LTE: Tough Truths and the BC History Core: A Response to “Students’ Petition Calls for Changes in the Core”

College students should feel righteous indignation, and they should hold their institutions accountable for addressing the systemic inequalities and injustices that those institutions’ own mission statements profess to abhor. Students should speak up and speak out; they should demonstrate; and they should circulate petitions. These truths are dear to me. Accordingly, I read with interest the article in yesterday’s Heights by Shannon Longworth and a similar piece by Pei-Ling Lee in the BC Gavel on April 24 recounting how students in Meghan Sweeney’s class, The Challenge of Justice, examined BC’s Core curriculum and the history department’s contributions to it and issued the charge of Eurocentrism. There is truth in that accusation: Legacies of European actions and perspectives are legion in our classrooms and in the wider world. Yet these articles seem unaware of some realities on our campus that are also worth pondering. A number of departments have taken significant steps over the past decade to rectify the pedagogical injustice about which the students legitimately complain. I cannot speak for others, but I would like to clarify two things about the history Core program and invite readers—students, faculty, and administrators—to engage with our department as we continue long-term processes of self-redefinition.

Point of Clarification #1: The Eurocentric rhetoric to which Professor Sweeney’s students objected came from a 1991 statement that remains part of the University’s literature but which the history department long ago abandoned. In 2007, we crafted a new Core mission statement, which has appeared on the history Core website ever since. I was puzzled that the students did not consult our site. For the record, here are a few passages from our current statement: “History Core courses examine the complex historical processes that lie behind modern-day transnational relationships, values, and ideas “ and “all history Core courses trace the political, social, economic, and cultural changes that created the modern world. As part of the Core Curriculum, these courses seek to broaden students’ intellectual horizons by exposing them to new places, periods, and perspectives.”

Point of Clarification #2: We are thrilled to have “African Diaspora in the World I and II” as a Core option next year, but history faculty have also spent a decade globalizing the frameworks and content of their pre-existing Core courses, and building new ones. Here are some recent history Core sequences:

Asia and the World I and II

Atlantic Worlds I and II

Globalization I and II

Latin America and the World I and II

Our faculty also teach Complex Problems and Enduring Questions Core Renewal Pilots that put questions of race, gender, social justice, and global interactions center stage.

Is there truth to the charge of lingering Eurocentrism in the Core curriculum? Absolutely. But while we continue to address that problem, we should bear in mind that students and faculty have pushed—for years—against that old paradigm. Students concerned about injustice have battles to fight, but they also have allies, perhaps more than they realize.

So, let’s talk.

Sarah Gwyneth Ross

Associate Professor

Director of the History Core

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor