SRU enhances Rock Studies curriculum with DEI requirement
Beginning in fall 2022, all undergraduate students enrolling at Slippery Rock University will be required to take a three-credit course that meets a diversity, equity and inclusion designation through the Rock Integrated Studies Program.
Dec. 15, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — A new general studies requirement for students and certification for faculty is advancing Slippery Rock University's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion within its curriculum. Beginning in fall 2022, all undergraduate students enrolling at SRU will be required to take a three-credit course that meets a DEI designation through the Rock Integrated Studies Program, an existing general-education track that accounts for 42 of a students' 120 minimum credits to graduate.
For a Rock Studies course to meet DEI designation, the faculty member teaching the course must take an eight-week, online training course that is now being offered by the University. The online training will prepare the instructor to integrate DEI concepts within the existing course content and cover areas of self-awareness, identity, structural privilege, oppression and teaching strategies for inclusiveness. Upon completion of the training, faculty will receive $1,000 that can be used for conference-related expenses or other professional development.
"This is a major step forward in enhancing our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion," said Abbey Zink, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "But most of all, it provides our students with the tools to appreciate different cultures and perspectives that are required to succeed in modern workplaces and to flourish in life. Our University strives to excel as a caring community of lifelong learners connected with the world, and this is an example of carrying out our mission."
After the Rock Studies Committee approved the DEI designation, SRU's University Curriculum Committee approved the certification. More than 40 faculty have already registered for training this winter, after 12 faculty have already completed a pilot program last summer.
The Committee on Diversity Curricular and Professional Development, consisting of SRU faculty in consultation with the Rock Studies Committee, championed the initiative, which is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education.
The diversity committee is led by Cindy LaCom, professor of nonprofit management, empowerment and diversity studies; Emily Keener, associate professor of psychology; and Christine Pease-Hernandez, associate professor of strategic communication and media. LaCom, Keener and Pease-Hernandez worked with SRU's Center for Teaching and Learning to develop and facilitate the online training in-house.
"I commend our faculty for taking on this initiative and recognizing the importance of taking actionable steps to engage our students with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion," Zink said. "We look forward to growing the program achieving our student learning outcomes through Rock Studies."
The DEI designation specifically addresses the Rock Studies learning outcome to "demonstrate knowledge of diverse experiences, cultures and identities from a systemic perspective," to learn about diversity and applying "multiple perspectives to address local, regional, global and cultural issues," and "to discover ways that systems of power contribute to inequalities and interactions that affect individuals and communities."
The new requirement for students does not mean they have to take a class about DEI but rather DEI issues are integrated within the content of existing courses. Although the instructor must alter the curriculum, the content of the course is relatively the same. For example, a British literature class might spend a week or two analyzing Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," where topics of colonization and structural racism come up, but the entire course will engage students and address all topics in the context of DEI issues.
"The designation means that faculty are more substantively integrating diversity issues throughout the semester," LaCom said. "It's not just that diversity is infused throughout the semester, but that the way faculty are teaching will focus on critical pedagogy that is student-centered, so that students have a voice in the classroom and faculty are rethinking the power dynamics and opportunities for interaction and exchange of ideas. The faculty training will address things such as cultural humility, where we are facilitating discussions and readings on structural privilege and structural oppression."
When students schedule their classes with their adviser, classes with the DEI designation will be indicated on the course catalog and Rock Studies Guide. The DEI requirement can be fulfilled within any of the three sections of Rock Studies: The Rock, Integrated Inquiry or a Thematic Thread.
"The new DEI requirement is a very small but critically important way to expose a somewhat homogeneous population to diversity issues that they might not otherwise learn about," LaCom said. "This will prepare students for a diverse world with transnational cultures."
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