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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: UNC should require courses on privilege and racism

As the Black Lives Matter movement gains traction across the United States, American corporations have been reevaluating policies and making public statements on race. From Adidas pledging to fill 30 percent of new positions with Black or Latinx employees, to PayPal committing $530 million to support Black and minority-owned businesses in the United States, the movement for diversity across industries is trucking along at full-speed. However, to supplement diversity in the workforce, higher-education institutions must lead the charge in developing and requiring diversity instruction.

Currently, UNC's general education curriculum does not include a specific diversity, equity and inclusion requirement. It does, however, require extensive history courses under vague umbrella categories, such as “The World Before 1750." Though UNC does have a "U.S. Diversity" requirement, students are able to choose from a list of dozens of classes that fill the requirement, many of which do not directly address the issue of systemic racism in America. 

UNC has over 15 general education requirement courses, many of them encompassing courses that usually have nothing to do with an individual’s major coursework. One of these can be easily waived and replaced with a DEI requirement. Additionally, although ethics and courses discussing racial equity exist within certain departments, many programs don’t require students to take these classes before graduation. For example, although the UNC Biology department does offer various first-year seminars on current issues in the field, none of these courses are listed in the major requirements, and consequently go unnoticed by students.  

UNC is one of the largest public universities across the United States and should lead by example by introducing and requiring DEI requirements within majors, providing students a way to learn about the importance of diversity in fields they plan on pursuing post-graduation. In response to current events, Duke University’s Department of Biology introduced a course titled "Introduction to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-Racism in Biology" for graduate students. A course like this can be used at an undergraduate level as a stepping stone to approaching larger diversity issues within the field, such as the disparity in treatment of individuals from different racial backgrounds.

Last year, UNC launched Reckoning: Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University, a shared learning initiative in the College of Arts & Sciences for Fall 2019. Courses in the Reckoning initiative, including HIST 395: Race & Memory at UNC, fostered important discussions about the role of race in UNC’s history as well as the larger national and global picture. 

A year later, the initiative is over, but the legacy of systemic racism remains at our University and across the country. Initiatives like these should last for much longer than a semester — and participation in these classes should be required of all students.

UNC should make a concerted effort to develop, offer and require courses regarding racial equity in individual departments and in general education requirements for graduation. By doing so, they set the standard and express the importance of encouraging diversity in education, and provide students the opportunity to expand their learning from courses in their major and notoriously "easy" courses used to fulfill general education requirements. 

If diversity really matters as much to UNC as they claim during admissions tours, they’ll replace one of the current general education requirements with coursework directed to understanding the levels of privilege and oppression that Americans experience in their everyday lives. Learning about privilege and racism shouldn't be optional. 

@dthopinion |

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