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The College of Liberal and Fine Arts

Illustration by Janice Kun

COLFA courses explore human diversity

If you're inspired to study art history through the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, expect to delve into the mind-set and influence behind 19th century Spanish painter Francisco Goya's political piece, "The Shootings of May Third 1808," in which he's making a statement about the violence and atrocities of Napoleon's invasion of Spain.

If, instead, political science piques your interest, classroom lectures extend beyond navigating the intricate maze of state and national government, electoral processes and the U.S presidency. International law and human rights are also part of the curriculum.

Or perhaps your daydreams transport you to the Far East, specifically Japan, and you have a desire to speak its national language. In that case, courses offer the opportunity to be well versed in Japanese culture and business manners and an examination of the close political relationship between our two countries.

In each of these instances, diversity is the underlying theme—as it is throughout all courses offered through COLFA.

Classroom priority

Diversity studies are paramount in classroom teaching because of the culturally diverse nation and world in which we live, one characterized by differences in race ethnicity, nationality and religion, said John Bartkowski, professor of sociology.

"Universities today need to teach students cultural competence. Cultural competence makes students more able to consider self-consciously how their own social background informs the values they hold most dear," Bartkowski said. "Culturally competent students are more capable of appreciating and respecting how their own views may differ from those held by others.

"Universities today need to teach students cultural competence. Cultural competence makes students more able to consider self-consciously how their own social background informs the values they hold most dear."

Professor John Bartkowski

"These students can develop more inclusive perspectives that are sensitive to cultural differences in the world around them. Finally, our work worlds are increasingly interconnected. We need to learn not only how to tolerate and respect cultural differences, but how to work alongside people whose backgrounds we do not share. Cultural competence enriches individuals, strengthens communities and makes good business sense."

Bartkowski, who teaches classes in gender, religion and sociological theory, makes it a point to include cultural diversity in the classroom.

He said his goal is to get students to recognize how people's values and experiences are shaped by their family upbringing, friendship networks, race-ethnicity and social class.

Women's studies

Sonia Saldívar-Hull, founder of the Women's Studies Institute and program director for women's studies, specializes in Chicana feminist theory.

Courses in women's studies are considered part of the "diversity" curriculum, she said, adding that students study identity formation, political ideologies and gender politics, including sexuality. Graduate courses include Feminism in the Latina Americas and Theories of the U.S. Borderlands.

"Women's studies aim for the achievement of social justice and women's empowerment," Saldívar-Hull said. "However, our courses are more complex than a reductive study of individual women in history or literature or science. Women's studies courses contest gender- based oppressions in society, and, in doing so, also attend to the inequities that patriarchal ideologies impose on men and boys as well as on women and girls."

Megan Sibbett, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, teaches Introduction to Women's Studies, which she notes attracts a number of male students. She has witnessed the importance of diversity in the classroom.

The introductory course focuses on intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class and age, as well as cross-cultural topics such as history; the body and health, media and popular culture; violence; the environment; and activism.

"Understanding and appreciating diversity presents unique learning opportunities for students because of ways it challenges each individual as well as a group," Sibbett said. "Because teaching diversity can be more than simply recognizing difference or teaching tolerance, students learn to stretch their ideas and ways of interaction as they take advantage of opportunities that enable them to bend the 'norms' of their belief systems, work from multiple points of view and appreciate more complicated systems of awareness."

Changing demographics

Richard Lewis, professor of sociology, teaches a course on the sociology of the African American community. He said he doesn't necessarily teach diversity in the classroom. However, in his race and ethnic relations courses both at the graduate and undergraduate level, students examine the role diversity plays in managing and leading organizations, which are continually undergoing changes in gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and age composition, he said.

"I think focusing on diversity issues in the classroom is important because the demographic composition of the United States is changing quite rapidly, especially the age and racial/ethnic components," Lewis said. "Understanding differences and framing them to encourage teamwork across various groups will be important for American society."

English professor Joycelyn Moody, who teaches African American literature and culture and black autobiography, among other courses, incorporates multicultural studies in all of her courses to emphasize to her students that African Americans form a complex and diverse population.

"There is no one way to be black, just as there is a great range of ways of living a white identity, a Latino identity, and so on," Moody said. "I try to teach African American literature from an intersectional paradigm so that my students become knowledgeable about African Americans who are not born in this country, perhaps [those] born in Africa or another part of the African diaspora, or who are second generation blacks whose parents emigrated here from, say, the West Indies."

Moody also teaches about African Americans, such as President Barack Obama, whose ancestry is both African and another racial group, she said. She also exposes students to the different socioeconomic classes that blacks inhabit in America, and touches on sociopolitical forces that determine that some black women, for example, work in university classrooms while other black women work in chicken factories, she said.

It is imperative to teach about the diversity of blackness among African Americans because many people generalize and stereotype black racial identity, Moody said.

"Ignorance about the complexity of African American identity, not to mention white identity and so on, maintains racist discrimination, negrophobia, elitism, economic inequities and a long list of other social aberrations," she said.

John Miller Morris, professor of geography, points out that diversity studies do not consist of one single course, but are interdisciplinary no matter what area of learning one pursues. In his cultural geography classes, the professor said students become aware that "diversity" is a powerful concept that extends to human affairs.

"Today we have more access to [diversity] than an old tattered National Geographic," he said. "We have constant media, web cams and the Internet, so we can access societies in Peru or Malaysia. When I was growing up, no one knew about China because it was a closed off society. Now we can see into their culture through museum sites and the Internet, and Google will even translate your page."

Living the subject

The mission of liberal arts teaching, Morris said, is not that students can just study a subject, but can also live it in order to expand their beliefs and views of a global world and the people who inhabit it.

"I encourage students to live abroad because it's for their education," said Morris, a recent recipient of the UT Regents Outstanding Teaching Award. "Not everything can be taught in the classroom, and young students need to venture beyond the place of their world to learn and experience new places, ideas and identities."

Whether students study anthropology, music or communication, they are assured of receiving a well-rounded education regardless of their major, said English assistant professor Kinitra Brooks, who teaches a course about black women characters in horror, science fiction and fantasy.

"COLFA is a great place because of the breadth of subjects and specialized areas you can study dealing with diversity issues and different approaches that the college offers," she said. "You can look at literature, history, biblical studies and the classics, and you're able to look at similar issues but in so many different ways throughout time."

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