In an increasingly globalized world, many young people find themselves trapped in a rut of a world view. Growing up in communities lacking in diversity of wealth and ethnicity has left adolescents ill-equipped for the complexities of the real world. Because of this, Iowa State requires students to complete a few credits worth of diversity-related courses before graduation.
Some faculty at Iowa State, believing the current language defining the diversity requirements is outdated, set out to update the language defining what classes satisfy diversity requirements.
Among the working group, consisting of faculty members as well as some members of Student Government, is Brian D. Behnken, associate professor of history and U.S. Latino/a studies.
“The old diversity requirements had a very broad, open-ended, ‘everything’ is diversity framework," Behnken said. "That led to a lot of problems with the old diversity requirement in that the language was so broad that just about any course got approved.”
As well as new language defining what counts as a diversity-related course, Behnken hoped to implement a more thorough set of learning outcomes within the classes to ensure they are effective in familiarizing students with a diverse world.
These learning outcomes lay out what the courses are intended to convey to students. The third of the four learning outcomes states that students should “analyze systemic oppression, personal prejudice and their impact on marginalized communities and the broader U.S. society.”
Recent legislation has put restrictions on the diversity training that can be given by government agencies as well as schools and other entities funded by tax dollars. This controversial bill passed by the Iowa Senate prevents any governing body from teaching what are considered divisive topics.
The definition of these divisive topics is quite broad but includes the idea that the U.S. is systematically racist or oppressive.
After passing through and being approved by the Academic Affairs Council, the new requirements seemed likely to be implemented but were caught in the university Provost’s office because the language used in the learning outcomes conflicts with the divisive topics bill.
“The attorney, named Michael Norton, has, as I understand, basically said that 3rd Learning Outcomes violate the divisive concepts bill/law, as well as the fact that the requirement is required,” Behnken said.
Without the Provost’s approval, the new requirements will not be implemented, and Iowa State will continue to use the original set of diversity requirements.
“We spent most of last year working on this stuff, and then picked it up again in the Faculty Senate this year," Behnken said. "It's shameful that we put so much work into it, got a new Req passed, a huge accomplishment all by itself, only to have a group of non-educators who aren't really concerned about students overrule us.”
As of now, the university Provost has not signed off on the new requirements, so they will remain the same as they have been in the previous years.