Members of the UCLA College faculty are scheduled to vote between Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 on a proposal to require all College undergraduates to complete a course focused on diversity.
The proposal was prompted by the growing recognition that universities have a responsibility to teach undergraduates to better understand the perspectives of others whose experiences, views and backgrounds differ from their own.
“For students to function and thrive in today’s global society, these skills must be considered a core competency,” said M. Belinda Tucker, vice provost for the Institute of American Cultures and a co-chair of the College Diversity Initiative Committee — a group of faculty and students who crafted the diversity requirement. “There’s overwhelming evidence that taking at least one course focusing on diversity issues contributes positively to the individual development of students and campus climate.”
A large and growing number of studies, Tucker said, show that diversity courses help students become more tolerant of different beliefs and more open to having their views challenged, and improve their abilities to negotiate controversial issues and work cooperatively with people from other backgrounds.
Consistent with most of UCLA’s peer institutions both in and outside of California, the proposal calls for College undergraduates to complete a course that substantially addresses racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, religious or other types of diversity. Students would be required to pass the course with a minimum of a C grade.
“A diversity requirement is an important element of a vibrant intellectual environment and a healthy campus climate,” said Christina Palmer, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the chair of the College’s faculty executive committee. “A growing body of evidence demonstrates that universities with diversity requirements produce a more tolerant, less prejudiced student body with a greater capacity for changing perspectives.”
Studies also have shown that diversity skills are increasingly sought after by employers. A recent American Association of Colleges and Universities survey found that employers want secondary institutions to place more emphasis on awareness of cultural diversity in the U.S. and other countries and ensuring students have the ability to work well in diverse groups. Hiring managers are seeking graduates who have studied diversity at home and abroad, according to the report.
The proposal was approved unanimously by both the faculty executive committee and the Undergraduate Council this spring.
If approved by the College faculty, the diversity requirement will apply to undergraduates in the College, who represent 84 percent of UCLA’s undergraduate student body. The requirement would take effect for incoming freshmen in fall 2015 and incoming transfer students in 2017.
The measure would not increase the number of units undergraduates need to graduate, and courses that qualify for the diversity requirement also may fulfill other graduation requirements — a general education, major, minor or elective requirement, for example.
With faculty preparing to vote, some students and student groups are encouraging professors to vote for the measure through a get-out-the-vote campaign that includes a postcard mailing.
“Students can address their professors and provide personal reasons as to why they should vote positively,” said Jazz Kiang, director of the UCLA Asian Pacific Coalition, one of the student groups advocating for the proposal. “Although students can’t vote on academic policy changes, we are well aware that our words are crucial in shaping our academic experience.”
Chancellor Gene Block has voiced support for the proposal, emphasizing the value of students learning about various cultures and beliefs.
UCLA and UC Merced are the only two University of California campuses that do not currently have diversity requirements in their primary undergraduate units. If the proposal is approved, the College would join the School of the Arts and Architecture in having a diversity requirement for undergraduates.