Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
General Education courses are supposed to help provide students with universal skills that will help them in the professional world. The university thinks these courses will help students become better citizens of the future.
The University Senate recently changed the diversity Gen Ed requirements to focus on systemic racism in American society. However, racism in every form — and in every country — is related, and affects how all of us interact and exist in American societies.
While we should learn to celebrate the racial diversity in our own backyard, we shouldn’t forget racial diversity in the U.S. is just one of infinite types of diversity, both here and abroad. Understanding other types of diversity, especially those more prevalent in other societies, and the seams at which they intersect is just as valuable to students as learning about our own society’s diversity.
As this university shifts its diversity Gen Ed requirements to be more American-focused, it must continue to require students learn about diversity in other societies.
For example, in France, the current culture is veering more conservative as the presidential election has come down to two candidates on opposite ends of the right-wing spectrum. Secularism, a foundational value of French society, has created a society of fraternal homogeneity, while our American society, which was founded on religious freedom, allows space for individuals to freely exist in a non-homogenous culture.
Despite different approaches to societal organization, the U.S. and France have comparable racial inequality issues. Yet, while generations of American scholars have researched and published a plethora of materials and statistics on racial inequality and demographics in the U.S., France’s colorblind philosophy has essentially done the opposite. It has been illegal since 1978 to collect data on race in France, meaning there’s virtually no place to even begin a discussion about these dynamics. When only viewing social justice from an American lens, we miss the opportunity to examine the whole issue through a global lens.
It’s no surprise the differences in approaching the issue of racism has led to differences in potential resolution methods. Whereas Southern Black Christian churches were a pivotal component of the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, France’s opposition to discussing religion and race means religious organizations will probably not be able to advance a similar movement.
A modern version of a racial justice movement is the Black Lives Matter movement. A central theme of BLM is responding to the unjustified killings of Black people by police. France’s sister movement is centered around the death of Adama Traoré, who also died at the hands of police in 2016. However, the movements have their own unique challenges. In the U.S., we see liberal movements such as BLM on the rise as our society trends more socially liberal than ever before. However, France’s movement has yet to see the same success in its more conservative environment.
The approach to addressing racism in France is a prime example of how “solving” an international issue in only one location doesn’t solve the problem at all. At best, it creates a temporary safe haven from the problem (in this case, racism), but at worst, it creates a generation of people who are unaware of the severity of the greater issue. As these people interact with our increasingly interconnected world, they will inevitably and unintentionally spark further conflict.
In order to properly approach our society’s complex problems with race and intolerance, let alone thoroughly fix the root of these issues, we must first view them through a broader lens and understand how our domestic issues fit into the greater global jigsaw puzzle.
Clearly, there is no way we can all understand every nuanced point of view on every last issue of diversity across the globe, but being exposed to common themes regarding global issues is a necessary tool to be able to think critically about our modern world. To be better citizens both at home and abroad, we must have the necessary international context and history.
Comparing different approaches to similar societal problems is necessary to move away from the Americanized-bubble our society is trapped in. Changing diversity requirements to include more internationally-focused courses means students will have a better understanding of the way non-American societies solve problems, allowing them to contextualize these approaches into the American response. By requiring students to see our societies from an outside perspective, we can create a more equitable society, both here and abroad.
As our society — and the problems that face it — continues to change, it is understandable that this university intends to update its Gen Ed and graduation requirements. However, I hope the classes that focus on issues outside of the U.S. are still offered and encouraged, because they are much closer to our society than we might think.
Jessica Ye is a sophomore economics and government and politics major. She can be reached at email@example.com.