Tulane University will require all new students to study racial diversity as part of the undergraduate curriculum, another step by the Uptown institution to address issues of race on campus.
Officials added the new requirement to the university’s curriculum this fall, along with another course on global perspectives. New students must take both courses in order to graduate.
The moves were announced Wednesday.
The curriculum changes — the university’s first in a dozen years — follow several recent episodes in which minority students complained of harassment by their white peers. In 2015, some Tulane students posted racist comments on an anonymous social media app. In years since then, Hispanic, African-American and other minority students have said they felt unwelcome on the mostly white campus.
Following the social media posts, Tulane President Mike Fitts convened a commission on race and university values that eventually recommended the curriculum changes.
The new requirement "is one of the most positive changes to occur at Tulane in the past 20 years,” said Rebecca Mark, a commission member, professor of English and director of Tulane’s Center for Academic Equity, which serves non-traditional and minority students. “Now, every student will have to think about issues of privilege, equity, social justice and inclusion."
Although Tulane's minority enrollment has ticked up in the past three years amid changes to some of its recruiting practices, fewer than a quarter of its roughly 13,600 students are people of color.
The new courses are aimed at helping white students embrace their minority peers and to help prevent the kinds of problems that have dogged Tulane in recent years.
In 2015, racist comments were allegedly posted by Tulane students on Yik Yak, a social media platform that allows its users to make anonymous posts that others in the same geographic area can see.
The following year, some members of Kappa Alpha fraternity erected a wall of sandbags around the fraternity’s house on Audubon Street and upon them painted the words, “Make America Great Again” and “Trump,” political speech that offended some other groups on campus.
Student protesters told The Advocate that anti-minority, anti-Muslim and anti-gay sentiments began to increase on Tulane’s campus after Donald Trump was elected president.
After students complained about the Yik Yak incident, Fitts, who was appointed president in 2014, convened a commission to study the issue of racial unrest. The curriculum change is just one of several moves that body has recommended in the years since then. Others include recruiting more professors and staff members of color and creating new rules for reporting discrimination on campus.
Under the new requirement, incoming students must take a course that focuses 60 percent of its content on diversity or inclusion in the U.S. and another that focuses the same amount of content on “historical, cultural and societal knowledge” of an area outside of the U.S.
Students will be allowed to pick from more than 50 courses Tulane already offers and several it plans to offer that meet those requirements, such as critical race theory, introduction to gender and sexuality studies, and introduction to African-American history. Students must take the courses by the end of their sophomore year.
The classes are the first additions to Tulane’s core curriculum since 2006, when the university began requiring its students to perform public-service projects in New Orleans after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“This idea (of the new course requirements) quickly became a priority and was approved by Newcomb-Tulane College faculty with strong support,” said Lisa Molix, a commission member and psychology professor.
She said professors understood that students should take classes that help them "grow to see human diversity, not as a threat, but as a resource and opportunity.”