Faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) are currently considering making a change to the university’s general education requirements by adding courses on racism.
The classes would be required for all freshman and grouped under the subject diversities of human experiences, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“We’re at a good moment to see that this is something we really need to address,” Constance Relihan, dean of VCU’s University College, told the Times-Dispatch.
It is unclear if one single department would house the classes or if the courses would be spread out across multiple, different schools.
Currently, VCU has an African American Studies major as part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, and offers students several other courses that partly address history and racism, but those are not required.
The Virginia Star reached out to VCU Public Affairs in the hopes of speaking with faculty members about potential required courses on racism, but was told by director of news operations “it’s early in the process for this, and VCU won’t have someone available to discuss this further at this time.”
Afterwards, The Star made a different inquiry asking to see VCU’s policy on adding non-elective courses and what the process looks like for adding general education classes. The specific policy was not given, but some information on the university’s process was shared.
The process for implementing new courses to the general education program is primarily conducted by the faculty, who are responsible for all changes or additions to the curriculum being used, and involves review and approval by professors at all levels of VCU from specific departments to the deans of different schools and colleges, according to VCU public affairs.
Part of the process falls under the responsibility of the University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, consisting of faculty from various departments, whose main job is to to review all undergraduate curriculum proposals, changes and deletions plus other related actions proposed by the schools, according to the committee webpage.
To better facilitate, organize and complete the multi-step process VCU faculty uses management software, according to VCU academic affairs handbook.
Dr. Carol Swain, former professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, expressed concerns over required courses on racism.
“I would say it depends on who is teaching the class and the approach that they use,” Swain told The Star in an interview. “If it was a balanced history course taught by a professor that was not a critical race theorist then it might be a good idea.
“If it is taught the way most of those courses are taught by someone steeped in critical race theory and Marxism, it would turn into a situation that I think many White students would feel uncomfortable because they would be blamed for all the evils of the world.”
Critical race theory is the view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by White people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color, according to Britannica.
Swain added that general education courses tend to be structured in the same way and that structure can be negative and divisive and counterproductive.
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