A Discussion of Diversity and Inclusion in Jewell’s Curriculum

The Critical Thinking College sign and snowy tree. Photo by Christina Kirk.

In recent years, William Jewell College has pushed for increased diversity and inclusivity on campus and in the community through Radical Inclusivity efforts. The Hilltop Monitor will be conducting an investigation into the efficacy, past and future of Radical Inclusivity efforts at Jewell through curricular offerings. 

The investigation will be published in multiple parts, each of them emphasizing a different perspective on institutional changes, both recent and historical. This article is the first to be published in the series and it will focus on the Critical Thought and Inquiry (CTI) program, Jewell’s core curriculum and CTI 150 in particular. This article will focus on the CTI program from 2016 to the present, as the curriculum underwent changes and development in relation to diversity and inclusion during that time. 

Dr. Gary Armstrong, professor of political science and associate dean of the core curriculum, provided some insight into the CTI program and its relationship to Radical Inclusivity in order to give context for diversity and inclusion within Jewell’s curriculum.

The core curriculum is at the heart of Jewell’s identity as a liberal arts college. According to Armstrong, the College’s mission is lived out in the core curriculum. The core curriculum was instituted as a means of encouraging cross-disciplinary academic experience conducive to developing critical thinking and is now a primary locus of diversity and inclusion within the curriculum.

Armstrong says in 2016 there was a recognition of a need for change on the part of the student body and the faculty regarding the core curriculum. The political climate at the time prompted the College to make improvements regarding diversity and inclusion and improve communication between BIPOC and other minority students and the faculty, staff and wider College community.

“There was a feeling that events around the world and in this country indicated that we needed to focus more on [diversity and inclusivity measures],” said Armstrong. “We know that this is important. We know that our students are going to have to lead a world that will be very different than the world of their parents and grandparents. And while they’re here, this is a time for us to have really good conversations.”

Three guidelines structured the conversations. First, the faculty wanted students to reflect on their identity. In other words, it was crucial that students come to realize the ways in which they are positioned socially, racially and economically. 

Secondly, students should be able to reflect on how their identity is shaped by the kinds of social relations which they are taken up, whether consciously or unconsciously. By coming to understand the ways in which their identity has been shaped by certain sociocultural norms and by certain social interactions, students would then be in a better position to make cross-cultural comparisons. 

Third, students should be able to grow in their capacity to have discussions on these difficult questions having to do with race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexuality. It is not enough to merely be aware of identity-related issues – the College determined students should be able to engage in a conscientious dialectical endeavor in an attempt to reach some kind of consensus on hotly contested issues. 

The faculty created CTI 150: Identity and Society – a 7-week course required for all Jewell students – from these guidelines. They voted unanimously in favor of undertaking the development of CTI 150 in 2016. 

The faculty decided to structure the course by emphasizing the importance of guaranteeing that a set of common outcomes were realized, without setting a rigid syllabus. In this way, the faculty members could play to their own expertise in order to facilitate an already difficult conversation between students in the classroom. The ultimate end of CTI 150 was to create a space for difficult conversations, guided by the three common guidelines previously mentioned.

After five years, CTI 150 will be reviewed for its efficacy and evaluated according to metrics obtained from IDEA surveys. Armstrong claims the results of these surveys show that, compared to the general population of students, Jewell students are relatively competent in areas of intersubjectivity, which he says are related to diversity and inclusion efforts.

Armstrong cites three areas in which recent emphasis on Radical Inclusivity – including faculty workshops and the work of Dr. Rodney Smith, vice president for access and engagement – has had an effect: on the politics of representation, on the importance of grace and diversity as a measure of demographic representation, whereas inclusion is something else which the college should seek to promote more conscientiously. 

Students and faculty can face difficulties in voicing their own opinions and experiences, especially when their peers are not representative of their own backgrounds. He argues that it is easier to engage in the politics of representation. For example, in an attempt to hear a diversity of opinions, a professor may invite a student to speak and subconsciously expect the student to represent the entirety of their identity group. To do so is to encourage damaging essentialist thinking, which ignores the nuances of identity even with an in-group. Armstrong explains that professors must encourage students to speak without expecting representative opinions.

Armstrong thinks it is important to instill in students a kind of graceful philosophy when entering a space for difficult conversations. He stresses that not every conversation having to do with identity politics should be a “really intense conflict of ideologies.” 

“Sometimes you’re going to go in as a diplomat, and you’re to figure out: are there points, despite our disagreements, of common agreements and possible common action?” said Armstrong. 

The key to such conversations, according to Armstrong, is to remain respectful and to recognize that we are all human beings prone to make mistakes, especially when it comes to topics as difficult as those having to do with diversity and inclusivity. 

“Hopefully we are creating a zone… [where people can say], ‘Look what we’re dealing with, we have to touch. Let’s give each other some grace if we touch something that’s too hot and then we get burned,’” Armstrong said. 

Smith’s work emphasizes that the College should bring more energy to increasing inclusivity on campus, as diversity is a measure of demographic representation while inclusivity is a matter of belonging and cannot be unnaturally forced. Faculty workshops have been exploring what it means to have an inclusive community. 

Armstrong holds that, in terms of CTI 150, the core curriculum has been adapted well to meet the demands of rather unprecedented times. The core curriculum has some courses designated by a DU (United States Diversity) or a DG (Global Diversity) tag, which Armstrong claims are crucial to the furtherance of a student’s development of an intellectual in an increasingly global and intersectional environment. 

Due to COVID-19, the College has faced challenges in continuing its Radical Inclusivity work. Armstrong asserts it is more important now to continue to take note of classroom dynamics as much as possible and to try and learn from teaching and learning in these strained conditions. He explained that there may be certain online learning strategies that can be later used to supplement learning post-pandemic.

The College’s focus on Radical Inclusivity will continue to shape the CTI program. Armstrong said that further considerations should include the future of the Sacred and Secular courses and that restructuring may be necessary once several capstone course professors retire in the near future.

Agatha Echenique

Agatha Echenique is the Chief Editor for The Hilltop Monitor. He is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and Philosophy. This is his third year on staff.

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