Student demand for the Jan Plan course Multicultural Literacy has seen it grow to include five sections with 100 participating first-years—almost a quarter of the class—since its introduction three years ago. And the course’s success carries a promise to change the experience of all Colby students, significantly and for the better, according to students and faculty from this year’s sessions.
“I think these students are going to have a different experience here at Colby,” said Margo Diamond, one of the instructors, at an event in Page Commons where students presented projects Jan. 29. “I truly believe this class has the power to change the campus climate on how students interact, not only with each other, but with faculty and staff on issues of race, social class, sexuality, gender, ability, and religion,” she wrote in a follow-up e-mail.
“I think these students are going to have a different experience here at Colby.”
Piloted by Professor of Education Mark Tappan, the course aims to give students knowledge and skills to help them interact effectively across multiple dimensions of difference and to live and work productively in multicultural contexts.
Tappan’s outline of knowledge and skills covered includes accepting and respecting differences; developing awareness of one’s own culture, background, and biases and their effect on people from different cultures or backgrounds; understanding the dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression, how they operate, and how they affect interactions across differences; and honing communications skills to manage conflict in positive ways and to intervene in negative situations.
At the end-of-Jan Plan event, Andrew Fullerton ’17 recalled a memorable moment. He said Coordinator of Multicultural Student Programs and Support and Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Joseph Atkins told them, “I don’t care what you want to ask [President] Bro [Adams] to do. I want to see what you guys can do in your everyday lives to help slowly change these trends, expectations, and stereotypes.”
Students displayed projects to try to expand the impact from the classroom to the campus. One group started a Facebook group, MADD, for Mules Against Dorm Damage, to communicate how dorm damage assessments play out differently for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Others made videos exploring issues of difference on campus.
Several students, including some for whom Multicultural Literacy was not their first-choice Jan Plan, volunteered that the course should be required. Becky Higgins ’17, who ranked it third, said, “When I got it, I was kind of bummed, but this course has been so, so amazing. I just didn’t even know what multicultural literacy means. It really turned into critically thinking about what you learned as a child and where does that come from—and how we can be thinking about reforming that idea in order to have it come out in our actions.”