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A History of Difference, Power, and discrimination at Oregon State University (3 of 4)

The Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program at Oregon State University

The faculty response to the students’ request for curricular change (to include the study of issues of diversity) was to create an ad hoc committee of the Faculty Senate to address this “problem.” This new committee was charged with exploring the possibility of offering a single course that all new students would be required to take. This course, tentatively titled “Affirming Diversity,” would expose students to the fundamentals of diversity and multiculturalism and would, it was hoped, move the institution further in its attempts to decrease the number and volatility of racial incidents to which students and faculty of color were subjected. This course would also, it was hoped, make a clear statement that OSU did not tolerate racism. As a new assistant professor in the Anthropology Department (Joan Gross) and a counselor in the Educational Opportunities Program (Janet Nishihara), respectively, the authors of this chapter were asked to serve on this committee in the fall of 1991. Committee members began gathering models from other universities and soliciting student and faculty input. Members met with representatives from all of the student cultural centers on campus and developed a series of focus groups to gather further student input. We distributed a survey to faculty members and administrators. By the end of the calendar year, 250 faculty members had returned the survey with ninety-four of these stating that they were willing to help with the course.

After the information gathering period, the committee decided that the model of a single large course with smaller recitation sections facilitated by graduate students would not get us far in our attempt to change the climate of the campus. There were approximately twenty-two hundred students in our entering class at the time. The best programs at other universities consisted of a selection of courses from across the curriculum that addressed issues of discrimination and power from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives. A draft proposal for incorporating diversity into the curriculum was available at the Faculty Senate meeting on January 9, 1992. In this proposal, the “Affirming Diversity” committee emphasized the need to focus on the importance of appropriate pedagogy and the larger issues of institutionalized power and hierarchy. The plan was that each major and/or department in the university would offer a course that addressed issues of difference, power, and discrimination within their discipline. This course would become a requirement within the newly formed general education requirements being termed the Baccalaureate Core.

In all of the discussions with students and faculty, it became clear that faculty development had to be the foundation of this curricular change. The committee’s research unearthed anecdotal evidence in which students spoke of callous and hurtful remarks made by professors and the near-exclusion of their own cultural histories in the curriculum. Even professors who were aware of issues of power, and discrimination did not feel equipped to facilitate discussion around difficult subjects such as racism, classism and sexism. Faculty felt that they would require training and open discussion with colleagues while developing new courses, or new versions of existing courses, that could speak to these issues. The committee suggested a four-week summer seminar that would allow faculty to explore issues of difference, power, and discrimination in and through their own academic fields while they would receive training on how to address such issues in the classroom. Faculty would receive a stipend for attending the seminar and each member would submit a course syllabus for consideration in this new category of the Baccalaureate Core. It was during this time, once the committee realized that the courses must do much more than merely “affirm diversity,” that the search for a more appropriate name was launched. The combination of difference, power, and discrimination seemed to fit well with the direction in which the committee was now headed, with its emphasis on the systems of oppression rather than the mere historic facts of oppression. Additionally, the focus on these systems, rather than specific instances of oppression meant that courses that met this requirement would deal with oppression not in terms of hierarchies but rather in terms of the interlocking nature of multiple oppressions.

The committee strategically decided that the best way to implement this new requirement was as three of six flexible credits already existing as a requirement in the Baccalaureate Core, so that no new credit requirements would be added to the currently existing fifty-one general education credits. The committee also suggested that students be allowed to double-count these credits with other Baccalaureate Core classes, but that suggestion was later turned down.

On May 7, 1992, the final proposal for the Difference, Power, and Discrimination (DPD) category of the Baccalaureate Core had been unanimously endorsed by the Faculty Senate Baccalaureate Core Committee and was approved by the full Faculty Senate. The criterion that received the most discussion was the one that noted, that, “Courses should critically examine personal beliefs and actions in a classroom dedicated to tolerance and civil discussion.” Many faculty members felt that it was not within the purview of Baccalaureate Core criteria to say how the course should be taught. Committee members argued that when attempting to change deep-seated views, you needed to provide a forum in which students are led to examine their personal beliefs, and that, for this to happen, the professor must encourage tolerance and civil discussion amongst the students. A course that only utilized the lecture format would not be as successful. Nevertheless, this criterion was voted out. It was decided that all first-year students entering OSU during or after Fall term of 1994, and all transfer students entering during or after Fall of 1996 would be required to take a three-credit course in the new Difference, Power, and Discrimination category of the Baccalaureate Core.

The first faculty seminar was held during the summer of 1992 under the direction of a newly hired acting director of the DPD program, Annie Popkin. Popkin continued to run the seminars, which came to be known for their immense reading load and lively discussions, for the next two summers. A permanent director was hired in 1994 and the faculty seminar was shifted to a weekly seminar held during winter term, although the summer seminar was taught once more in 1996. At this time, the DPD program was housed administratively within the College of Liberal Arts and physically adjacent to the Women Studies Program.

