Editorial: Diversity class requirement has value in higher education

While Pitt continues to drop courses that reflect the growing diversification of our society — including the elimination of four classes that focused solely on the Islamic religion for the upcoming fall semester — other universities embrace heterogeneity.

UCLA is one of these schools. The university recently proposed  a diversity class as part of its undergraduate general education requirements in an effort to verse students on disparities between races, cultures, genders and religions. 

UCLA will seek to join many other universities nationwide that have already implemented diversity education classes as a core part of their curricula. For instance, Temple University requires students to take a three-credit race and diversity general education course. Through the course, students “recognize the ways in which race intersects with other group identifications or ascriptions,” according to Temple’s website, as well as “explore what it means for individuals and institutions to exist in a multi-racial, multi-cultural world.”

Pitt seems to be lagging behind. Even though Arts and Sciences majors are required to take global citizenship courses as part of their general education, the courses that fall into this category can often be vague and have little to do with specific cultures. Many undergraduates can satisfy the requirement with a general world history course instead of a course that involves cultures they will inevitably come into contact with. This leaves students with a shallow understanding of just how different global cultures and peoples are from each other.

Students unfortunately lack the incentive and — with Pitt dropping cultural specific classes — the means to become genuinely informed about the diversity they will meet in the post-baccalaureate world.

With 80 percent of the student body identifying as white, students at Pitt are not getting adequate exposure to reality.

The reality being, that by 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the United States, according to U.S. Census data from 2010. Currently, people of color own 22.1 percent of U.S. businesses, women 28.8 percent and LGBT individuals 5 percent, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Hence, as UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said, “There is value to an explicit class [in higher education] that deals with the multiple cultures in the United States living together and the conflicts … [and] the faculty owes it to the students to pay attention.”

It’s time for Pitt to recognize this as well.

Instead of cutting valuable cultural-specific classes because seats are not being filled, make such courses requirements, just as other schools do.

Much like English composition, for instance, a diversity class requirement as part of a Pitt undergraduate’s general education can involve different areas of focus. Classes in this area can concentrate on specific groups — African Americans, Muslims, women and transgender individuals, for example — and the discrimination and stereotypes they face.

A variety of class choices can ensure that students will fulfill the requirement without the risk of taking a course that lumps all these groups into one comprehensive diversity summary, which would defeat the purpose in understanding the essential differences between cultures.

As an institution of higher education, it is imperative that Pitt uses general education to prepare each of its students for the realities of the world as efficiently and effectively as possible, not only for the sake of students themselves, but also for the sake of the ever-changing world they will soon be entering.