eli Modlin said. Campus community members are still required to complete the training after the new general education model is implemented.


Modlin said while both programs share a focus on “increasing diversity education and awareness,” the curriculum of the expanded inclusion and diversity course offerings will be dictated by SU’s faculty and unaffected by the content of the training.


King, who also co-chaired the Campus Climate Study Steering Committee, said the single-course inclusion and diversity requirement is not enough to impact students. He recommends a continued pursuit of the theme, “so [students] can see the connectivity between diversity and the sciences.”


SU’s Student Government Association expects an improvement in the campus’ culture from the new requirements, said Brittany Bell, the organization’s director of academic affairs.


Bell said the new model will be a “great thing” for future SU students and emphasized the sustainability course requirement as a career asset since students will “need to learn to work with [their] community in whatever type of job [they] get.”


The three themed “priority areas” were identified by faculty as the “issues of our time,” though there remains potential for more signature courses to be added, said Karen Olmstead, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.


Olmstead said the three signature themes are “explicitly connected to [SU’s] campus values and mission,” aligning with student learning goals.


“That’s where all the [changes] in the world happen: at the fringes of discipline,” Olmstead said. “All the big problems we face as a planet are going to be solved by interdisciplinary thinking, and I think the new model really drives that.”


Dorien Rogers, president of the university’s NAACP chapter, appreciates the model’s intersectionality, weaving together issues of diversity and inclusion with other key topic areas.


Rogers encourages all students to advocate for policy and curriculum changes by recognizing the work of past students who made the remodel possible.


“[The new themed requirements] are the things you’re going to have to balance and intersect in the real world,” Rogers said. “I think that’s ever more crucial to student advocacy [and] to being an engaged and dutiful citizen.


“The reason [the new model] is going to be effective … [is the themes] intersect, and that’s all we need to ensure we’re moving our society forward.”


 

By JAKOB TODD

Sports editor

Featured image courtesy of Ben Lausch.

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