Labeled as racist, Reed College revamps historic class
- Reed College, an example of campus liberalism according to many observers, has been the subject of student protests for a year and a half against its Humanities 110 course, a mandatory first-year exposition on Greek and Mediterranean history. Students accusing the course of not being diverse in its representation of other cultures conducted classroom sit-ins, which led to campus officials announcing the inclusion of Mexico and Harlem, New York, as a part of its curriculum, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Reed officials told the Chronicle that they were not off put by the students' outcry against the curriculum, or those students who challenged the protestors. While the protest strategy was to disrupt instruction, campus leaders gave professors the leeway to determine if they would continue teaching or to dismiss in the wake of protesting students. Many professors continued to teach.
- In response to a question about many campuses moving to coddle protestors, Reed Spanish professor and chair of the Humanities 110 course, Elizabeth Drumm, offered a divergent view: "These are students who got up at nine in the morning, three days a week, and sat quietly with signs offering a different approach to the humanities. I think we need to engage these questions. These are legitimate questions. This is part of what we do. We want students to be actively involved in what they’re learning. We want professors to be actively involved in what they’re teaching."
While protest in the most intimate of academic settings is rare, the Reed College example is one that is likely to be replicated around the country. Students are, and have always been, the motivating force behind cultural movements that popularize self-awareness and societal responsibility. To this end, colleges and universities have been the breeding ground for these movements because they are, by design, the closest model of the Utopian society that most people and countries will likely ever see.
But even these burgeoning Utopias are vulnerable to the piqued activism of young adults who are discovering themselves and are empowered by challenging power structures. Colleges, over the respective hundred-plus-year histories, should be aware of this reality and be prepared for the messages they send, implicitly or explicitly, in curricula, student programming, community development and in political lobbying.
The goal for all institutions is to engage vice-presidents, deans, chairpersons, division directors and others in auditing their respective work areas to determine cultural vulnerabilities and gaps in social integration. Every element of a college campus with the influence of a human should be asking the question on regular basis; what message are we sending to our students and our community with this particular product or service? If the answer always comes up as nothing is wrong, or a campus doesn’t have stakeholders who can provide a divergent opinion, then it is an area which likely needs to be addressed before all others.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education Students said a keystone course was racist. Here’s what professors did about it.