Oregon college students who staged sit-ins to protest a required course on Western Civilization appear to have gotten their way, as faculty at Portland-based Reed College consented to overhaul the humanities curriculum to include more regionally diverse texts.
In a Jan. 31 email, professor Libby Drumm, who chairs the yearlong Humanities 110 course, said the new curriculum will adopt a “four-module structure” to include thinkers from the Americas in addition to those from Athens and Rome.
“In fall 2018 we will begin to implement the new syllabus with two modules, one that includes the study of classical Athens and the other the study of existing course content,” Ms. Drumm said in the email, first reported by The College Fix. “In spring 2019 two new modules will be implemented, both focused in the Americas and consisting entirely of new materials and lectures.”
The liberal arts college will seek input from students, faculty and outside scholars to determine the scope of the new curriculum. It will be phased in over the next two to three years.
Humanities 110 is a foundational course at Reed College that all first-year students are required to take. As currently constituted, the syllabus includes readings from Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, among others. The class is taught by a rotating cohort of faculty members.
A group of students called Reedies Against Racism has been protesting the class for more than a year, claiming it’s “Eurocentric” and “Caucasoid.”
Last fall, the anti-racism activists disrupted the first Humanities 110 class of the year when they surrounded the podium and attempted to talk over the professors, who eventually got up and left.
A class later that week was canceled by a professor who refused to teach in the presence of the protesters, offended by the suggestion that he and the course promoted white supremacy. He invited any students interested in the coursework to drop by his office instead, and approximately 150 students showed up to hear his lecture.
In a Feb. 1 statement on Facebook, Reedies Against Racism said they are “thankful to the students who have organized with us, the activists who came before us, and to the faculty who have supported us throughout our fight to diversify Humanities 110.”
“We are currently lagging behind peer institutions as one of the last remaining colleges to mandate Western Civ in its core curriculum,” the statement read. “The history has already been written — the Western Canon antiquated. It is dishonorable to continue omitting people of color from Reed’s curriculum.”
But Reedies Against Racism also had a few complaints about the proposed overhaul.
They said regions currently being considered to fill the four modules are Athens, Rome, Mexico City and New York. This is “unacceptable,” they said, because it excludes any African contributions from the curriculum.
The students proposed booting Rome to make room for Cairo.
“Reed cannot continue to marginalize black history and literature in its curriculum,” Reedies Against Racism said in the statement. “As such, we feel that the second city should be Cairo, rather than Rome. Furthermore, it is imperative that the historic presence of black people be included in the New York portion of the curriculum.”
Reed College is just the latest institution to face pushback from students over classes in Western civilization.
In response to protests last fall, Loyola University Chicago gave students the option to opt out of a class on Western civilization in favor of “diversity courses.”
Stanford University famously gutted its Western civilization program after hundreds of students were joined in their 1987 protests by Rev. Jesse Jackson, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go.”
According to a 2011 report by the National Association of Scholars, “The Vanishing West: 1964 — 2010,” undergraduate curricula are increasingly jettisoning courses on Western civilization in favor of more diverse course offerings, often under the label “World History.”
“Western history survey courses, commonplace little more than a generation ago and frequently mandated, have virtually disappeared from general education requirements,” the report concluded.