Revamped focus on diversity and inclusion

Change in Essential Studies program delivers intercultural knowledge and skills to better serve students

2017 Provost Forum 1

UND archival image.

It has been a long time coming but a recent change the University of North Dakota has implemented in its Essential Studies curriculum reflects the complexity of today’s world.

The University revamped the courses needed for one of the six goals of the program, which requires a total of 39 credit hours that not only shape the core of UND’s general education but also develop aptitudes critical in the job market. To that end, Essential Studies’ focus on providing courses that deliver intercultural knowledge and skills has been updated to better serve students, said Karyn Plumm, UND’s vice provost for student success and Director of Essential Studies.

Prior to the change, that learning goal was met with two required courses – U.S. diversity and global diversity. Now, the emphasis is on the diversity of human experience and on analyzing worldviews.

Karyn Plumm

“We are becoming more and more of a global community,” said Plumm, explaining the shift. “This distinction between global diversity in U.S. diversity doesn’t really make practical sense with the way people are engaging with the world today.”

Another reason for the change is that the learning outcomes UND measured under the old structure of teaching intercultural knowledge and skills failed to meet expectations. Students, Plumm said, would learn various concepts but struggled to comprehend how they apply to their own experiences.

“What they didn’t seem to be able to do, at least at a deeper level, was to talk about how these concepts affected them and how they fit into and engaged with different cultures and different systems of diversity and inclusion,” Plumm said. “Students could describe a concept, but their description was lacking self-reflection or understanding about what it meant for them.”

The ability to comprehend cultural nuances and intersections is essential nowadays, when employers seek hires who can effectively interact with co-workers and clients of disparate backgrounds, who may be scattered across the world. And, the latter is progressively becoming a smaller place, with local events and tensions often spilling across international borders.

“Ideologically, just having students understand the systems that are in place across the world that they’re a part of and what that means to them is important,” Plumm said. “I think it’s something that helps our students develop as good people and good employees, regardless of what their future career might be.”

Work on the change in the Essential Studies program was initiated about four years ago. “It took a couple of years working with different faculty and different departments on campus to determine how we really get at those pieces of diversity and inclusion that we saw missing for our students,” Plumm said.

For the fall 2020 semester, UND is offering about 30 courses – in disciplines ranging from anthropology to English to women and gender studies – that meet the criteria for a diversity of human experience course. Meanwhile, about 20 courses fit the requirements for analyzing worldviews, including offerings in political science and psychology. (Faculty may submit their courses for validation yearly to the Essential Studies Committee to ensure that they fulfill the goal prerequisites for Essential Studies.)

The courses that meet the redesigned demands of intercultural knowledge and skills are generally taken during the sophomore or junior year, Plumm said. All undergraduate students must complete at least 3 credit hours, or one course each, whose subject matter places a special emphasis on diversity of human experience and analyzing worldviews.