Students petition for culture and diversity FDR

Students have started a petition to get a culture and diversity FDR for future W&L undergraduates


Maria Rachal

Two juniors have proposed the university implement a culture and diversity Foundation and Distribution Requirement in its liberal arts curriculum to encourage critical thinking and challenge dominant perspectives.

Elena Diller, ‘17, and Caroline Todd, ‘17, launched a petition Nov. 8 outlining the goals and parameters of the potential FDR. While the two movement founders did consult some faculty during the writing process, they want to keep the initiative as student-led as possible.

There is no target number of student signatures for the petition. Diller and Todd just want to convey as much student support as possible before opening the petition to administration and faculty, ultimately submitting the petition to Provost Daniel Wubah during finals week. The FDR would not affect any current Washington and Lee students; it could only be implemented for future classes.

The new FDR would not be an additional course to take, but rather, an overarching requirement to fill before graduation. For instance, many required first-year writing seminars, depending on the topic, could simultaneously fulfill the C&D requirement. As such, students would likely not be able to place out with high school credit.

More than anything, Dillers says the approval of a C&D FDR would send an ideological message.

”We have a requirement for writing, for math, for social sciences. Not everyone wants to take those classes,” Diller said. “But the reason we do so is because they help us think in a different way and give us exposure to topics we wouldn’t have otherwise come across and academically studied.”

Todd said, “It would be a big symbolic step forward.”

If Wubah approves of the petition, the proposal would go to a faculty vote. If approved again, a faculty committee may be created to make the official list of classes applicable to the FDR.

Diller and Todd examined the course catalog and put together an unofficial list of possible courses for the FDR, drawing from 24 different disciplines. They would like to keep the available courses as broad as possible so people see the FDR as an opportunity rather than a scheduling constraint.

While improvement of the breadth of a W&L education was the primary motivation of the students’ petition, the two students also cited the fact that the institution stands alone among many peer institutions by not having some kind diversity class requirement. Davidson College, Bowdoin College, Williams College and Furman University are some of the many liberal arts schools who already mandate such a course.

“I applaud the efforts of these students to make our official academic requirements more clearly reflect and promote our University mission, which includes preparing all students for engaged living in a global and diverse society,” said Professor Howard Pickett, Director of the Shepherd Program.

”We want to make sure that we as an institution are doing everything we can to make a welcoming environment and make sure that people of diversity know that we place value on their perspective,” she said.

Many majors have already adopted similar broadening requirements within their departments. Todd, an English major, referenced the English department’s counter-traditions requirement, which stipulates that students take a literature course focused on a marginalized group, such as “Native American Literature” or “Literature by Women of Color.”

“It’s been a really valuable experience for me and I think the whole student body should have that opportunity too,” Todd said.

Based on response from faculty and the more than 150 signatures to the petition between Sunday and Tuesday morning alone, Diller is optimistic about the success of the petition and the future of the FDR.

“We know that there’s some people who may disagree and feel that this will restrain their learning experience here, but both of us genuinely feel if anything, it’s going to enlighten people.”