Mount Holyoke students highlight what’s lacking in course offerings

  • Mount Holyoke College student Dur-e-Maknoon Ahmed holds a sign as part of the “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign, during which students raised concerns about, among other topics, the lack of diversity in the college’s curriculum and faculty. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Mount Holyoke College student Destiny Williams holds a sign as part of the “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign, during which students raised concerns about, among other topics, the lack of diversity in the college’s curriculum and faculty. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Mount Holyoke College student Linda Zhang holds a sign as part of the “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign, during which students raised concerns about, among other topics, the lack of diversity in the college’s curriculum and faculty. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2018 11:15:45 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — With the Five Colleges located in the Pioneer Valley, there are a wide range of knowledge accessible to students in the region. But what isn’t being taught?

For students of color and others at Mount Holyoke College, that question yields many responses: “that South-Asian poets and authors are significant;” “non-western art history;” “about my culture without the colonizer’s perspective;” “history of Muslim countries in an unbiased way.”

Those were just some of the concerns raised by students earlier this month as part of the “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign, during which students wrote messages on a whiteboard and posted photos of those messages on social media.

The initiative was inspired by a similar one at other colleges, including Amherst College, where the Amherst Asian American Studies Working Group wrote similar messages advocating that the college teach more Asian American studies courses.

At Mount Holyoke, students raised a broad range of concerns: the Eurocentric focus of their departments, the need for a more diversity and curriculum, and calls for more ethnic studies courses.

“The first thing I was surprised by was the amount of support the campaign got,” said Tehreem Mela, a senior who co-chairs the organization Kuch Karo: Pakistani Students for Change, which co-sponsored the event.

Mela said groups of students gathered around the tables the campaign’s organizers had set up last week, talking about their own experiences on campus.

“It was surprising to see that it was across classes,” Mela said. “Even first years … student of color first years were already sort of frustrated, or cognizant that this problem exists.”

In an interview on Monday, Mount Holyoke’s dean of faculty, Jon Western, said that the college is constantly working to make sure the school’s curriculum spans the range of intellectual enterprises.

“We have a rich and extensive curriculum, and we offer 50 majors and 53 minors, nine (pre-professional track) ‘nexuses,’ and we have the benefit of the broad range of offerings from across the Five Colleges to augment everything we do here,” Western said.

Western went through a list of steps the school has taken to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty, and to diversify the college’s curriculum: for example, reaching out to a broader range of professional networks; holding a series workshops for search committees and departments awarded a tenure-track position, focused on topics like implicit bias and thinking about what curriculum should look like in the future; and inviting new hires to onboarding workshops.

Western also said the college has begun involving students when candidates come to campus. He said the college is focused on students, and has to find a balance between what they can offer and how they can offer it.

“We’re always attentive to students interests and concerns,” he said, adding that about a quarter of the student body includes students of color from the United States, and around 30 percent are from overseas. “We’re engaged with them in conversations, and with this group we will be reaching out to them for conversations.”

Mela, one of the event’s organizers, said it is clear that there is a problem with diversity and Eurocentrism at Mount Holyoke, and in western academia overall. She said she blames that institutional system and not any specific faculty at the college, adding that the excessive focus on European figures is evident in her politics and studio art classes.

“That’s a feature in all of my courses,” Mela said, giving the example of academic discourse often lumping countries together under the label “developing countries.” That is “the sort of institutional racial structure that informs everything, including academia,” Mela said.

Mela’s organization was just one of several campus groups sponsoring the campaign, including the Muslim Students Association, MHC Familia, STEM POC and the Jewish Students Union.

Going forward, the organizers hope to engage with faculty, and to bring their awareness campaign to the larger student body.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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