In 1998, during a round of recurring budget cuts, university administrators saw the DPD program, which had a budget of only $56,000, as an easy target for elimination, believing that such a new and poorly funded program would not have strong support among faculty or students. They were wrong. In May of 1998, a group of students and faculty mounted a strong and vocal protest against the defunding of the DPD program. Students mobilized immediately and circulated a petition to retain the DPD program (see the appendix at the end of the chapter for this student petition). This protest resulted in the reinstatement of limited funding to continue the half-time director position and the faculty development seminars. An interim director was appointed and the program was relocated out of the College of Liberal Arts to the central administration area of Academic Affairs.

By the 1998–1999 academic year, sixty-four OSU faculty members had participated in six faculty seminars. The vast majority were from the College of Liberal Arts and there was a hope that by transferring the DPD program out of that college, other colleges would begin to share ownership of it. By this time, forty-one courses had been accepted into the DPD category. The program staff was very active as they attempted to spread the word around campus. Books, articles, pamphlets and videos were purchased and gathered into a resource library. Some faculty members were granted funding to attend conferences and symposia to deepen their understanding of issues of difference, power, and discrimination in their fields and in higher education in general. Other faculty received funds for course development. Dozens of brown bag discussions were held, dozens of speakers and multicultural events were sponsored and conferences were organized. Graduate teaching assistantships were created, a student essay contest was held and a regular newsletter was distributed.

This is not to say that everything was smooth sailing. Many people did not understand how the DPD requirement was different from the already-existing “Cultural Diversity” Baccalaureate Core requirement. At OSU, classes which met the Cultural Diversity category address cultural difference, but they do not have to address power, and discrimination, nor do they have to address issues as they specifically affect the United States. So, one could take a course in ancient Japanese art, for example, to fulfill the Cultural Diversity requirement. Other people thought that the newly created Ethnic Studies department precluded the need for the DPD program. But with only four new faculty members hired to teach courses in the Ethnic Studies department, in addition to doing community outreach and their own research, that department could hardly be expected to educate the entire campus.

“Political correctness” was used as a slur by opponents to describe the DPD program and associated curriculum requirement. However, when OSU juniors were polled about their experiences in required Baccalaureate Core classes, the DPD classes fared very well, with 70 percent saying that they were encouraged to use critical thinking skills. This compared to 71 percent, 61 percent, and 56 percent, in the other categories within the Perspectives area of the Baccalaureate Core. Still, the effects of the silent resistance became clearer when it was discovered that relatively large numbers of graduates had had their DPD requirement waived. Of the 488 graduates in 1998 who were required to take a DPD course, 113 or 23.2 percent did not do so. Of the 375 who did fulfill the requirement, 42 did so through automatic equivalency transfers that had not been approved by the DPD Program office.

In the course of the program evaluation done in 1998–1999, we also discovered that, unbeknownst to the DPD Program, the Baccalaureate Core Committee had altered the criteria, removing the one that specified “Courses should focus on the United States, referring to other societies for comparative purposes.” It had also added to one of the criterion that the course had to be lower division. This created several problems since upper-division courses, that had been accepted by the DPD office, were summarily rejected by the Baccalaureate Core Committee. Faculty who prepared these courses were angered that the two curricular groups responsible for the approval of DPD courses were not working together. The changes implemented by the Baccalaureate Core Committee had never been brought before the Faculty Senate for approval. They were procedural changes made within the committee with no outside oversight. To prevent future incidents like this, the director of the DPD program was made an exofficio member of the Baccalaureate Core Committee.

The following year, the Faculty Senate formed a DPD Task Force and charged it with the assessment of both the faculty development program and the Baccalaureate Core requirement. This task force brought slightly revised DPD criteria back to the Faculty Senate and received overwhelming support. Interestingly, a criterion focused on teaching methods was approved with no objections. The criterion that received the most discussion this second round in the Faculty Senate was one that insisted that DPD courses focus on the United States. Several faculty senators objected, with the predominant argument centering on concerns that a class about the Holocaust would not qualify as fulfilling the DPD requirement. The committee countered that it was just too easy for students to see discrimination as happening elsewhere, far away, but not here in the United States. Certainly, the Holocaust has a place in DPD courses, but the courses would have to relate back to the United States. For instance, one could explore anti-Semitism and homophobia in the U.S. or draw comparisons with the holocaust of Native Americans. Although several people voted against this criterion, it was accepted by the majority.

In addition to clarifying the criteria and soliciting the support of a new group of faculty senators, the task force wrote the job description for a permanent half-time director who would lead a much more solid program into the future. Permanent and recurring funding for the half-time director position was finally secured in 2002. The current director also holds a half-time appointment in the Ethnic Studies Department, a combination that has worked well to integrate those two departments.

With the arrival of the new director, the program has taken on several new initiatives: (1) reinstating the DPD Advisory Board; (2) conducting outreach efforts with community colleges, including a joint training session with colleagues from other colleges; (3) attempting to broaden the disciplinary representation of courses beyond those in the College of Liberal Arts (the colleges of Business, Engineering and Health and Human Performance have course proposals in various stages of preparation).

During the 2004–2005 academic year, the Baccalaureate Core Committee successfully conducted its first five-year review of the courses approved to fulfill the DPD requirement. In the fall of 2005, a regional symposium was held at OSU and a half-time program associate position was added.

It is clear that the Difference, Power, and Discrimination program at Oregon State University will continue to face challenges in the future, but it also has the structure, support and institutional history to face those challenges.

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