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Challenge Five

Curriculum Development

A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State: 1998–2003


Goal: Institute curricula and research initiatives that provide students with the skills and orientation to function effectively in multicultural workplaces and social environments

Nothing more profoundly articulates the values of a university than its curriculum. Our Penn State community will not be diverse, nor will we be able to educate our students for participation in a diverse and multicultural world, unless our curriculum is diverse and multicultural as well. As noted educator James Banks states:

"Education within a pluralistic society should affirm and help students understand their home and community cultures. However, it should also help free them from their cultural boundaries. To create and maintain a civic community that works for the common good, education in a democratic society should help students acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they will need to participate in civic action to make society more equitable and just."

Penn State graduates need to be prepared to work and continue to learn in a world that is increasingly interconnected. The advance of communication technology and the changing demographics of the nation and the world have transformed the concept of "the global village" from a romantic ideal into an economic reality. The most successful of our students will be those who are able to cross cultural boundaries.

This perspective has led many colleges and universities to mandate that students complete courses addressing diversity subject matter in order to graduate. One objective of such a requirement is the cultivation of cross-cultural communication and interaction skills. Such skills become analogous, in many respects, to the traditional basic skills of literacy and computational ability. Another objective is to help students develop a multicultural repertoire of problem/issue identification skills and approaches to analysis/solution. This is the foundation of the multicultural team problem-solving approach used increasingly in the private sector.

In 1991 the University Faculty Senate adopted a three-credit cultural diversity requirement "to increase awareness of the richness and variety of backgrounds which students, faculty, and staff bring to our academic community." Originally the requirement could be satisfied by taking either a "diversity-focused" course or several "diversity-enhanced" courses. Later the relevant Senate legislation was amended such that the requirement could only be satisfied by taking a diversity-focused course.

Recently the University Faculty Senate adopted a recommendation to alter the designation of the requirement to the "Cultural Diversity Skills and International Competence Requirement." This change will add coherence to the requirement and provide a framework for making more refined judgments about both the relevance of individual courses for the educational objectives and assessment of student learning outcomes. In addition changes in the foreign language proficiency expected of entering undergraduate students will facilitate cultivation of international competence skills. The same is true of plans to increase enrollments in study abroad programs.

Faculty will need assistance in developing and/or modifying courses to align them with the new general education plan. In the past, a limited amount of central support for "curriculum integration" projects has been provided by several offices. As an example, such support is provided on a project-specific basis through the Equal Opportunity Planning Committee. A new fund has been established that will provide much broader support for general education curriculum development, including courses focusing on cultural diversity skills and international competence. This fund will significantly extend the process of disseminating information to faculty undertaking curriculum integration efforts. Past efforts have included a series of conferences sponsored by the College of Education. The Commission on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Equity is currently sponsoring workshops to assist in integrating material related to the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons into appropriate courses. The University Libraries have played, and will play, a vital role in providing the resources necessary to support curriculum development and transformation initiatives. There is also an important role for the Instructional Development Program and the Schreyer Institute to play in creating a wholesome learning environment for students from all backgrounds.

Development of a multicultural curriculum is not limited to the issues described above. Another critical ingredient in a multicultural academic environment is the presence of viable and visible units engaged in instruction and research examining the experiences of groups historically ignored or stereotyped in the curriculum. The Department of African and African American Studies and the Women’s Studies Program have long served as the principal contributors to reflecting this dimension of a multicultural curriculum. As we move into the next century there is a need for systematic strategies to establish venues for encouraging course development, certification options, and research projects in other fields including: Hispanic/Latin American Studies; Asian American Studies; Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies; and Disability Studies. A pilot research initiative focusing on the experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons is underway in the Colleges of the Liberal Arts and Health and Human Development.

There is also a need for increased support for current research efforts. This summer a new seminar entitled, "African American Traditions" was offered through the Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies. This week-long seminar provided opportunities for in-depth exploration of research by Penn State faculty examining various aspects of the experiences of African Americans. In the future the seminar may provide comparable structure and visibility to research initiatives in African American Studies to efforts underway at institutions such as Harvard, Duke, and the University of Maryland.

As new specialized locales for research and teaching about traditionally underrepresented groups expands, it is also important that linkages with traditional departments and research institutes be strengthened. Such linkages will maximize the overall impact of the "new scholarship" on curricula and research. In a similar vein, the expanding number of partnerships with international institutions should be seen as an opportunity to infuse existing curricula with more of an international orientation.

Implementing the dimensions of a multicultural curriculum described above at locations other than University Park constitutes a particularly difficult challenge.

The action plan to promote the goal of creating a multicultural curriculum is indicated in the following text.


Goal: Institute curricula and research initiatives that provide students with the skills and orientation to function effectively in multicultural workplaces and social environments


  • Develop framework to assess student learning outcomes associated with the Diversity Skills and International Competencies Requirement
  • Establish a working committee to develop strategies for establishing programs in fields like Asian American, Disability, Hispanic/Latino American, and Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies


  • Develop a plan for providing fiscal and consultative support to assist faculty in designing courses satisfying the Diversity Skills and International Competencies Requirement


  • Implement strategies for developing and introducing programs and curricular offerings on multicultural issues (with Department Heads)
  • Explore opportunities to establish intercollege research programs focusing on multicultural issues
  • Develop an inventory of college-based diversity-related research initiatives


  • Develop a plan to support multicultural curriculum development efforts


  • Implement strategies for developing and introducing programs and curricular offerings on multicultural issues (with College Deans and VP for Research)


  • Continue aggressive acquisition of resource materials focused on underrepresented populations and work closely with academic units in curriculum transformation efforts


  • Provide guidance to colleges, departments, and the University Faculty Senate in effective utilization of international partnerships to foster enhanced international perspectives in curricula