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Student group calls for more diversity
in general education curriculum
May 10, 1999

When Jennifer Olayon realized that an Asian-American literature course she was taking would not be recognized as fulfilling the University's literature requirement, she decided not to leave matters there.

First she spoke with Jennie Talbot, academic counselor and coordinator for liberal arts and sciences, who suggested that she pursue an individualized major. Olayon is now an eighth semester individualize d major in Trans-National Perspectives in Design, a major she created so that she could work on the influence of Asian design in the field of fashion, taking an interdisciplinary approach.

She also decided to advocate for the University to incorporate greater diversity into the curriculum. She looked into what some other institutions - including the University of California, Berkeley - are doing to make their curriculum more inclusive, and sought support from other students at UConn.

Together with Gregory T. Mackin II, Scott Sturman, Ryan-Kate Shanahan and Vincent Southerland, she established a group called the Coalition for Multicultural Undergraduate Education.

They are calling for the inclusion of existing multicultural courses to broaden the general education requirements. The coalition is also working with University officials to include courses that will focus on racial and ethnic minorities and women; people with disabilities, individuals of diverse sexual orientations; and individuals of varying social and economic groups.

Each member of the coalition recalls a particular class that opened their eyes to an issue or problem and, they say, has changed their lives. Sturman began as a business major, but after taking an anthropology class, "Other People's Worlds," and a class in family studies on "Courtship, Marriage, and Sexuality," he realized he wanted to focus instead on social issues. He is now majoring in family studies.

The coalition members want to encourage future students to embrace diversity. "University education is not just about preparing for the 'great job,' it is a tool to eliminate discrimination against marginalized groups," says Southerland.

Sturman adds, "The classroom is the place to start a dialogue, to further dispel ignorance by helping students to see each other on a humanistic level."

The coalition members have drawn up a recommendation proposing that a wider range of offerings be implemented and recognized for the general education requirements.

A recent open forum, held by the coalition as part of the Metanoia on community, was attended by more than 40 faculty, staff and students. Kenneth Neubeck, associate professor of sociology, one of the speakers at the forum, said he thought the coalition's proposal was modest and could be implemented.

In a meeting with coalition members last month, Chancellor Mark A. Emmert expressed his support for the plan. The proposal must pass through a series of channels for approval, including the University Senate, before it can be implemented.

Joseph Holstead