New gen ed requirements encourage cultural understanding


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

The new general education requirements in the Dietrich School focus on different aspects of diversity, and replace requirements last updated in 2002.

By Mary Rose O'Donnell, Staff Writer

This past semester marked the implementation of a new set of general education requirements for the Dietrich School, the finale of a year-long effort to update requirements that had been in place since 2002.

The new list of GERs, required for students who entered the Dietrich School in the fall of 2018 and beyond, includes a course in diversity in addition to changes to the foreign culture/international, second literature/art, historical change and philosophy requirements.

According to John Twyning, the associate dean for undergraduate studies at the Dietrich School, the Dietrich School faculty and undergraduate council decided to revise the requirements after realizing that the GERs did not properly reflect the world we live in today and changes were necessary.

The new GERs will be evaluated and their successes and failures assessed by academic departments in the 2019-2020 academic year, according to Twyning. His office and the undergraduate council will review these evaluations before making any decisions or taking any future action regarding the GERs.

The Dietrich School and its undergraduate council, which consists of 12 students and five faculty members, spent more than a year reviewing the previous GER curriculum before sending the new curriculum to faculty for approval. The new requirements were passed in January 2017. Since then, the undergraduate council has worked to plan the implementation of the new requirements.

The new GERs, though altered, remain largely similar to the past requirements. The only added requirement is a course in diversity, which can be fulfilled by 174 courses from 24 subject areas, ranging from Geology to Music.

One class that can fulfill the requirement is the introductory composition course Seminar in Composition: Topics in Diversity. According to the Department of English’s website, the seminar consists of “readings and writing activities that explore concepts and practices relating to diversity and its established and emerging definitions.” Each section may address issues such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religious difference, differences in abilities and economic disparities.

Undecided first-year Bridget Hogue took the course in fall 2018 to fulfill both the seminar in composition and diversity requirements. Her class learned about rhetoric in the context of hip-hop music and culture, writing about major artists in the genre and what students considered to be the best rap songs from various time periods.

“I think having a diversity GER is very influential, especially in the first year,” Hogue said. “It helps open someone’s mind to see a writing course centered around something as historic and influential on the mainstream culture as hip-hop.”

History professor Bernard Hagerty, whose Xenophobia in Modern Europe class fulfills the new diversity, historical analysis, and global awareness and cultural understanding: specific geographic region requirements, believes that this new GER is a step in the right direction.

“The diversity GER seems to me sensible and positive,” Hagerty said. “What matters to me is that it be diverse. That is, it should cover all aspects of societal difference, including those which may be less familiar to American students.”

According to Derek Fischer, director of the Dietrich School Undergraduate Studies Advising Center, the transition to the new requirements for advisers and students has gone smoothly due to constant communication with Associate Dean Twyning’s office. The advising center is kept up to date on the newest courses that are approved to meet the requirements.

“That level of communication has allowed us to effectively relay the new information to our students as we meet with them during their advising appointments,” Fischer said.

Though there are now two sets of GERs that undergraduate students are taking depending on the year they entered the Dietrich School, advisers and students are kept organized and on track using online resources like PeopleSoft.

“We have increasingly made use of the resources available to both advisers and students, such as the academic advisement report, to ensure that we are aware of which requirements apply to each student,” Fischer said. “As part of that, we have also made a concerted effort to teach students how to access and understand their advisement report so that they take a more active role in understanding their degree requirements.”

When asked about the new GERs, specifically the diversity requirement, first-year linguistics major Sarah Maenner was unaware of the changes. Although she wasn’t aware that the diversity requirement was new, Maenner said she thinks it’s a positive change that keeps students aware of the world around them.

“It’s good to be able to learn about people who aren’t like you, especially in the present world,” she said.

Other shifts have occurred as well. The foreign culture/international requirement is now global awareness and cultural understanding. Three courses are still needed to fulfill this requirement, but its sub-categories have changed. Instead of regional, comparative and global, students must take one class in global awareness, specific geographic region and cross-cultural awareness.

Historical change has changed its name to historical analysis. Hagerty approves of this adjustment, saying the new title more accurately summarizes the requirement.

“I like the Analysis/Change shift,” Hagerty said in an email. “Change is by definition what we analyze. Duh.”

Students still have to take multiple class in the arts and literature. Now, one of those classes must fill the creative work requirement. According to the Dietrich School’s website, this means “students are expected to produce some form of creative work, and they will also be trained in the techniques and modes of its production.” These classes range from public speaking to West African dance.

Finally, the philosophy requirement has been expanded to philosophy and ethics. According to Robert Batterman, philosophy department chair, this adjusted GER drops the emphasis on “classic” texts, which allows for a wider range of authors to be studied. The emphasis on a “philosophical approach” was also scratched.

“Dropping the requirement of a ‘philosophical approach’ is to my mind a mistake,” Batterman said in an email. “Many disciplines are concerned with ethical issues to be sure. These disciplines will allow students the opportunity of satisfying the Philosophical Thinking or Ethics GER without actually learning to do philosophy.”