The ASSU Community Action Board (CAB) released a letter Feb. 20 in response to the recent Study of Undergraduate Education (SUES) report, which examines the goals of a Stanford undergraduate education and, in over 100-pages, makes 55 recommendations for improvement. The ASSU Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution to support CAB’s letter at its Tuesday night meeting.
Founded by the ASSU Executive during spring quarter last year, CAB is a coalition of 23 representatives from across Stanford’s campus aiming to explore issues of diversity and identity on campus. One of the Board’s stated goals on its website is to “advocate for increased diversity in academics.”
According to CAB representative Vivian Wong ‘12 in an email to the Daily, the Board drafted the letter over several weeks at its regular Monday meetings. She said the group used a shared Google document, which allowed for communal editing and rewriting.
“As a Board and individually, we felt that identity and diversity were not sufficiently addressed in the original SUES report,” Wong said. “As Stanford students, we were adamant about advocating for more attention to these issues on an institutional level.”
CAB chair Holly Fetter ‘13 said that the letter is “primarily concerned with three issues: increased faculty diversity, increased course diversity, and an increase in the accessibility of academic resources and experiences for students.”
She added that the letter both identifies the Board’s concerns with the report, in addition to proposing possible solutions.
Requirements for graduation
The Board offered a solution to students in high-unit-count majors “without the freedom to explore courses about identity and diversity” by suggesting that departments add more courses about ethics and diversity within their requirements, in addition to increasing cross-listing of courses relating to identity and diversity, “so that they count for multiple majors and are therefore accessible to more students.”
Noting that there is a 40 percent underrepresentation of underrepresented minorities within high-unit-count majors, the letter recommends that SUES develop pre-college programs for students coming from under-resourced schools, referencing The Stanford Summer Engineering Academy and The Leland Scholars Program as examples of this kind of program.
The letter also stresses the importance of having more underrepresented minorities teaching within the high-unit-count majors in order to better inspire students to succeed.
The Board also critiqued the “Engaging Difference” title for the proposed “Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing” requirement as “inappropriate [and] stigmatizing.” Instead, the Board suggested the name be changed to “Engaging Identity,” in order to “level the playing field where no particular vantage point is promoted above another.”
Sequencing a liberal education
“Students need more exposure to discussions of identity and inequality,” the letter reads, suggesting that at least one “Thinking Matters” course be focused on conversations of privilege and identity and that “September Studies” classes be offered about these issues.
Fetter noted that “many students have only a vague understanding of what SUES is, latching onto the fact that it has the power to do away with IHUM without actually engaging with the report and its contents.”
“As a Board, we wanted to thoroughly read the report and craft a letter that offers our insight into what’s there, as well as our concerns about what is absent,” Fetter continued. “This report has the possibility to radically alter undergraduate education, and we think it’s crucial that students show the faculty and administration that we care about the future of our collective educational experience.”
Opportunities outside the classroom
Looking to the Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program as a model, the Board suggested that the Integrated Learning Environments (ILEs) discussed in the SUES report be “founded on values of justice and empowerment of minority-identified students” by “creating at least one ILE centered on identity, social justice, and/or privilege.”
The Board added, however, that the University should take care not to replicate SLE’s “exclusively West-centric syllabus.”
Noting the importance of integrating studies of identity into the residential learning experience outside of ILEs, the letter suggests that those studying minority identities be offered seminars or lecture series in residences or dining halls.
The Board advised that more public service and service learning be integrated into the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP), using the South Africa Cape Town program as a model.
BOSP is not adequately supportive of minority students, the letter states, adding that many of these students feel unprepared as they travel overseas. The Board suggested that all BOSP programs be accessible to students with disabilities, that counseling services be made available to students traveling abroad and that minority students be better prepared for traveling by offering “information sessions, peer mentors, and/or detailed guides that are tailored to one’s identity and destination.”
Fetter noted that issues of diversity should move beyond just residential halls.
“At Stanford, education around identities is often relegated to the residential sphere, because these are perceived to be isolated, interpersonal issues,” Fetter said. “However, we know that the inequality that creates prejudices and discomfort among students is rooted in structural issues, and that these should thus be addressed and understood at a structural level — the academy.
The letter goes on to note the importance of advisors and tutors for undergraduate students and suggests that advisors and tutors be stationed at the various Community Centers around campus, to increase accessibility and utility.
“Faculty office hours are often inaccessible and intimidating to underrepresented minorities,” the letter states, suggesting that more opportunities for causal interactions with professors be created, such as conversations in dorms and dining halls.
The Board described faculty pre-major advisors as “often irrelevant and inaccessible,” and advises a system in which students can “browse the profiles of prospective pre-major advisers and then select an appropriate one during the summer before freshman year.”
The Board criticized the SUES report for failing to consider students with disabilities and LGBT-identified students when speaking about diversity and suggested more incorporation of these “significant identities” when discussing diversity, especially when hiring professors.
Faculty diversity should include “Black, Hispanic, and Native American, LGBTQ-identified, and first-generation/low income faculty members, as well as faculty members with disabilities,” the letter states.
The Board added the importance of hiring more professors studying minority issues, such as ethnic, gender, or sexuality studies, in order to make pursuing a degree in those areas easier for undergraduate students.
Finally, the Board strongly emphasized the importance of incorporating many voices, including students, faculty, scholars and staff, into the discussion about changes to undergraduate education. The Board suggests convening “a task force of members of the Stanford community invested in affecting academic change, ensuring that students are at the core of these groups.”
“This conversation around the SUES report is more serious than quarrels about IHUM and PWR — its about supporting and empowering the students to become strong, empathetic leaders,” Fetter said.