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Subject: Inclusion of Minority and Gender Issues into Liberal Studies Courses

Liberal Studies
Director’s Office: 353 Sutton Hall
Secretary’s Office and Mailing Address: 352 Sutton Hall
Telephone: 357-5715
October 1, 1988

To:

  • Department Chairpersons, Department Curriculum Chairpersons, and Academic Administrators

From:

  • Charles Cashdollar, Director of Liberal Studies
  • Maureen McHugh, Director of Women’s Studies
  • Alphonse Novels, Director of Minority Affairs

When the University Senate adopted the “Criteria for Liberal Studies Courses at IUP” last spring, we all committed ourselves to “include the perspectives and contributions of ethnic and racial minorities and of women, wherever appropriate to the subject matter.” We are writing to remind you of that commitment and to suggest some ways of beginning.

You will find enclosed two “models” for thinking about the inclusion of minorities and women in your courses. One is an adaptation, prepared by the Liberal Studies Committee, of an article by Marilyn Schuster and Susan Van Dyne. The second [this is available as Xerox copy only] is taken from an essay by geographer Janice Monk (whom some of you will undoubtedly recall meeting when she visited IUP last year). Although Monk makes an occasional geography-specific reference, you will quickly see that her five-point approach can be helpful to just about every discipline. And although her model refers only to the inclusion of women in the curriculum, you should have no difficulty using it as a way of thinking about the inclusion of minority contributions. We are also enclosing a copy of a questionnaire on “Evaluating Courses for Inclusion of New Scholarship on Women,” which is published by the Association of American Colleges; by extension, many of the same questions could be applied to the inclusion of scholarship on minorities.

This is an important part of our curricular revision, and every proposal for a Liberal Studies course should show evidence of progress in this area. At first glance, this may seem fairly easy in some areas like Sociology or History, and almost impossible in others. And it may indeed be that initial steps will be more obvious in some disciplines. But if we take seriously the University Senate’s criteria, then all of us who are teaching Liberal Studies courses must assume a share of the responsibility. We can all become more conscious of how we use language. We can all be more inclusive when we choose examples or write assignments. Word problems in mathematics or case studies in business can be constructed in inclusive, nonstereotyped ways. We can all be more sensitive to the visual representations in the books or media we select. We can all think about ways to include minorities and women when we bring outside speakers into the classroom or encourage students to attend campus events. And, all of our disciplines have a history and a theoretical foundation to which recent scholarship on women and minorities brings new questions and insights.

Charles Cashdollar and other members of the Liberal Studies Committee will be happy to answer questions about their expectations for course syllabi. Maureen McHugh and Al Novels are available to consult with departments or individuals about curriculum revisions, or to refer you to someone on campus who has some expertise in your field. Maureen’s office has a collection of resources which you are welcome to use; Al’s material will be arriving as the year goes on. Also, watch for our announcements about workshops and speakers. If you have ideas or experiences you are willing to share, let us know. We want to do what we can to help, and this will be easier if we know what you need and what you can offer to others.

A Model for Thinking About the Integration of Women and Minorities into Liberal Studies Courses:

“The Stages of Curriculum Reform”

By adopting our new criteria for Liberal Studies courses at IUP, we all committed ourselves to “include the perspectives and contributions of ethnic and racial minorities and of women, wherever appropriate to the subject matter.” Liberal Studies Committee members have been talking quite a bit about just what that involves. We think we now can better understand what can be accomplished, but we also can imagine the questions which will occur as individuals begin to rework old courses or invest new ones.

Actually, integration of new content into courses can occur at varying levels of sophistication, from the more simple to the more subtle. It can mean no more than inserting a few new names and examples; it can mean as much as a thoroughly reconstructed discipline. We would like to suggest a model which might help us think about those levels. The model is not our own; it is largely borrowed from a 1985 piece by Marilyn Schuster and Susan Van Dyne, although we have reworked their model substantially to fit our own needs. We do not suggest that this is the only way of imagining integration or that all disciplines will fit into its stages with equal ease. But the model does have the virtue of being reasonably straightforward, and it points up what we take to be two fundamental notions: that integration may take place at increasingly complex levels, and that the higher levels need to be preceded by and built upon advances at the lower levels.

