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Diversity Lessons May Be Required

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The University of New Mexico may start requiring students to take at least one class that includes coursework on diversity before they graduate.

Students at many Southwestern universities already have such a requirement. But that’s not the case at UNM, where the number of Hispanic students is nearly equal to that of Anglos and where women make up the majority.

A draft proposal by the Provost’s Diversity Council calls for a three-credit-hour diversity requirement that could go into effect in fall 2014. The council will seek approval from the Faculty Senate and other entities within the next few months.

And so far, both President Bob Frank and Provost Chaouki Abdallah are on board.

“New Mexico’s richness is predicated on our cultural and social diversity,” Frank wrote in a letter backing the requirement. “As a majority-minority state, we have a unique responsibility to ensure that our curriculum reflects our values in the areas of diversity and inclusion.”

The diversity credit could be fulfilled through new courses, existing ones or modification of existing ones, according to the draft. To qualify as a diversity credit, a course’s content would have to be at least 50 percent focused on understanding subjects such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and disability, and it could do so in a U.S. or global context.

The Diversity Council, formed a year ago and composed of 22 students, faculty and staff, has been examining a potential three-credit-hour course requirement for several months.

“It is a well-documented fact that undergraduates who have more frequent experiences with diversity tend to be more engaged, and are more likely to persist and graduate than their counterparts who lack such experiences,” the council wrote in a draft of the proposal.

UNM is a Hispanic Serving Institution, which means it gets special federal funding for serving a minimum 25 percent Hispanic population. The school’s Hispanic population is actually 37 percent, while Anglos make up 38 percent of the student body and Native Americans make up 11 percent. Asian and African Americans make up 3 and 2 percent respectively. In total, more than half of undergraduate students come from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

This is not the first time UNM has tried introducing a mandatory, campus-wide diversity requirement. An attempt in 2007 would have added required credits to existing degree programs, which the new plan would not. The earlier version also included graduate students, while the new proposal would be strictly for undergrads.

That it would not add any additional credit requirements for students is a particular positive for Frank.

“Many courses across the university meet the requirements for learning outcomes of (the diversity course) and can double count as core curriculum, elective or required courses in the degree program,” he wrote.

In addition to the cultural enrichment, UNM believes adding a diversity requirement would improve retention and graduation rates by engaging students, especially minorities whose rates are lower than their majority counterparts. UNM’s graduation rate is 45.7 percent.

If the proposal is approved, UNM would be on par with the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University, Texas A&M and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, all of which require diversity courses in one form or another.

“The inclusion of a three-credit (diversity) university-wide requirement would represent a small, but high-impact, institutional change that can create a high-quality curriculum for an increasingly diverse student population as well as improve the graduation rates for all of our students and our under-represented students in particular,” Abdallah wrote in his letter of support.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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