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College looks at need for Intergroup Relations curriculum

<ccepted high school seniors make their choice of whether or not to attend Carleton, they are likely unaware of the role they could play in changing the College’s curriculum in the future. Feeling that Carleton’s Recognition of Affirmation of Difference (RAD) graduation requirement does not give students enough of a worldly perspective, the College in the coming years will probably attempt a class called Intergroup Relations where students would debate how cultural, sexual, and class backgrounds influence group dynamics. If these pilot sessions seem fruitful, Intergroup Relations may become a full-fledged entity in Carleton’s future course catalogs.

The classes will be based off The Program of Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan, which is used to acquaint new freshman with issues involving “the complexities of living in a multicultural society”. At Michigan, these groups would discuss one topic like black multiculturalism or oppression in the United States while helping students acclimate to the college environment. Surveys of students who have taken the program show that most students’ overall college experience had been improved by being part of an Intergroup Relations class. Since Michigan introduced the program in 1988, several other colleges and universities have adopted similar programs for first-year students.

Carleton’s version of Intergroup Relations would have discussions of freshmen in small groups led by upperclassmen who would be trained by faculty to coordinate the sessions. Instead of focusing on one national issue involving diversity and the societal power structure, these groups would discuss several issues dealing with Carleton, the local level, or the national level. Hannah Weinstein ’09, a student representative of the Education and Curriculum Committee who is helping to organize the proposed program, said that the issues should be “local” enough to provoke sharing of personal experiences without making students too uncomfortable.

Intergroup Relations will first run a pilot program involving a few discussion groups. While no credit will be given to the classes, there would most likely be incentives for students who join. There is a chance that Intergroup Relations classes could begin during the next school year. More likely, upperclassmen will be trained during the next year and the pilot classes would occur during the 2010-11 school year. After these test runs, Intergroup Relations may become a mandatory course for all first-year students. Intergroup Relations hopes to make all students on campus more comfortable with the Carleton community.

Intergroup Relations program grew out of the Education and Curriculum Committee’s (ECC) plans to revise Carleton’s graduation requirements for the first time in forty years. The ECC is comprised of five students, six faculty members, and a few Deans. The Dean of the College serves as the co-chairperson along with a faculty member, Bill Titus currently. The discussions on changing the curriculum have been taking place throughout this year. One of the primary focuses of the committee’s proposed task involves modifying the distribution requirements from each field of study that are needed to graduate, including revising RAD.

The RAD requirement has been a source of controversy for a long time, largely because it is the most subjective of requirements. The Recognition of Affirmation of Difference requires Carleton students to take at least one class that focuses on ideas of gender, race, sexual orientation, class, race, and/or culture. RAD classes “require reflection on the challenges and benefits of dialogue across differences”. For years, many on campus have wanted the RAD requirement to be more than just a class one takes to graduate.

This year, the ECC felt that the RAD requirement does not do enough to require students to take a class debating the issue of power and privilege in society. In order to compensate for this problem, a group of students suggested replacing RAD with a distribution known as Critically Considering Context (CCC). The goal of CCC would have been to provide an opportunity for students to openly discuss issues of marginalization in society. The faculty rejected CCC because they felt they would be unable to teach a “transformative experience” for everyone, which is what CCC was hoping for in its classes. Several groups of faculty that met with the committee also proposed other slight changes to the RAD requirement. Instead of these options, the committee decided to create a Global Citizenship requirement that would include the Intergroup Relations test program, which would have similarities to the CCC program. The Intergroup Relations program was first brought to the committee’s attention by Djiara Meehan, the Associate Director of the Office of Intercultural Life, and some of the Deans on the ECC. The global citizenship requirement will require one course in International Studies and one in Intercultural Domestic Studies. Other changes in distribution requirements that the ECC plan to adopt are changing the current distribution categories into those focusing on “skill sets”.

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