According to the Tufts University website, the world civilizations foundation requirement, a graduation requirement for all students in the School of Arts and Sciences, “focuses on an in-depth study of a non-Western civilization or the interaction of non-Western and Western civilizations with equal attention given to both.” Although the intent of Tufts University’s world civilization foundation requirement is to increase student awareness of non-Western cultures, we believe that it fails to create skills that foster dialogue around diversity, equityand inclusion.
Currently, the requirement can be fulfilled by taking a class from an approved list of courses that focus on the study of an aspect of a non-western civilization. While students can learn about a new country or culture, these classes often do not teach students how to interact and work with people whose experiences and social conditions may differ from their own. Many of the classes that currently fulfill the world civilization requirement teach meaningful topics, but do not address issues of diversity, equity, marginalization and the distribution of power in society. Nowadays, it is more critical than ever that our curriculum includes these topics.
With the exception of the world civilization requirement which was added in 1986, Tufts essentially has had the same curriculum model since the 1930s, according to classics Professor Anne Mahoney. However, what it means to be an informed global citizen has vastly changed since 1986. Today, as global citizens and students, it is imperative to not only be aware of cultural and social differences, but also to understand how these differences pertain to the experiences of marginalized groups and the distribution of power within our own communities.
This is not to say that the study of cultures outside of the typical western academic canon is not important. Instead, it is to add that it is equally as important to equip students with the knowledge about past and present injustices that divide our society, and the tools to be able to engage in challenging and often uncomfortable issues. Universities are the training grounds for future change makers; Tufts University would not be doing its students justice if it did not provide them with the resources to be able to engage with difficult topics about inequality and justice.
Many of Tufts’ peer institutions include a requirement that is centered around diversity, equity and inclusion in their curricula.
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s College of Letters and Science has a diversity requirement which consists of courses built to provide “students with the analytical skills needed to develop critical and reflective perspectives on difference within both domestic and global spheres, and to prepare them to function, thrive, and provide leadership in multicultural, multiethnic, transnational, and interconnected global societies.” Courses at UCLA include “Working in Tribal Communities: Introduction,” “Indian Identity in U.S. and Diaspora”and “Social Organization of Black Communities.” The variety of courses allows students to choose a class that personally interests them while emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusion.
Similarly, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science requires its students to take a “Human Diversity” course that aims to “explore the challenges of building a diverse society, and/or examine the various processes that marginalize people and produce unequal power relations.”
In order to make Tufts an inclusive campus, there must be an active effort to educate students on issues related to diversity. Incorporating such a requirement into the academic curriculum is one of many possible measures to make the campus a more inclusive space.
In the fall semester of the 2019–2020 academic year alone, Tufts has had three bias incidents targeting specific communities on campus. Although nothing can undo the pain these hateful acts have inflicted upon our communities, reevaluating the world civilization requirement is a step in the right direction in examining the education the student body should be getting in order to be inclusive of all people. Since most students would take this course early in their college career, it would help students foster a safer and more inclusive Tufts community. While this is not the end-all-be-all solution, this is a step in the right direction.
Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate’s Education Committee urges that the world civilization foundational requirement be reevaluated as it stands and replaced with a course focused on understanding and appreciating diverse viewpoints. The reworked world civilization requirement would be ideally structured similarly to UCLA or Cornell’s diversity requirement, where the focus of the course would be around differing perspectives, histories and lived experiences with an emphasis on understanding marginalized communities. One way the current world civilization requirement could be adjusted is to include a substantive diversity and inclusion component in the foundational writing requirement, which is often completed during a student’s first year.
A focus on diversity, inclusion and justice is needed to adequately understand world civilizations and to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world. There is no better time to include these issues in our curriculum than now.
Respectfully submitted by TCU Senate Education Committee: TCU Senators Iyra Chandra (A’22), Ayden Crosby (A’21), Rabiya Ismail (A’22), Ibrahim AlMuasher (A’23), Andrew Vu (A’22), Charlie Brogdon-Tent (A’20), TCU President Shannon Lee (A’20).