The Venture Studies Program at the University of North Florida: Innovative, Experiential Courses

Article excerpt

Key requirements for an experiential, innovative course in race relations, as well as the processes followed for university approval and implementation, are described. The course was offered by a licensed clinical psychologist at a university in the "'deep South" during the 1970's, a period of heightened racial tensions, and was part of a special program of courses designed for non-majors. The course included readings in race relations, special speakers, small group discussions and interactions. journals kept by each student and discussed with the instructor, a weekend field trip to a historically Black college, and a one-week, live-in stay in the home of a family of another race during the last third of the course. Student feedback received after each course and from a 20 year follow-up study indicated that this experiential course was perceived as the basis of life-long changes in behaviors and attitudes about race relations.

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In previous articles (Kranz & Lund, 2004; Kranz & Lund, 1998: Kranz, Lund, & Johnson, 1996; Kranz, Lund, & Steele, 2003; Porter, Kranz, & Lund, 1998), the authors described a unique class in race relations that was initiated and taught at the University of North Florida from 1972-1977 during the first years of the University's existence. The articles captured student responses concerning various ways the course had changed their lives positively in terms of both personal and professional racial interactions. In those articles, various aspects of the class were explained, including design of the experiential course in race relations, techniques implemented, student reactions and changes in perspectives on race relations, live-in experiences in homes of other races, and field trips to historically Black colleges. However, what has not been addressed to date was how the class was initially proposed and implemented within the new university's curriculum, the process through which a particular department was encouraged by the administration to offer and sponsor new courses for the program, and the faculty and administrative reactions about the implementation and success of the courses.

When the Psychology Department hired a new assistant professor with expertise in race relations, the department chair extended that faculty member the opportunity to create a unique course that would fit within the Venture Studies Program. This program offered advanced courses for non-majors designed such that the classes be innovative, pose lasting questions about contemporary issues, and challenge student reasoning abilities, attitudes and behaviors. The typical Venture Studies course was intended to be relevant to the times, progressive, and oftentimes to challenge a variety of commonly held beliefs and ideologies. The following actual course titles were examples listed in the 1976 catalogue: Womanhood in Modern Society; Politics: Left, Right, & Center; Bioethics: The Right to Exist; and Human Sexuality. The course considered in this article was entitled "Human Conflict: Black and White", since those were the two racial groups primarily represented in the UNF student body at that time.

The University of North Florida, under the auspices of the Venture Studies Program, which was an innovation of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, encouraged its professors to explore new educational possibilities outside the institution's existing curricular framework, and thus provided another avenue of creative thought and exploration for its students and faculty. The result was an energized body of students and faculty members who entered into a learning experience with many experimental formats and challenging outcomes. Due to the growing excitement about the creative potential offered through this learning experience, an increasing number of students participated in Venture Studies program courses. Since the program invited each department to create and offer unique courses that would fit program goals and be meaningful to student's social and educational growth, the instructor felt that the following requirements should be included for the Human Conflict in Black and White course in addition to traditional lecture and class discussion:

* In the latter part of the course, a seven-day stay in the home of a family of the other race was required for each participating student. …