Why race and ethnicity courses should be required

Rina Cakrani, Columnist

All first-years at Whitman are required to take Encounters and meet distribution requirements, but considering the current society we are part of, I believe that all students should also be required to take a race and privilege class at some point during their college career. All students should take an accessible course on race and ethnicity since racial equity in the U.S. is a current goal for the younger and more progressive generations, and is to be an achievable one for a better society. 

Whitman is composed of a majority of rich white students, many of whom do not have much knowledge about race and have spent their young lives in a condition of white blindness, or colorblindness, which means that there is an inability to see their own racial privilege. In college, they begin to awaken to the notion that racism has systematically kept others down while benefiting them and other white people in American society.

They begin to realize that their white blindness is not a coincidence and that it has been cultivated in America’s educational system, where issues of race are vastly ignored and not addressed. At this point, there are only a few states that have made some progress in implementing race and ethnic studies requirements in their curriculum, but most of America’s public schools do not compel students to think, among other things, about the real foundations of American social history and how race has played a role in it. Students do not get the chance to engage in these issues in an inclusive or critical way and are oblivious to a lot of socio-historical forces that have and continue to shape their communities and the amount of privilege they have.

For many white students, if they ever decide to take a race and ethnicity class or a class in any other related field, it is the first time they become aware of their privileges and begin to question their advantages. They start to realize how their grandparents likely benefited from racism and  how the government kept the suburbs white and allowed their parents to accrue the generational wealth that made it possible for them to go to college. They begin to understand how the lack of privilege affects their non-white peers and how significantly different their life and struggles are. They begin to learn how an entire system works for them, but is meant to keep the rest silenced.

Additionally, the lack of a race and ethnic studies class requirement affects many foreign students who are not acquainted with issues of institutionalized racism and race privilege because they come from a different context outside America. Foreign students become racialized under American terms once they come to this country, and struggle to understand how race works here and how they are suddenly assigned all these racial terms and categories. Therefore, it would be beneficial for them to take a class in order to better understand this society and to also understand how Americans might see them.

A race and ethnic class requirement would also be significant for many students of color, who might not have had the chance to learn about the intricacies of their lack of privilege and how deeply it can affect their life in American society. Because students are generally taught a white-centered Western history and Western civilization is posited as the standard of lifestyle, it is significant for everyone to challenge these notions and expand their knowledge. 

Learning about race and ethnicity in American colleges, such as Whitman, will bring clarity to the one-sided portrayal of American history that has such tragic roots and which leads to a false sense of intense patriotism. Having a race and privilege class requirement instead of Encounters would be a great educational and life-changing experience for many students, and it will be beneficial for the greater good of society; it will push for some progress towards a better community.