Tulane Home Tulane Shield logo linking to site home page

From Tulane School of Liberal Arts Magazine: Cultivating Change

June 03, 2019 10:15 AM
Emily Wilkerson

This story originally appeared on the Tulane University School of Liberal Arts Magazine entitled Cultivating Change as part of the Spring 2019 Global Issue. Story by Emily Wilkerson.

“How you talk about things actually says a lot about what you believe about them,” history professor Laura Rosanne Adderley explained in a recent conversation about the new set of core requirements for Tulane undergraduate students.

After years of discussions, the undergraduate core curriculum requirements were updated in 2018 for incoming students to include two new areas – “Global Perspectives” and “Race and Inclusion.” The majority of the courses Tulane offers fulfilling these requirements are housed within the School of Liberal Arts. This new set of requirements aims to do just what Adderley describes, speak loud and clear about the university’s values and the type of education Tulane truly believes in.

In 2015, Tulane’s Black Student Union and Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR) began coordinating rallies on campus. The students aimed to make their voices heard, calling for the administration to address the lack of diversity across campus on all levels, from students to faculty and staff. School of Liberal Arts alumna Angel Carter remembers this moment in her freshman year clearly. “Our class, the current graduating seniors, really spoke up about the level of diversity on campus being unacceptable when we came in,” Carter explained. “We didn’t necessarily start this discussion, but we’ve worked hard to get where we are today. We needed to propel the change.”

Carter became a resident advisor on campus and began interning in the Admissions Office shortly after coming to Tulane. For three years, while studying anthropology and biology, Carter offered prospective students and their families tours of Tulane and visited other cities to speak about her education at the university. After graduating in December 2018, Carter accepted the position of Admission Counselor at Tulane in the Office of Undergraduate Admission.

For Carter, each role transformed into one more space to contribute to a greater dialogue on more informed perspectives and inclusion across campus. In the office of Admissions, she works closely with Satyajit Dattagupta, vice president for enrollment management and dean of undergraduate admissions at Tulane, doing just that. For Dattagupta, elevating current Tulane demographics has been a priority. “When I was hired, I was committed to bringing in the best and brightest students from all over the world and creating a classroom atmosphere that was more representative of this world,” he says. From diversifying the Admissions staff to moving merit-based dollars to need-based dollars, the Office of Admissions is prioritizing diversity from the point of recruitment to the student’s first day of class. The establishment of the Center for Academic Equity (CAE) has also been a vital development in the university’s dedication to improving diversity by supporting students while they are enrolled at Tulane.

Dattagupta came to the University in 2016, just as Tulane President Michael Fitts was creating a Commission on Race and Inclusion to examine the university’s statistics, climate, and curriculum. Adderley and other faculty, staff, and students were invited to join the process to bring diverse experiences and voices to the table. Adderley became very active on the Curriculum Sub-Committee of the new Commission on Race and Inclusion. As she explains, “the ‘Global Perspectives’ and ‘Race and Inclusion’ requirements were written by the same sub-committee at the same time and viewed as hand-in-hand requirements about how you create a broadly educated citizenry.”

Sarah Montès, executive director and assistant dean of Academic Advising at Tulane, also serves on the Commission on Race and Inclusion. “The initiatives embodied in both the new curriculum as well as the CAE have informed our work in advising and helped us be clear with undergraduate students that the university values diversity as well as equity.” As an advisor, Montès works closely with students in the School of Liberal Arts throughout their academic career. She and other advisors have experienced a range of reactions over the first year implementing the new requirements: “Many students are excited about taking a course on a topic that they normally wouldn’t opt into, while other students have responded by saying that they feel they have covered these topics extensively in their college preparatory courses in high school. Advisors have the privilege of challenging students to see the core curriculum as an important tenant of their education and to help them understand the curriculum was embraced and designed by the faculty as being an essential component of their Tulane degree.”

Regardless of major, the new core curriculum requires students to complete at minimum one course with at least 60 percent of content that focuses on developing historical, cultural, and societal knowledge of an area beyond the U.S., and one course that focuses 60 percent of its content on race and inclusion in the U.S. These requirements are set along with public service hours and courses in writing, mathematics, and history, as well as creative arts and foreign language. The School of Liberal Arts offers courses across its 16 departments and 18 programs such as “Cultural Creolization” in the Department of Anthropology, “Art of African Diaspora, 1925 to Present” in Art History, “Critical Race Theory” in the Department of Communication, “Slavery and Public History” and “U.S. Labor and Migration” in the History Department, and “Race, Sex, and Power” in the Department of Political Science, among many others, meeting these requirements.

While both the “Global Perspectives” and “Race and Inclusion” requirements were initiated at the same time, most of the attention has focused only on the “Race and Inclusion” requirement. Adderley asserts that “the perception that this is mostly about the politics of anti-black racism is an anti-intellectual and dangerous perception.” Rather, she reminds us that these requirements are complementary: “This isn‘€™t only about the United States, this is actually about what kinds of minds we want humans inhabiting the world in the 21st century to have.” And while students may be experiencing new perspectives through friendships, in their work place, or in community spaces, it is essential for them to learn about diversity and inclusion in the classroom as well.

Carter believes strongly in this new curriculum. “You may not be experiencing discrimination right now, and you may never experience it in your life, but you will know people who will. And it’s important for you to be there to support them. Not to save them, not to speak for them, but to support them. Being a victim of segregation or harassment is never someone’s fault. That‘€™s the fault of someone else that needs to be educated.”