Sophomore Jessie Gleason was in a Zoom breakout room when she first heard rumors from one of her peers that their Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice class was being defunded by the University.
Fortunately for the many students who have enjoyed this class, that’s all they were: rumors.
Terry Rhodes, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said in a statement that the class was never actually defunded.
“The typical process for collaborative courses like this course is to go through a multi-year pilot offering before examining how the class may fit into the curriculum moving forward, which happened in this case,” Rhodes said in the statement through UNC Media Relations.
Sharon Holland, the chairperson of the American Studies department, said Rhodes set up a meeting to discuss the future of the course. At this meeting, the course received funding for at least the next two years until the college determines next steps, she said.
“I’ve committed funds from the College so the course can continue in both fall 2021 and fall 2022,” Rhodes said in the statement.
Prior to this commitment, the funding in place was more temporary, according to Ariana Vigil, chairperson of the Women’s and Gender Studies department.
“It was funded on a temporary basis,” Vigil said. “And that temporary basis, I think, sort of ran out and then there wasn't a plan to put something more permanent in place.”
Holland said the American Studies department, where the course is mainly housed, decided to run the course this semester despite diminishing funding because its content is so essential during the pandemic.
“There was some discussion this summer around the two pandemics that we're facing right now, the pandemic of racism and the pandemic of COVID-19, and they're not unrelated,” Vigil said. “The need to talk about and address and educate around these issues certainly has not gone away.”
Holland said the class, an interdisciplinary course listed in five separate departments in the course catalog, was first suggested in conversation with the Faculty Advisory Committee four years ago.
“One of the things that came out of that committee was the need to do some real broad stroke social justice work across the college and the University, of course, but across the college, and that there needs to be an opportunity to showcase BIPOC faculty and relationships among departments,” Holland said.
Vigil and Holland both mentioned that some professors in the course’s associated departments think the class, or a similar one, should be required for all students.
“I think all universities could use some sort of required course for all undergraduate students to take — heck, maybe even all graduate students to take — that touches on questions of what we might call a critical ethnic studies perspective,” Vigil said.
As of this academic year, American Studies students can use the class to fulfill the introduction requirement for the major.
Gleason, a public policy and biology major, said she thought it was extremely valuable for the College of Arts & Sciences to include a class focusing on non-white history as an option.
“I thought it was amazing and important, especially because I know that a lot of American Studies classes and a lot of history classes in general here at the University can tend to be really whitewashed,” Gleason said.
As a result of its broad subject material, the course is co-taught by three professors.
“This course really does drive from three departments really being committed to it, at least,” Holland said.
Gleason said the co-taught nature of this course is one of its most valuable characteristics.
“I think really just hearing three professors get to talk and get to feed off of each other has really just enhanced my take on the class and the material that we're learning,” Gleason said.
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