College students should take courses that develop not only quantitative and writing skills, but also critical examination of issues of difference, power, and equity. (Angela Gui/The Williams Disc)

College students must learn writing and quantitative skills through divisional requirements, but must also complete at least one course that critically examines issues of difference, power, and equity (DPE). The development of the ECD requirement has spanned more than 30 years, revealing not only the steps taken to diversify the curriculum, but also the challenges of creating a well-defined academic requirement while maintaining the College’s characteristic academic flexibility.

According to a course catalog for the 1988-89 academic year, the College first approved the establishment of a diversity requirement in 1989. The requirement, first called the “People and Cultures” requirement, stated that all students from the Class of 1993 onwards were required to “graduate with a basic understanding of the cultural pluralism of American society and the world at large”, which would be accomplished by requiring at least one course in minority or non-Western cultures before their first year. Similar requirements had been proposed previously – notably by former College President Francis Oakley in 1981 – but this attempt was the first to be approved by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), ultimately passing by a 70-13 margin at a faculty meeting, according to a January 10, 1989 issue of the Disk.

However, the process was not entirely smooth. At the two-hour faculty meeting that presented the motion, the main objection was raised by history professor Thomas Spear. He argued that the requirement would further skew class sizes, forcing faculty to limit popular classes in a move not yet common practice at the College, the Disk reported. “In his request for dismissal, [Spear] asked the CEP to reconsider the staffing implications of its proposal, and to do so in consultation with professors of African American Studies and Area Studies,” the article read.

The new requirement also met with resistance from some students; the January 10, 1989 issue of Disk published an editorial claiming that the new requirement was unnecessary. “What is the sense of imposing a course in an area that four out of five students are already exploring?” wrote the editorial board at the time. “Rather than inspiring the remaining 20% ​​of students to develop an appreciation for non-Western culture, the requirement seems likely to foster an attitude of discontent among the very students it is trying to reach.” The editorial cited the scrapping of the foreign language requirement in the early 1980s as evidence that graduation requirements simply force students to take courses they are not interested in.

However, this feeling was far from universal. A letter to the editor by Michael Reisman ’90 in the following week’s issue objected to the editorial and said it “not only misses the point of the requirement, but makes sweeping unsubstantiated generalizations about Perceptions of Williams College Students”. The letter added that students’ exposure to unfamiliar subjects is central to a liberal arts education and the basis of other college distribution requirements.

The peoples and cultures requirement remained in place for just over a decade. Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with the requirement’s simplistic definition of diversity sparked conversations that ultimately led to the creation of the Exploring Diversity (EDI) initiative in 2005. increasingly the problem with this requirement was that [it] was meant to introduce students to a culture or people that weren’t their own, which was pretty good when you had an overwhelmingly white student body,” said history professor Christopher Waters, the first principal of the school. EDI from 2006 to 2010. in an interview with the Disk. “As the student body became more and more diverse in the 1990s, you found yourself with a lot of students saying, ‘Why do I need to learn about myself?’ to serve.”

The EDI requirement was conceptualized as a major transformation in the way the College has approached diverse learning until now, according to a 2006 report by the College’s Committee on Educational Policy (CEP). simply take a course on a non-white American group to critically examine power structures and inequalities. The requirement stated that EDI courses should “actively promote conscious and critical engagement with diversity”, “encourage students to consider operations of difference with the world”, and “provide them with the tools to do so”.

The faculty voted 76 to 16 to replace the Peoples and Cultures requirement with the EDI requirement. A 2006 CEP report indicates that the main point of contention was not whether the new requirement was necessary, but whether the requirement should include one course or two, with the lower threshold ultimately prevailing. “On paper it looked very, very good,” Waters said. “The problem was in its implementation.”

The EDI requirement was plagued with some of the same issues as the Peoples and Cultures requirement. A 2014 report from the Exploring Diversity Initiative review board found that while the majority of students had no difficulty meeting the requirement, several said they felt a course was not not enough, and many expressed frustration with the lack of clarity regarding how courses were designated as meeting the EDI requirement.

At the time of writing this report, EDI courses are reviewed and approved by the EDI Committee, a separate group of faculty members. “I think the attempt at control from above led to a lot of resentment,” Waters said. “I would sit down with the faculty members and say, ‘I don’t see how this is an EDI course,’ and the faculty members would defend themselves and say if [was] an EDI course because of X, Y or Z. And sometimes we would say “Okay”, but then I would ask students to contact me and say, “I’m in this course, and I have no idea why this is an EDI course.

In many ways, these debates continue today. With a planning process that began in 2015, the Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement that currently exists was implemented for the first time in the 2018-2019 academic year. For two years, faculty members, students, and administration worked to find the best way to ensure that every student was exposed to the ideas of diversity in a meaningful way. “And ultimately we came up with something that, to be honest, looked then and now looks like a sort of redefinition of the IDE and not really an improvement,” said president and history professor Roger Kittleson. , another former EDI director who was involved in the process. The DPE requirement has many similarities to its predecessors, as students are still required to take one of the reserved courses at any time during their time at the College.

Like the EDI requirement, it differentiated itself across peoples and cultures by shifting the focus from simply noting racial differences to critically examining power structures and diversity in all its forms, including differences in ability, sexual orientation and gender. It also eliminated a little-used option to meet the EDI requirement through study abroad opportunities.

Another critical change was the elimination of the EDI committee system, Kittleson said. Professors now label courses as ECD through consultation with department chairs. “The positive side of it is that it raised the DPE [to the] importance [of] other requirements that everyone has agreed on, [like] learn to write [and] have quantitative skills,” Kittleson said. “But that means we don’t know in [the] the story [department] what criteria [other departments] use to designate certain classes as ECD courses.

The DPE requirement still has room for expansion, said Jahnavi Kirtane ’24. “I think it’s important for the school to value these courses at the curriculum level, but I also think it may have led many students to take certain courses just to meet the requirement,” he said. she declared. “I wonder how we can try to embed ‘ECD material’ in all classrooms – given how embedded social issues are in all aspects of the world.”

Kittleson described several ideas that have been proposed since the ECD requirement began, including a mandatory winter study course in critical race and gender theory for early years. However, these measures have been difficult to adopt because the College has no required courses and professors expect to have a high degree of control over the courses they teach.

ECD has come a long way since 1989. With the introduction and expansion of departments such as Africana Studies; Latin studies; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the current growth of the Asian Studies department, students now have many other pathways to complete the requirement.

At a minimum, the requirement ensures that students graduate with a basic understanding of critical issues. “Generally speaking, the ECD requirement is a great way for students to incorporate questioning and unpacking social structures lessons into their learning,” Kyungmin Yook ’25 said. “Such courses can encourage students to think critically about the world around them, their own experiences and, perhaps more importantly, perspectives they have never considered before. Can an education be considered complete without these elements? »