Bring AAL into a Globalized World

By Guest Contributor

On February 12th, Max Kagan ’14 wrote an op-ed in The Campus entitled “Just Call AAL Other” in response to a recent student-led campaign that seeks to modify the current Cultures and Civilizations requirement. The current system requires students to take one class with a large focus on each of the following geographic areas: NOR (Northern America – US or Canada), EUR (Europe), AAL (Africa, Asia, and Latin America), and CMP (Comparative). Many on campus have pointed out that grouping Africa, Asia and Latin America together does not make much sense.

In response, this new campaign proposes that students be required to take one NOR course, due to the location of our institution, one CMP course, and two courses that focus on one of any of the following regions AFR (Africa), ASI (Asia), EUR (Europe), LAC (Latin American and Caribbean), MDE (Middle East). As some of the students behind this proposal, we want to address Kagan’s argument and expand on the reasons why we believe a change in our current system is absolutely necessary and appropriate.

Kagan acknowledges that Middlebury’s current system is fundamentally Eurocentric, but asserts that such a biased system is “wholly appropriate” because this institution was founded in a European tradition and on European values. According to him, “Middlebury’s structure as an institute of higher learning dates back to the European Middle Ages; its values harken from the European Enlightenment;” therefore, it would be wrong for any Middlebury student to be allowed to graduate without studying Europe.

Here, Kagan incorrectly assumes that making the EUR credit an option rather than a requirement will result in a lack of study of Europe. He ignores that, even when studying other regions of the world, we are learning about Europe. For example, in a class about African Politics, we learn about European colonization. Even in classes that are not region focused, such as literature, science, theater and economics, students are constantly exposed to Western thought and European tradition. Thus, making the EUR credit an option rather than a requirement does not mean that students will never be exposed to European thought. It does mean that students who wish to study other regions of the world will have greater educational opportunities, while students who wish to pursue the study of Europe can still do so.

There is no doubt that the founding of the college, a school whose original mission was “to train young men from Vermont and neighboring states for the ministry and other learned professions,” was based on European values. But should that mission from 1800 dictate our institutional values today? We think not.

While Kagan’s argument might seem appealing to some, it is limited in that it disregards the new global context we live in. Today’s era of globalization calls for a very different kind of education than the one the College offered 200 years ago. The world has changed, and so has Middlebury and its mission. Today, part of our institution’s mission is to “strive to engage students’ capacity for rigorous analysis and independent thought within a wide range of disciplines and endeavors, and to cultivate the intellectual, creative, physical, ethical, and social qualities essential for leadership in a rapidly changing global community.” Even though Kagan is correct to point out that we were founded in European tradition, Middlebury’s current mission statement does not include “Europe’s intellectual tradition.”

Fortunately, Middlebury College has realized that the world we live in today calls for a new education for students who come from all over the world and who will go off to be leaders in both Western and non-Western regions, not just an education for the “young men from Vermont” who will serve in the ministry. As we mentioned earlier, however, our curriculum still remains Eurocentric. We still have a lot of work to do to truly achieve that new mission, but changing the Cultures and Civilizations requirement is a key first step in the right direction towards a curriculum better suited for educating this new generation of global citizens.

Throughout its history, Middlebury has been at the forefront of innovation and progress in higher education. After thoroughly researching the distribution and cultures requirements among other institutions of higher education, last year’s SGA found that most institutions lack systems that allow students to be exposed to a variety of cultures and civilizations. By changing the cultures and civilizations requirements, Middlebury can once again blaze a trail in higher education.

We know change can be difficult, but it is necessary for progress. Middlebury itself acknowledges that it is “a liberal arts college of the first rank” as a direct result “of a process of growth and change that began in 1800.”  We must not stop that process of continuous self-reflection and improvement for fear of the work that this change will require; we must not stall our progress by clinging on to outdated and exclusive requirements.

To improve our educational opportunities and really be a 21st century first class liberal arts college that educates global citizens, we must revisit our cultures and civilizations requirement. While we understand that our proposal does not present a perfect alternative, we strongly believe that it proposes a system that is far better than the one we currently have. Moreover, our proposal is a work in progress. We have started this conversation among students, faculty and administrators, in the hope that as a community we can create and implement the best alternative possible. We are not the first generation of Middlebury students to be raising this issue, but we hope that we will be the last. We must not wait any longer.

Submitted by MIDD INCLUDED and Signed by Adriana Ortiz-Burnham ’17, Daniela Barajas ’14.5, David Ollin Pesqueira ’17, Douglass Gledhill ’14, Jihad Hajjouji ’14, Hanna Hemenger ’13.5, Kate McCreary ’15, Greta Neubauer ’14.5, Jiya Pandya ’17, and Molly Stuart ’15.