The call (again!) to require students to take a diversity-related course at UCLA is the sort of proposal that sounds like a real response to ignorance and intolerance on campus — but that wouldn't accomplish anything significant except for throwing another requirement on undergraduates who already have enough of those.
In a way, the biggest problem is how hard supporters have tried to make such proposals more popular and any requirement less onerous. Under a previous proposal that faculty voted down, students could pick from 100 or so existing courses, including one on the Holocaust or another on the history of Africa. In fact, some 80% of students already take one of those courses. The new proposal is expected to be similar and perhaps include even more courses.
That's nice — but then, what's the purpose? To capture 20% of students? If the vast majority of students are signing up for these courses, and there still are widespread concerns about having a campus culture of acceptance, it seems pretty clear that the courses aren't doing much to change anything.
It's also probable that students are drawn to courses that connect most with their histories. Thus, if students were forced to choose, the Holocaust course would be likely to draw more Jewish students, the history of Africa course more black students. Where is the cross-cultural understanding if many students fulfill the requirement by learning about their own culture?
There is real worth to getting students to connect with those of other backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. The value of having a diverse campus is enriched when students don't silo themselves by race or background. It's also necessary for students to understand that although they don't have to like everyone, they do have to treat others with courtesy and sensitivity. That means no sly racial references masquerading as friendliness, such as white students asking Latino students where they're really from.
But the best way to accomplish such training is during orientation, not in required courses that might give students little in the way of broad understanding of cultural similarities and differences. And UCLA could encourage more interaction by pouring funding into clubs that encourage a variety of cultural experiences. Want to draw students to a campus organization? Two words: Free food.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun