Faculty Approves Updates to Cultures and Civilizations Requirements
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — A much-anticipated update to Middlebury’s undergraduate curriculum will take effect in the fall of 2017, following a vote by the faculty at its January 2016 plenary session. The motion, which passed overwhelmingly, calls for a change to the cultures and civilizations distribution requirement to better represent world cultures.
According to Suzanne Gurland, dean of curriculum and professor of psychology, the current system of three categories groups nearly 85 percent of the world’s population into a single category and privileges Europe over all other non-North American regions. The new proposal includes six categories: South and Southeast Asia, including the Pacific; North Asia; Middle East and North Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa; Europe; and the Americas.
“The new system breaks out the world geographically in a way that’s more evenhanded,” said Gurland. “It better recognizes the value of studying cultures from everywhere, and allows our students, who come from all over the world, to see themselves reflected in our curriculum.”
Gurland says the revisions are a welcome change to students and faculty alike who have called for the requirements to be less Eurocentric and more faithful to the range of the world’s cultures and civilizations. From the six new categories, students will take three courses, each of which focuses on some aspect of the cultures and civilizations of a different region. Additionally, they will take a fourth course focused on the process of comparison between, among, and within cultures and civilizations.
“It was immensely fulfilling that the reform was finally passed,” said Jiya Pandya ’17, who was part of a student organization called Midd Included that worked with students and administrators to develop the changes. “We had been working on this for more than two years, which is not a lot in institutional time, but for us it was the culmination of a process that had shaped us since freshman year.
Pandya says that, while imperfect, the update is meaningful to students. “This reform is a small change, but it both enables and pushes students to diversify their interests and understand that global communities beyond the West matter,” said Pandya. “It helps students prepare slightly better for the rigorous, global workplaces they will be entering.
Gurland says the process of reviewing the handbook, engaging in challenging discussions was a good reminder of the need for vigilance and to continually reexamine the way things are done in light of new thinking.
At the same plenary session, the faculty approved an extension of the Pass/D/Fail policy, which expired on December 31, 2015. The renewed policy gives students two additional weeks at the start of the semester in which to decide whether they wish to invoke the Pass/D/Fail option. Students are allowed to take up to two courses as Pass/D/Fail during their time at Middlebury.