From the President’s Desk

By Rachel Liddell

For the first time during this academic year, an initiative on “We the Middkids” attained 300 votes! Daniela Barajas ’14.5 and Rana Abdelhamid ’15 posted the initiative entitled “Change the Culture and Civilizations Requirement” on Jan. 4, 2014. The initiative focuses on a reevaluation and restructuring of the cultural distribution requirement. I support this reform, and I plan to work with Barajas and Abdelhamid to achieve it.

Cultural distribution requirements necessitate that students study all regions across the globe. The current requirements include Comparative (CMP), North America (NOR), Europe (EUR), and Africa, Asia and Latin America (AAL). This last requirement, AAL, includes “courses that focus on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Caribbean,” according to the College Handbook.

Grouping Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Caribbean into one group while granting North America and Europe into their own categories promotes a Western-centric understanding of the world. It suggests that all non-Western thought can be aggregated because it is less important or essentially the same. This message is unacceptable.

The initiative on “We The Middkids” seeks to rectify this problem by placing equal importance on knowledge from all cultures. It asks that students take one class that focuses on North America and two classes from any two of the following geographic regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Europe. This new distribution of requirements acknowledges that North America plays an important role in our education, “since our institution is located in North America,” as the We The Middkids initiative states. The proposed reform seeks to “reflect our community standards” and promote a more “egalitarian exposure to different cultures and civilizations.”

To pursue this initiative, Barajas and Abdelhamid plan to host an information session with faculty members to answer their questions and hear their feedback. They hope to push this proposal further in the coming calendar year. If you would like to learn more, see go/aal, which Barajas and Abdelhamid set up to further their goal.

The Student Government Association (SGA) agrees with this initiative and plans to support it. Our work on reforming AAL began last year when the Senate passed a bill to seek reform. This year, I have asserted the necessity of reform to the faculty Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) as well as the Dean of Faculty and Phillip Battell/Sarah Stewart Professor of Biology Andrea Lloyd. I have also discussed this initiative with the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees. Although many people express their willingness to address this issue, the importance of process exceeds the urgency for reform in their eyes. The EAC plans to engage all distribution requirements this spring after completing a review of internships for credit and summer study.

Changes to curriculum necessitate copious consideration, as they affect all students and reflect the culture of the institution. For these reasons, I understand that reforming the Cultural and Civilizations Distribution Requirement will take time. However, I agree with Barajas and Abdelhamid that the current requirements do not reflect the needs of the student body or the culture of this institution. I will continue to pursue this initiative, and I encourage you to consider it as a needed change to our curriculum. Send me your ideas on the issue at sga@middlebury.edu.

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