Intercultural Literacy Requirement Should Go Further

By Sasha Debevec-McKenney

As a part of Beloit’s new curriculum, there is now an  “intercultural literacy” graduation requirement. Every student must take a class, marked with a “C” in the course schedule, that promotes intercultural literacy. Beloit should be proud of itself for getting this far, but needs to go further.

The “intercultural literacy” classification has to be narrowed down in order to make real change to the academic experience at Beloit. The reason anthropology and political science have so many “C” courses is because every class with the word “culture” in the title seems to have been given the designation. The same goes for every class with another country’s name in the title. Sure, we can continue to count every offering of “ANTH 100: Society and Culture” as promoting intercultural literacy, or we can do better.

The “C” designation cannot be overused and inappropriately used. For example, Steve Wright’s ENGL 258, “Sunset on British Empire,” which I’ve taken, counts for the intercultural literacy requirement. Steve Wright is a great professor, and I know much more about British culture after taking that class. The syllabus moves through time and watches the culture change. However, if the intercultural competency mark was given only to classes that could fit under an ethnic studies umbrella, that “C” would actually mean something. We should reserve it for classes that teach about the American ethnicities that are underrepresented in our course catalogue. The push to bring an ethnic studies major to Beloit is complicated, but narrowing down what counts as intercultural competency is much less so.

Last week’s issue of the Round Table went a long way in proving that our school needs more diversity in its academics. A way to address that issue, without adding an entire department or hiring more staff, would be to focus the “intercultural literacy” requirement on the study underrepresented cultures, especially African-American, Latino, Native-American and Asian-American. Each department should be required to offer a course that falls underneath this improved “intercultural” designation. Then, departments like economics, biology and chemistry, would be able to offer classes that dealt with race in each of their majors.

I spent a long time researching the ethnic studies departments at other ACM colleges for last week’s issue, and was impressed by the prevalence of classes like “race and economics.” The professors in the majors that do not teach intercultural competency (both as it is defined currently by Beloit and as I would like to see it defined) could learn a lot from Micho Gravis and Rob LaFleur’s pieces in last week’s Round Table. Gravis’ piece was filled with facts that I’m sure could stretch an entire semester. LaFleur’s piece might have made some professors who think the study of underrepresented ethnicities isn’t valuable sit back and wonder if they might be someone’s Allan Bloom.

Ethnic studies is not just about the humanities and select social sciences. We can make a powerful statement by incorporating the study of underrepresented cultures into all of the new divisions. By requiring each department to offer 100-level classes that incorporate ethnic studies, we are showing freshmen what is important at Beloit and in the real world. It’s obvious that Catherine Orr’s FYI on Whiteness has had a profound effect on the students who took it, two of whom contributed pieces to the “Ethnicity at Beloit” section in last week’s issue.

Our curriculum is new. We can still change it, amend it. It might be a big deal to require that every student take a class that studies underrepresented cultures— but if Beloit truly wants to be a college that changes lives, I can’t think of a better way to do it.



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