On Thursday, Feb. 11, St. Olaf faculty passed a resolution that will change the expectations for the Multicultural-Domestic, or MCD, General Education (GE) requirement.
The new Intended Learning Outcomes, or ILOs, call for students to gain “not only [familiarity with] cultural differences and their contributions to a multicultural society, but also a clear understanding of how these differences have been shaped by power, privilege, and inequality.” Students will continue to learn about contrasting cultures in the United States, but now they will also consider how “race and ethnicity manifest themselves in U.S. institutions and intersect with other forms of structured inequality such as gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.”
Not only will students learn about these topics, but they will also “use concepts and tools of inquiry from at least one discipline to critically analyze race and ethnicity in the United States” and develop “the ability to reflect critically on how race, ethnicity, power, privilege, and inequality shape their own experiences and the experiences of others.” The complete list of ILOs can be found online at Oleville.com.
Discussions about changing the GE have been going on for over two years. In October 2014 the Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution calling the faculty to reconsider the MCD and MCG (Multicultural-Global) GE requirements. Specifically, the resolution requested curriculum revisions that would help students better “understand, communicate, and interact with people from different backgrounds and experiences.” Additionally, the resolution suggested that the revised classes should equip students to “understand how structural inequalities, power, and privilege impact our everyday relationships and interactions.”
The faculty formed an ad hoc committee to discuss the revision of the MCD. This committee included two faculty members: Associate Professor of English Jon Naito and Assistant Professor of Sociology Ryan Sheppard. Three students, Sam Adams ’15, Sasha Mandle ’16 and Sophia Mickman ’16, made up the rest of the committee. Together, the committee members conducted research, talked to other faculty members and drafted a new resolution to present to the faculty.
“Throughout the process the majority of faculty who teach MCD courses have been clearly in support of the measure,” Naito said. “There were some questions about how individual classes might fit within the discussion of power, privilege and inequality, but once faculty learned more about it they were largely on board.”
After several drafts and revisions, they presented the resolution at the faculty meeting in December and held a vote on it this week. After some discussion, the resolution passed with a majority vote.
The initiative and success of the resolution was heavily driven by students. Drawing on the original resolution passed by SGA, the committee drafted a document that addressed the concerns of the student body.
“We felt we had to be true to the resolution. When we think about power, privilege and inequality we need to have a clear sense of what we are talking about. We were trying to create a clear and common purpose for MCD courses,” Naito said.
SGA Curriculum Senator Andrew Parr ’16 pointed out the importance and influence of student voices.
“Frankly, the student body is the reason this change happened at all. I am not sure that many current students were fully aware of how quickly this change happened,” Parr said.
Sheppard expressed similar sentiments.
“The students provided the initial impetus for the change, and they brought passion and creative ideas,” Sheppard said.
Support from faculty was also crucial in the drafting and revision process.
“Jon [Naito]’s leadership was crucial,” Sheppard said. “He’s focused and collaborative, and he’s gifted at listening to input and objections and responding thoughtfully. We ended up with a revised MCD that we can embrace as a step forward for the college.”
Many faculty members agree that these changes will help students engage more critically with class material. Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak explained that the changes will lead to a more rigorous curriculum.
“When we have a program that encourages people to study material in a broad way, we need to make sure the way we go about that is still rigorous,” she said. “We have to find that sweet spot between appropriately broad and also having intellectual rigor. This change is a nice move in that direction.”
Naito agrees that the revised curriculum will encourage new ways of thinking.
“The MCD is taking out a clearer position on our institutional values and is saying that studying cultures beyond the dominant culture is not merely a question of thinking about these cultural differences in a vacuum but recognizing these differences – these issues of power,” he said.
The changes will take time to implement and will not retroactively affect GE credit for current students. Students who have taken an MCD course need not worry.
“I hope students understand that just because courses bearing the MCD GE as of Fall of 2016 will have to meet a new set of requirements, this will not remove any credit for MCD courses they have already taken,” Parr said. “I think if students compare the old Intended Learning Outcomes with the newer ones, they will find more detail and conceptual connections in the revised ILOs.”
Sheppard is looking forward to the next set of challenges.
“We now move to the next phase of this change, which is to provide support for faculty members as they adapt to the revised MCD requirements – materials, workshops, etc.,” Sheppard said. “At this point, it’s all about implementation.”
The ad hoc committee will now begin compiling resources to assist faculty in the reimagining of old classes and the creation of new ones. Workshops will be available during the school year and the summer for faculty to receive support during the curriculum transition process.
“Over time, we hope this work alone will change the conversation around race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender on campus so that students won’t think of these as things they can study or not study as they choose,” Naito said. “Rather, they will be able to think of them as necessary to study as part of a larger system – as having a relationship to present day life in the U.S. as well as in the past.”