Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teaching Cultural Diversity in Faust through WAC

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teaching Cultural Diversity in Faust through WAC

Article excerpt


The late 1960s saw the emergence of cultural diversity courses as well as writing-across-the-curriculum programs. This article discusses the implementation of both in a First-Year Seminar centered on the Faust-theme. The topic of Faust is universal in its portrayal of human turmoil, yet also unique to the historical, cultural, and social circumstances in which each version was created. Designed to emphasize this duality, the First-Year-Seminar offered students glimpses into cultures and values different from their own while concurrently prompting them to become more introspective about their own.


In its course catalogue, the First-Year Seminars offered by Allegheny College are described as "encourag[ing] careful listening and reading, thoughtful speaking and writing, and reflective academic planning and self-exploration" (online). This description continues by noting that these Seminars are intended to "provide students opportunities to develop communication and research skills useful for generating, exploring, defending, and challenging ideas." The end goal of this agenda is to equip Allegheny graduates "to think critically and creatively, to communicate clearly and persuasively, and to meet challenges in a diverse, interconnected world." Staffed with faculty from every department on campus, the topics offered under these Seminars span all disciplines. This expansion of composition and communication courses outside of their traditional domain in English departments is not an approach unique to Allegheny College. Indeed, this move reflects a new paradigm in pedagogy that favors educational methods of collaboration, cultural relativism, and interdisciplinarity over older practices that focused on individualism, universal rationalism, and disciplinarity (Samuels 2004). In the following pages, this article discusses the emergence of this new paradigm and then describes its implementation in a First-Year Seminar offered through the Department of Modern & Classical Languages at Allegheny College.

For most of the twentieth century, the United States was deemed the dominant world power. As such, American educators and politicians alike felt a need to stress the nation's status as the latest standard bearer in a long tradition of Western values. To this end, Western Civilization courses became increasingly prevalent on college and university campuses. This curricular focus would hold steadfast until the early 1960s, when greater emphasis was placed on gaining a college education and measures such as the G.I. Bill prompted veterans of the Vietnam War to attend college. As this more diverse student population brought with it perspectives, challenges, and needs previously not encountered in higher education, institutions of higher learning were forced to reevaluate how they taught, what they taught, and whom they taught.

Confronted with this more multi-racial, multi-ethnic student body, educators realized they were no longer addressing a homogenous student population and therefore could no longer transmit the same uniform information of previous generations. To address the manifold perspectives and needs of this new group, changes in course content, teaching styles, and by extension, expectations of student involvement were required. Western Civilization courses were replaced by diversity courses and comparative cultures courses. The objectives of these new courses were to increase awareness of and sensitivity to multiple cultures while simultaneously calling into question the possibility of any universal or privileged perspective (Cooper 1999). Taking the place of this universal body of knowledge, this single "truth," was a new concept of "truths in transition," knowledge that was contingent upon a specific time, place, and culture.

This rejection of a single, all-knowing perspective carried over to the instructor who was no longer viewed as conveyer and controller of this universal, fixed body of knowledge but rather a facilitator whose interactions with students encouraged them to understand knowledge not as an unimpeachable truth but as a product of social construction (Rifkin 2000; Gergen 1991). …

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