  1. The simplest, and least fundamental, change which we can make is the insertion of a few exceptional women and minority representatives into a current syllabus. Our questions at this level are fairly uncomplicated. Who are the great women—the female Dickenses, the female Darwins? Or, who are the great African-Americans—the great black politicians, the great black poets? At this level we are interested, it seems, in affirmative action/compensatory actions which add new names without disturbing the basis of the old course outline. At this level, Marie Curie’s experiments are given new attention, Frederick Douglass makes his appearance in a history class, Mary Cassatt invites attention to women artists, and Ralph Ellison shows up in a modern fiction class. The work at this level is valuable and necessary, but it is also limited. Women and minority individuals who are added to the syllabi exist in isolation from each other; students might even see them as apparent anomalies within their gender or race. Part of the difficulty is that we tend initially to look for new individuals who resemble the white males already present in the traditional curriculum; the criteria by which greatness and excellence are defined remain unexamined. It is possible, therefore, for some of us to become discouraged about the possibility of finding enough people who “measure up.” In fact, our efforts at this level usually raise more questions for us than they settle.
  2. As we struggle to find answers to those questions, and to incorporate them into our courses, we move to another level. We now ask more searching questions about social justice and the effects of persistent discrimination. Why are minority roles and contributions so often devalued? Why do the levels of health care vary among racial groups? Why are there so few women scientists? Or, conversely, why have other fields, such as nursing or elementary education, been largely populated by women? What social mechanisms are used to deny power and access? We begin now to widen our intellectual vision and inquire into the historical and cultural context which affects achievement and experience. As we incorporate these new understandings into the syllabus, our course is more fundamentally transformed.
  3. Once we begin to expand our horizons in this way, we move rather naturally to study women and minorities on their own terms. What was (and is) women’s experience? What was (and is) the experience of Hispanic Americans? What does it mean to be a black person in America? Asking such questions encourages us to explore important aspects of life which were previously ignored by scholars (and consequently by university courses). These might include the history of the family and of marriage, the psychological and biological implications of gender, or the origins and meaning of jazz music. As we all know, there has been within the last twenty years a veritable explosion of sound, exciting research on such subjects. The more we learn of it, the more subtle our courses become about gender and race and ethnicity. We now notice and incorporate differences within groups. How do the perspectives of urban blacks differ from those of blacks in the rural South? Are there significant differences between women’s roles in western Europe and in Asia? Students can now view the perspectives and contributions of women and minorities with more sophistication and depth.
  4. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this new scholarship on women and minorities is the potential which it has for challenging and ultimately transforming the traditional discipline. How valid are our current definitions of greatness? If we find out, for instance, that traditionally much of women’s artistic creativity was channeled into domestic crafts such as weaving or into more private writing forms such as letters and diaries, must we then rethink the definition of “great art” or expand the number of accepted literary genres? How must our questions change to account for women’s experiences, diversity, difference? Can we use what we have learned about race to question in profound ways the frameworks that organize our traditional courses? Can we use categories such as gender, race, or ethnicity to transform our perspectives on familiar data and concepts? How valid, for instance, are our current divisions into historical periods? Does some long-familiar economic theory appear any more or less convincing once we have focused on its ability to incorporate minorities or women? If we bring different questions to Plato’s Republic, do we say different things about it? If we enlarge our focus to give equal attention to females, do biological definitions of what constitutes sexual behavior have to be enlarged as a result? Or, what effects do studies of minorities or of women have upon our diagnostic categories for thinking about mental health or our definitions of “normal” behavior? Can we find ways to use gender as a methodological category to analyze male experience as well as female?
  5. Ultimately, what we are striving for is a thoroughly transformed curriculum understanding the experiences of women and men, or of minorities and majorities, together. At this level our courses would offer an inclusive vision of human experience that attends as carefully to difference and genuine pluralism as to sameness and generalization. Here we would see how race and ethnicity and class and gender intersect. Here the work done in previous stages—the incorporation of exceptional women and minority representatives, the examination of the dimensions of discrimination, the study of women and minorities on their own terms, the resultant challenge to our usual ways of thinking and categorizing—all come together and are integrated with the traditional material which was on the syllabus from the beginning.

Citation: Marilyn Schuster and Susan Van Dyne, Women’s Place in the Academy: Transforming the Liberal Arts Curriculum. 1985.

Prepared by IUP Liberal Studies Committee, 1988.

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