Letter to the Editor: May 28, 2014

By Adam Shear

To the editor of The Pitt News:

While I certainly agree that Pitt students should learn about cultures, races, genders and religions different from their own, I think your May 14 editorial “Diversity Class Requirement has value in higher education” could leave a misleading impression. 

A course on Muslims or African-Americans or Jews or women never focuses “solely” on the members of the group in question. The academic study of culture, ethnicity, race, religion and gender involves understanding our subjects from the “inside” and from the “outside” — putting those groups in comparative and contextual perspective, as well as understanding culturally constructed boundaries between groups of people.    

It’s a mistake to view these courses as explorations of “essential differences between cultures.” I hope our courses quickly disabuse students of the idea that differences between particular people or groups are “essential” rather than historically contingent.  

Perhaps the general education requirements do need to be tweaked to offer more incentives to students, and it’s certainly worthwhile to open such a discussion. But it is not the case that Pitt students lack the “means to become genuinely informed about the diversity they will meet in the post-baccalaureate world.” There are currently dozens of courses being offered at Pitt that allow students to explore the dynamics of cultures, races, ethnicities or religions other than their own.

I would love to see editorial space in The Pitt News devoted to urging your constituency, including incoming freshmen, to take advantage of the multiple opportunities that already exist at Pitt, rather than leave them with the impression that such courses do not exist. Perhaps in the weeks leading up to registration each semester, you could work with departments and programs to highlight upcoming courses that fulfill the goals you have outlined in the editorial?  

Adam Shear

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Director, Jewish Studies Program 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

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