College is an eye-opening experience. And for those students coming from majority-white communities, it may their first significant exposure to diverse cultures.
Illinois State University wants to go one step further. ISU is considering a new graduation requirement focused on diversity in American society. Students would have to take at least one course focused on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in U.S. Society (IDEAS) to meet the requirement.
Students would be able to choose their IDEAS course from a variety of disciplines, such as Latino Psychology, African-American history, or music.
“We’re acknowledging that the U.S. has not always been this monolithic, majority-culture experience,” said Rocio Rivadeneyra, chair of the IDEAS committee that’s proposed the requirement and director of the University’s Honors Program. “There’s always been Latino voices. African-American voices. Gay voices. Female voices. We’re putting those side by side with the other experiences.”
Cultural competence is a highly sought skillset among employers, Rivadeneyra said. For some students, the additional exposure to diversity may spark an interest in adding a minor in existing programs such Women’s and Gender Studies or Latin American and Latino/a Studies, she said.
“That’s going to set you apart from someone who hasn’t taken those classes or had those experiences,” Rivadeneyra said. “(Employers) also want people who can get along with people and collaborate with people of different backgrounds than they are.”
Rivadeneyra also brushed back potential criticism from social conservatives who’ve argued that campuses, as a whole, are generally hostile to views that don't conform to the social and political left.
“Diversity is not a liberal or conservative issue. It’s a human issue. It’s interacting with people, your neighbors, co-workers, clients or patients, with your students. It’s the past of the United States, and it’s the future of the United States. We can’t hide our heads in the sand and pretend we’re not becoming this, because we are,” she said. “We’re doing students a disservice by not preparing them for that.”
ISU has a very high graduation rate, among the Top 10 percent of schools in the country. Rivadeneyra said the new requirement would not make it harder to graduate on time. She said many of the classes that would satisfy the requirement already count toward majors or general education coursework.
“It won’t add any more coursework to them. It’ll be something they can easily fit into their already full schedule. It’ll be a class that gets counted in multiple ways,” she said.
The IDES committee will seek input from the campus community with open forums from 3-4 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, and Wednesday, April 4, in Stevenson Hall, room 401.
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