New GAR is implemented into the ‘Berg curriculum

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Photo courtesy of the Office of Communications.

In the last few weeks, Muhlenberg approved a new general academic requirement (GAR): Race and Power in the American Experience (RP). It will be added to the 18 other academic requirements, though the College is currently in the process of reevaluating the entire curriculum. 

English and Africana Studies Assistant Professor Emanuela Kucik, Ph.D., said, “The central goal of the RP is to ensure that all Muhlenberg students take courses that address racism and that provide students with tools to dismantle current systems of power, racism and inequity and build just, fully equitable systems in their place.” 

The Race and Power in the American Experience GAR originated from the Black Faculty and Action letter in the fall of ‘20. Shortly after the letter was released, the Academic Policy committee reached out to begin conversations about developing the GAR. 

“It’s time for us as an institution to make sure that every student is leaving Muhlenberg with the ability to knowledgeably discuss these issues,” Academic Provost Laura Furge, Ph.D., said, “To understand differences in perspectives, and experiences and how that shapes each unique American experience.” 

There are over a dozen different learning goals attributed to the GAR, and ‘Berg wants to make sure that this requirement is not specific to one department. “They’ll be [classes] offered across the curriculum,” Furge said. “Students will be able to choose, hopefully, what kind of experience in the race and power [GAR] that they’re most interested in.” 

“Students will be able to choose, hopefully, what kind of experience in the race and power [GAR] that they’re most interested in.”

Provost Laura Furge

Furge offered an example of a biochemistry class in which the RP could be fulfilled. “You can also imagine a science class that would be dealing with genetics and race… and how that has been politicized.”

However, what will determine the RP requirement is still being determined. According to Furge, it will take at least a few years before the RP will be fully developed and implemented. 

None of the current class years enrolled will be affected by this change. 

But the proposed choice: to add RP as an additional GAR, or to replace one of the Human Difference and Global Engagement (DE) GARS, led to some difficult conversations within the faculty. 

Department Chair and Professor of Political Science Brian Mello, Ph.D, is part of the Academic Policy Committee, and was a proponent for the latter, replacing one of the DE requirements. Mello said, “We didn’t want to lose the global engagement—focus on the human difference and global engagement, but we wanted to kind of fine tune it.” 

The faculty chose to provisionally add the RP GAR as an additional GAR, which Mello was “personally apprehensive” about. This addition would mark over 19 GARs for students to fulfill. 

“I think our curriculum needs to make sense,” Mello said. “I think that right now [fulfilling GARs] is a checklist that incentivizes not intellectual engagement, but a game.” 

“I think that right now [fulfilling GARs] is a checklist that incentivizes not intellectual engagement, but a game.”

Brian Mello, Ph.D.

Students often look for classes that will fulfill the most requirements rather than classes they want to take. “We produce a game for students: How can I maximize the number of GARs with the fewest number of courses?” Mello said. 

The new GAR has led to these conversations about the College’s curriculum, specifically the effectiveness of GARs in a liberal arts college setting. 

There were also concerns that there might not be enough resources to teach the GAR. As student enrollment decreases, so does the number of faculty.

“Do we have enough staff that can successfully teach RP-designated classes?” said Olivia Tebsherany ‘23, a member of the Academic Policy Committee. “Do they have the institutional support necessary to do so?”

Although much of the staff expressed a readiness to teach these courses, according to Furge, these are questions that still need to be answered. 

The current plan is for faculty to be trained to be qualified to teach these courses. Furge said, “We will use the next few years to develop new courses, to provide workshops and training for faculty to prepare them to teach these courses.” 

Despite this, the ‘Berg community is excited to see the Race and Power GAR in action. Kucik said, “I believe that this requirement is a crucial step in Muhlenberg’s continued commitment to anti-racism.” 

AJ Henley ‘24, another member of the Academic Policy Committee, said, “I think this is something we should be very proud of.”

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