University of Washington

Incoming undergraduate students at the University of Washington (UW) will need to meet one more requirement before receiving their degrees. President Michael K. Young has approved a student-led initiative that requires Bachelor’s degree candidates to take a course in diversity before being eligible for graduation. This was the third proposal in 25 years and the first one to pass UW’s Faculty Senate. The diversity requirement was approved April 25.

The diversity requirement was broached three years ago by the UW Students for Diversity Coalition. Some of the alliance’s membership included representatives from the Black Student Union and the Filipino American Student Association.

A group of UW students and administrators gathered in the campus’ Red Square after the graduation requirement was approved.

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“The UW has a long and distinguished history of exemplary diversity work,” said Sheila Edwards Lange, vice president for minority affairs and vice provost for diversity. “The passage of the diversity requirement adds the final piece in our comprehensive array of student, faculty, staff and community programs at the UW.”

Helen Fillmore, a senior majoring in environment science and resource management, assisted in the effort to pass the diversity requirement.

“Students come from different places with different backgrounds and … arrive at the university where we’d become part of this huge melting pot,” she said.

“Here we are in a place where we have a lot of ability to grow, not just while we’re here but after we graduate and enter the workforce. We’re so much more connected than ever before … yet there’s still so much bickering.”

UW’s Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity said the additional graduation requirement “will include three credits of coursework that focus on the sociocultural, political and economic diversity of human experience at local, regional or global scales. As stated in the legislation, ‘The requirement is meant to help the student develop an understanding of the complexities of living in increasingly diverse and interconnected societies. These credits will simultaneously satisfy other ‘area of knowledge’ requirements and will not add to students’ general education requirements.”

The requirement will offer more than 400-to-500 courses targeting sexual orientation, disability, class, race, age, gender, religion and politics. Some classes included in the curricula, including Gender and Spirituality, World Music, Peasants in Politics and Class and Culture in East Asia will be available for students. UW’s Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma campuses claim two-thirds of students have already satisfied the requirement based on their data.

However, the incoming class will be the first subjected to the policy. Current undergraduates will not have to fulfill the requirement.

The Seattle Times reports:

To be sure, the UW isn’t blazing any new trail here, and in fact may be behind the curve with this requirement, which has been approved by President Michael Young.

A majority of four-year institutions across the country, including Washington State University, already have a diversity requirement for graduation.

At least three other times in the 1990s, UW student groups tried, but failed, to get a similar policy implemented. Fillmore said at first she worried this effort would fail as well.

Some faculty members thought the definition of diversity in the proposal was not broad enough, excluding areas such as politics and economics, and some raised concerns that it put too much emphasis on concepts such as power and privilege.

Fillmore said initial questions also suggested some faculty members felt the minority students were angry about something or that their effort amounted to a political statement of some kind.

Over two years, faculty members in various committees worked with the students to fine-tune the proposal and expand the definition of diversity. The requirement also was changed from five credits to three.

James Gregory, chairman of the Faculty Senate, which must approve all such changes, said “there was a lot of wordsmithing and adjusting the resolution at various stages.”

“There were changes in executive committee, more changes on the floor of the Senate,” said Gregory, a history professor. “A lot of the things that bothered certain faculty members were worked out.”

What do you think of this new requirement Clutchettes and gents? Should it be a requirement on most campuses?

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  • Mademoiselle

    Teaching people cultural competence is just as useful as teaching ethics. Some people truly just don’t know what others would consider the basics. Then there are also those slippery slope topics that many people haven’t thought through before. This could be a really good initiative to equip college students with some practical soft skills.