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Loyola adds more diversity to Core Curriculum

Loyola adds more diversity to Core Curriculum

Beginning in fall 2017, students will have more options to choose from in the Core Curriculum. The changes will allow students to broaden their understanding of the world as a whole—not just the majority populations of Western society.

By Amanda Friedlander  |  Student reporter

Last spring, a group of Loyola students approached the University with concerns about a lack of diversity in the Core Curriculum. They sought to broaden the range of courses that would satisfy Core Curriculum requirements, including classes focused on non-Western history and non-Christian religions. Other students joined in the effort, prompting a discussion with University leaders about the issue.

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Visit the Core Curriculum website to view the changes and offerings. Registration begins in early April.

At the time, the University was in the process of assessing and evaluating the Core Curriculum, and waiting to make changes until the assessment was complete.

“The Higher Learning Commission had said we should roll out the current Core for a few years before other changes were made,” says Jo Beth D’Agostino, associate provost for curriculum development. “We were in a moratorium when the students raised these issues, but they felt strongly about them and we felt strongly about them, so we made an exception.”

The Core Curriculum consists of 48 credit hours, or 16 classes, covering 10 knowledge areas such as writing, science, history, and theology. Six of those knowledge areas require students to take both a foundational Tier I course and an additional Tier II course. The Core Curriculum was changed in 2005 and again in 2012; both instances aimed to increase diversity in the required courses and allow students to broaden their understanding of the world as a whole—not just the majority populations of Western society.

Beginning in fall 2017, students will have two additional options to satisfy their Tier I history requirement. In addition to the History of Western Civilization before and after the 17th century, students will have the option to take either American Pluralism or Global History from 1500. Each of these courses will focus on history from the perspective of non-majority populations through the lens of gender identity, race, and religion.

Students will also have the option of taking new Core classes in other knowledge areas. A course on women’s studies and gender studies from a global perspective will be added as a Tier I course in the area of societal and cultural knowledge. Three new Tier II theology classes will also be added, including Social Justice and Injustice, Ethics and Ecology Crises from a Global Perspective, and Religions of Asia.

The Jesuit tradition

At the forefront of these changes is David Slavsky, former director of the Core Curriculum. Slavsky, who is also chair of the physics department and director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, and other University leaders met with the students who raised concerns about the curriculum. They worked with them to create solutions that would not only satisfy University requirements but also students’ needs for inclusivity and intersectionality in higher education.

Several boards must review and approve proposed changes to the curriculum, a process that looks at rationale for the changes, what effect they will have on student learning, and how they fulfill Loyola’s Jesuit, Catholic mission. The speed of this process typically depends on how quickly each board completes its respective paperwork, but it usually takes about a year and a half from start to finish.

“We moved carefully, but quickly,” Slavsky says. “I got the impression that [students] assumed we’d be oppositional, and that they’d have to overcome our resistance. And rather, our view was, ‘Let’s hear your points. Let’s see if we can work this out.’ And we had really good discussions.”

Some of the challenges that arose during the process of creating and implementing new Core courses involved navigating the needs of 21st century students in alignment with the centuries-old traditions of a Jesuit university. Each review board had to determine what courses will capture the most student interest versus what will best serve students in the long run.

“The idea the early Jesuits had is a good idea, but they didn’t know about molecular biology,” Slavsky says. “They didn’t know about climate change. So how do we maintain that tradition? We have almost 500 years showing us it’s a pretty good tradition, but how do we make changes to meet the needs that our students face?”

An ongoing conversation

Other Jesuit universities are grappling with similar issues. Core directors across the country discuss changes in student interest, as well as how to solve similar issues based on local resources and culture. Each director contributes to the conversation by offering solutions that have worked at their respective universities.

The conversation is ongoing and constantly changing, depending on the needs of their students. While students can count on the Core Curriculum involving theology and philosophy for many years to come, the exact distribution and variety of courses is ever a work in progress, Slavsky said.

As the current changes were inspired by students speaking up about their concerns, Slavsky encourages any student who has concerns about the curriculum to speak with his or her academic department and work with faculty to create change.

“We want to make students active participants in the American republic. We want them to be engaged and informed participants,” he says. “And we think in order to do that, they need to have rigorous academic experiences in as many of the major knowledge areas as they can. And so that’s what we’re always thinking about whenever we add to, subtract from, or change the Core.”