WTU demands reforms in SLE, Engaging Diversity requirement

April 19, 2016, 11:58 p.m.

Among the 25 demands put forward by Who’s Teaching Us (WTU), there are two which aim to change the meaning of Engaging Diversity (ED) and reform Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program by increasing the diversity of assigned authors and examining diversity through the lenses of power, privilege and oppression. Not all SLE participants and program leaders agree with WTU’s conclusions, however.

WTU argues that although SLE currently fulfills the ED requirement, it does not do enough to engage power structures as an Engaging Diversity class should.

Furthermore, the 10th WTU demand calls for a shift in the meaning of “engaging diversity” at Stanford. The current ED requirement, which is part of the Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing graduation requirement, is defined as courses that “have a rigorous analysis of diversity as a constituent element across social and cultural domains.”

WTU urges a change to the requirement such that it “only includes classes that address diversity as it relates to issues of power, privilege and systems of oppression.” It also outlines a requirement for two ED courses instead of one, with one of the courses being within the major.

The 12th demand of WTU would oversee the formation of a working group created by WTU to reform SLE by overseeing “student selection process, hiring and faculty retention, outreach, curriculum and pedagogy.”

SLE leaders and WTU are in the process of setting up a meeting to discuss whether SLE meets the ED requirements. Greg Watkins, assistant director of SLE, believes it does.

“If Who’s Teaching Us wants to raise the bar for what Engaging Diversity is, then I think that’s good and important discussion, and then I think SLE could be reevaluated,” Watkins said. “But I personally think, even with the raised bar they have in mind, SLE would still fulfill it.”

Watkins challenges those opposed to SLE to take a closer took at the texts and values taught in the class.

“It’s not the story of a monolithic set of values that are passed down, and texts that survive are usually texts that are challenging what’s around them,” Watkins said. “This is a complicated story of questioning ourselves and our society.”

Watkins also pointed to texts by W.E.B. Du Bois, Gandhi, Toni Morrison and Frantz Fanon on the spring quarter syllabus for SLE in order to argue that the program already incorporates diverse authors.

However, questions have been raised about how much diversity these authors really account for, given the volume of work read throughout the three quarter program. Although Watkins acknowledges that the time allocation may not be equal – for example, only two weeks are spent discussing Buddhism in the SLE curriculum – Watkins also agreed that in SLE, “it shouldn’t be difference for the sake of difference that satisfies the Engaging Diversity requirement.”

Despite Watkins’s belief that SLE is clearly diverse, not all SLE students agree that it should fulfill the requirement. Former SLE student Lilian Kong ’18, for example, had a problem with the program’s lack of diversity and Eurocentric nature.

“SLE is very important from a practical perspective, but it shouldn’t fulfill Engaging Diversity,” Kong said. “In trying to have students get a culturally and socially diverse view of the world, it’s very superficial to say that, out of 30 white philosophers, SLE chose three minority authors.”

Watkins and SLE say they remain open to the idea of reform in order to adapt to the wants of students and maintain SLE as an intellectual community on campus.

Reform has already been happening, as well. As of this year, an optional student-run one-unit addition to SLE called “Expanding the Curriculum” has been introduced, which focuses on providing external, alternate perspectives about the texts read. Watkins’s goal for the next year is to incorporate these alternate perspectives without needing an additional class to do so.

With the reform, there is worry about the apparent fine line between refining SLE to meet the requirements of WTU and completely dismantling SLE. The demands made by WTU call for a complete overhaul of the SLE program – many students are even calling for its abolition – and the drastic nature of the reform could turn it into something new entirely.

“I think humanities at Stanford is dying, and SLE is a rebellion against that,” Kong said. “If we try to shake it of its foundations, it could disappear.”


Contact Max Pienkny at maxp123 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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