diversity initiativesWilliams College

Exploring Diversity Initiative

1) Overview

This initiative replaces the current Peoples and Cultures requirement and its language so as to reflect a multifaceted perspective that has at its center a focus on diversity rather than on specific cultures and regions. The following language would replace the current Peoples and Cultures description in the College Bulletin.
Williams College is committed to creating and maintaining a curriculum, faculty and student body that reflects and explores a diverse globalized world and the multi-cultural character of the United States. Courses designated ED, for Exploring Diversity, represent our dedication to study groups, cultures, and societies as they interact and challenge each other. Williams College students and faculty are encouraged to reflect critically and self-consciously on the multiple approaches that engage these issues. ED courses fall under a variety of categories (listed below). The ultimate aim of the ED requirement is to lay the groundwork for a life-long engagement with the diverse cultures, societies, and histories of the United States and the rest of the world.
Courses marked as ED should include an explicit and critical self-reflection/immersion into a culture or people -- it is not enough to study about another culture from "a distance." There are many different avenues that lead to this self-conscious awareness. They include:
  • Comparative Study of Cultures and Societies: Courses in this category would (a) study differences and similarities between cultures and societies, and/or (b) the ways in which cultures, peoples, and societies have interacted and responded to one another in history.
  • Empathetic Understanding: Courses in this category seek to understand diverse human feelings, thoughts and actions by recreating the social, political, cultural, and historical context of a group to imagine why within that context, those beliefs, experiences, and actions of the group have emerged.
  • Power and Privilege: Courses in this category link issues of diversity to economic and political power relations, investigating how cultural interaction is influenced by structures, institutions, or practices that enable, maintain, or mitigate inequality among different groups.
  • Critical Theorization: These courses theorize the possibilities of cross-cultural understanding and interaction using, for example, critical theory and cultural studies models. Courses in this category might also investigate the ways that disciplines, histories, and paradigms of knowledge are reconfigured by the study of diversity-related questions.
  • Cultural Immersion: Courses in this category would include foreign language courses that explicitly engage in the self-conscious awareness of cultural and societal differences, traditions, and customs.
  • Study Abroad: By immersing students in foreign cultures, and in many cases furthering language acquisition, many study abroad programs can offer a robust way to study cultural diversity. This category also has the advantage of relying on particular and contingent circumstances that a student faces in daily life in another country, rather than relying on the theorized or abstracted engagement with diversity that a student finds in academic coursework.
2) Oversight

The Dean of the Faculty in consultation with the CEP will name a Director for this initiative. The Director will oversee this initiative and make recommendations to the CEP regarding courses to be considered for inclusion into this initiative. In addition, the Director's responsibilities will include soliciting grant proposals for courses that fit into this initiative, fostering discussions among faculty about diversity throughout the curriculum, organizing events centered around this initiative.

3) The Process

All currently starred courses will become un-starred. Each year, instructors of courses that might be included in this initiative will be asked to provide a brief (one paragraph) description of what aspects of the initiative best describe the course; in addition, instructors will be asked to provide a one-sentence descriptor for the end of the course description in the catalogue. The Director will be available to work with interested faculty as they craft such courses and after reviewing the course proposals will make recommendations to the CEP. The CEP will decide which courses will be included in the Course Package under this initiative for faculty consideration.

4) Broader Curricular Impact

Departments and program will be encouraged to consider how this initiative impacts its major or concentration and will be invited to add language (where appropriate) expressing opportunities to explore diversity and the directions that are most useful for that line of intellectual enquiry.

5) Timetable

This initiative will go into effect for the 2007-2008 academic year and the new requirement will begin with the Class of 2011. The 2006-2007 year will be spent launching the program.

6) Requirement

Starting with the Class of 2011, students will be required to pass at least one semester course that is part of this initiative. Pre-approved study-abroad for at least one semester will fulfill this requirement. Courses used toward this requirement may not be taken on a pass/fail basis. (Transition period details: The academic year 2006-2007 will be the last year of the current Peoples & Cultures "starred" courses. Starting in 2007-08, we will offer only ED courses. Therefore, students in the Class of 2008 will have had 3 years of P&C courses and 1 year of ED courses; the Class of 2009 will have had two years of each type; and the Class of 2010 will have had but 1 year of P&C courses and 3 years of ED courses. The requirement for these 3 transition classes will be fulfilled by courses marked as either P&C or ED.)

7) Funding

The President's Office has approved funding to launch the initiative. That funding will include competitive grants (one-month support) to create new courses for the initiative and mini-grants (two-week support) to revise/hone current courses. There will be funds available for faculty travel to conferences to support the initiative and for funding special events, invited speakers, etc. on campus as well as lunches with interested/grant-receiving faculty to discuss teaching such courses. In addition, some student summer support may be available for students who wish to propose a new course in this direction if there is an interested faculty member who wishes to work with the student to launch such a course. The Director will solicit applications, review them, and make recommendations to the CEP, who will make the final funding decisions in consultation with the Dean of the Faculty.

8) Review

The Director in consultation and/or collaboration with student members of the CEP will evaluate the success of the program. In 2013, the Director along with an ad hoc advisory committee will embark on a review of the initiative and submit a report to the Dean of the Faculty and the CEP. That report should address, among other issues, the success of the program in terms of infusion of such courses throughout the curriculum; faculty reaction; student reaction; and the question of whether the "requirement" component of the initiative remains sensible. The report should include recommendations. The CEP would then decide its next course of action. It is the CEP's hope that this initiative ignites renewed intellectual discourse and interest throughout the College.