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Race Exists Everywhere: Scripps Broadens the Race & Ethnic Studies GE

Madison Yardumian ’21
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On Mar. 5, Scripps College Registrar sent an email to the Official Scripps Student List announcing changes to the Scripps Race & Ethnic Studies General Education Requirement. This change comes as one of several this year, in light of the recent elimination of Writing 50 as a general education requirement.

The email informs students that the Scripps faculty met and broadened the terms necessary to count a course as satisfying the Race & Ethnic Studies GE. While courses still “must substantially examine the impact of racial construction on power relations and cultural identities” they are able to examine such events “within and/or beyond the US context”. Thus, the Race & Ethnic Studies GE can now be satisfied with courses that do not specifically address systems of racial power or construction within the US. The email reassures students who have already fulfilled this GE that this change will not impact them: all courses that previously satisfied this GE will continue to do so. In light of this change, the email also states that the “Faculty Executive Committee asked Scripps Faculty to submit for approval any existing courses that fall under the new description.” As a result, the list of courses which satisfy the Race & Ethnic Studies GE is due for a major expansion. This will be completed prior to course selection for Fall 2019.

Further, the email notes that this change is “retroactive”, meaning that any courses newly approved by faculty for the Fall 2019 semester will fulfill the Race & Ethnic Studies GE even if a student took the course prior to the revisions.

At a school where 28% of students choose a double or dual major, making GEs easier to fulfill is undoubtedly helpful for students. In sheer number of requirements, Scripps does have the most GEs of the 5Cs with a whopping fourteen required courses (although students are frequently able to bypass this by double-counting courses for two GEs). Allowing some of our GEs to be satisfied just a little bit easier is not typically something you would see student complaints about.

This revision opens up a great deal of possibilities for Scripps students. By allowing courses to be non-US specific, students may now be able to satisfy the Race & Ethnic Studies GE abroad, which was not possible prior. The broadening of the requirement also enables students to better understand acts of racial formation and power outside of a US context, empowering students to seek a more global perspective.

This emphasis upon global perspective, among other thoughtful considerations of how to best serve and educate students, motivated this change. Professor Chancy, Hartley Burr Chair of the Humanities, headed a group of twelve faculty, staff, and student members which developed from the Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity. In an email correspondence to the Scripps Voice, Dr. Chancy states that the group was “working under the umbrella of “transnational and multiply-located identities” to identify areas in which Scripps needed to do more work regarding inclusivity for individuals who have more than one national, ethnic or racial identity” both in curriculum and general campus culture.

Scripps administration did not advance many of their projects and ideas, but Dr. Chancy’s group was able to effect change in realms relating to students and faculty–realms like the Race & Ethnic Studies GE.

Dr. Chancy cites how the requirement “ignores the fact that we live in a global society.” But she also emphasizes the way in which the current Race & Ethnic Studies requirement focuses on some aspects of minority experiences more than others.

“Although it continues to be important to have courses focusing on minority identities in the US, and the US history of discrimination [against] specific minorities, the old R&E Requirement had the force of conflating minority identity with discrimination (these are not the same) such that only courses taught on discrimination were seen as valid in terms of educating students on non-European identities, Dr. Chancy stated.

Beyond providing a more nuanced view of minority identity outside and inside the US, Dr. Chancy also believes that this shift in the GE will improve campus climate for minorities within the wider Scripps community.

“The conflation of discrimination with identity also contributed to a climate in which minority students (and faculty and staff, by extension) are not perceived as having identities or cultures separate from histories of colonisation or subjugation or in which such histories only form a part of the culture,” Dr. Chancy said.

Overall, the campus seems generally content about revising the Race & Ethnic Studies GE. “I supported broadening the Race/Ethnic Studies GE,” said Dr. Soliman, Assistant Professor in the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies. “I recall support for the expansion to have been widespread among the faculty.”

By broadening the courses accepted for the Race & Ethnic Studies GE, Scripps seeks to educate its students on the complexities of racial construction, within the US or beyond. These newfound provisions will hopefully give students of color the space to learn about their own backgrounds without privileging a Western perspective, and ensure all students understand that relationships of domination do not define nor adequately reflect the richness of non-European cultures.

Image Credit: Whitman College