Across the curriculum, diversity courses are teaching essentials skills

Through its diversity and inclusion action plan, Brown is bringing topics on race, gender, and inequality into classrooms across a variety of departments.

Racial inequality. Issues of power and privilege. Brown has an action plan for that—literally.

In its Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown (commonly referred to as the "DIAP"), the University has detailed its strategic plan and achievable actions to make Brown a more fully diverse and inclusive community. Since its inception in 2016, the DIAP has resulted in the recruitment of more faculty members from historically underrepresented groups, the opening of a center for first-generation and low-income students, and the expansion of research centers focused on issues of race.

But the classroom is one of the most important areas where it's making a difference.

In 2018, the University created the DIAP course designation—a demarcation for classes that explore matters of race, gender, and inequality. During the 2019-20 academic year, 232 courses received the designation.

"When I was an undergraduate at Brown 20 years ago, we didn't have this volume of diversity classes. You wouldn't see courses across the entire curriculum that raised questions on these topics of race, difference, power, and privilege, but now we have DIAP courses in over 40 departments and in everything from biology to theatre arts and performance studies," says Besenia Rodriguez '00, deputy dean of the college for curriculum and co-curriculum. "It speaks to the University's and the academic departments' investments in developing this important part of our curriculum."

These aren't just add-ons: they're fundamental to nearly every field of study. How can you go into medicine and not have an understanding of the inequalities in our health care system? We'd be doing a great disservice to our students by not bringing these ideas to light.

Besenia Rodriguez '00 Dean of the College for Curriculum and Co-Curriculum

A designation that transcends boundaries

When it comes to DIAP courses, there's no stereotype. They range from introductory levels to advanced work, from sciences to the humanities, and from niche topics to fundamental concepts. Search for DIAP classes in the course catalog, you'll find courses like Theorizing Racism; Contemporary Indigenous Education in North America; and Say Her Name: Black Women and the Carceral Experience Since 1865.

"At other institutions, these types of classes would just exist on the margins," says Assistant Professor of Education Jonathan Collins. "What separates Brown is that we're bringing these ideas into the center, challenging students to broaden their horizons and think deeply about how our world works."

Moving these ideas from the periphery also serves one of Brown's core goals: providing a well-rounded educational experience for its students.

"These aren't just add-ons: they're fundamental to nearly every field of study," says Rodriguez "How can you go into medicine and not have an understanding of the inequalities in our health care system? We'd be doing a great disservice to our students by not bringing these ideas to light."

The designation also makes it easier for students to find these courses, helping them discover classes related to their interests in places they may not have thought to look. For example, a student interested in health disparities could find courses like Comparative Health Care Systems (a public health class); Health Inequality in Historical Perspective (an Africana studies class); and Inequality of Income, Wealth, and Health in the United States (an economics class)—allowing them to choose new avenues and add depth to their learning.

Zanagee Artis (right) with members of Zero Hour at a climate strike in 2019 in Providence, RI.
Zanagee Artis '22 (right) with members of Zero Hour at a climate change protest in 2019 in Providence, RI.

Diversity as an essential skill

That was the case for climate justice activist Zanagee Artis '22, co-founder of the youth-led climate justice organization Zero Hour. Before coming to Brown, Artis knew his calling was in environmental activism and sought out classes that would prepare him to achieve his goals. One of the most impactful and relevant classes he's taken was a DIAP course called Equity and the Environment: Movements, Scholarship, Solutions.

"We learned about the impact of housing and zoning laws relative to polluting plants in disproportionately Black communities, the coalescence of different environmental struggles into the modern environmental justice movement, and environmentalism's racist and colonial roots in 'conservation' to name a few topics," he says. "Although I had learned about environmental racism through my organizing work, this class reinforced those lessons, while simultaneously explaining potential paths forward to dismantle these systems."

For Artis, the value of diversity and inclusion courses for Brown students cannot be understated.

"Students at Brown University leave our campus to become leaders and visionaries in every field that we enter," says Artis. "Education at this juncture in our lives is critical for ensuring that we develop the skills necessary to impactfully address systemic racism."

If we're really preparing students to be change agents in the real world, we need to ensure they have opportunities to learn about diversity and how to address inequality structurally, conceptually, and empirically. When you're talking about students who come from a university like Brown who go on to do incredible things, that can be world-changing.

Jonathan Collins Assistant Professor of Education

DIAP courses are quickly gaining popularity amongst students. There have even been student-led petitions to integrate the DIAP designation into the writing requirement for undergraduates. For many students, understanding the nuances of inequities around race, ethnicity, and gender is an essential skill—helping prepare them to be leaders in the real world beyond the Van Wickle Gates.

"If we're really preparing students to be change agents in the real world, we need to ensure they have opportunities to learn about diversity and how to address inequality structurally, conceptually, and empirically," says Collins. "When you're talking about students who come from a university like Brown who go on to do incredible things, that can be world-changing."

Support diversity and inclusion at Brown.

By making your gift to the Pathways to Diversity & Inclusion Fund, you can support initiatives like DIAP courses and help make our campus truly inclusive and fully diverse.

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