Can a Liberal Arts Core Curriculum Reduce Racial Tensions? Many Syracuse Faculty Say, ‘Yes’

Roiled by a series of hate crimes in November, Syracuse University faculty and administrators are trying to devise creative ways to improve campus climate.

Last week, 148 faculty members signed a letter proposing an idea – a liberal arts core curriculum “attuned to issues of difference and diversity.”

A core curriculum might not be the first response higher education leaders consider for combatting a campus climate crisis, let alone a crisis of the size at Syracuse. This past fall, the university experienced more than 12 racist and anti-Semitic incidents – a swastika drawn in the snow, racial slurs graffitied on school buildings, a threatening email to a Jewish faculty member – catalyzing the birth of a student movement called #NotAgainSU, which occupied the Barnes Center at The Arch for over a week.

The faculty letter argues that this moment of “great anguish” is an opportunity for the university to reflect on its educational model, saying that a rich liberal arts education can be an antidote to the ignorance that often undergirds racist, anti-Semitic and sexist behavior.

“Our moment has opened up possibilities to address and redress these issues, to educate all students to grapple critically and ethically with questions of human difference through a sustained engagement in humanistic inquiry and artistic expression,” the letter read.

Syracuse University wouldn’t be the first college to institute a core curriculum with diversity as a focus. Many universities now require diversity-related courses as a part of their overarching curriculum, some in response to challenges on campus.

In 2016, Loyola University Chicago made changes to its core curriculum to address “events in our community, nation and world” that “underscore the critical importance of diversity,” the university website reads. Other schools with similar requirements include Georgetown and Villanova universities.

Dr. Biko Mandela Gray, a religious studies professor at Syracuse, who wrote the support letter with his colleague Dr. Virginia Burrus, recognizes that it’s “complicated and difficult” to implement a liberal arts core at a school with over 20,000 students, but he thinks it’s doable

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