DePaul diversity requirements fail by design

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In the 1940s, Jovita Gonzáles wrote a novel titled “Caballero: A Historical Novel” that chronicled the Mexican experience in the 1800s. Jovita Gonzáles sought to be the first Hispanic woman to publish a novel in the American market. But that market adamantly denied her novel, so much so that the 500-page manuscript remained undiscovered for decades.

It wasn’t until 1996 that the novel was finally published.

As an institution committed to diversity, DePaul tries to be inclusive of the literary works of misrepresented and marginalized groups that have historically struggled to get their works published, supported and read. The required sophomore seminar in multiculturism is meant to incorporate diverse perspectives into a student’s overall education. For all English majors, a course on diverse traditions is required to graduate. However, in spite of these requirements intended to encourage diversity and broaden a student’s mind, courses like Latino literature that offer works written by Hispanic authors as well as cover the Hispanic culture still go largely unnoticed and under-appreciated.

If part of a university education is requiring students to deal with the diversity of modern life, having diverse traditions requirements does not necessarily mean that DePaul students will learn about other cultures or seek information about a culture not their own. To truly fulfill these diversity requirements, students need to actively step outside their comfort zones. DePaul as an institution has to actively market these courses rather than simply require them.

DePaul Professor Bill Johnson Gonzáles teaches courses on Latino literature and U.S Latino and American studies and notes the issues of sophomore seminar and diverse perspectives requirements.

“Oftentimes what happens is that students will automatically say that they have all these other requirements they have to fulfill and then few electives that they can take, and courses that seem as though they are already familiar with the material become more attractive,” he said. Though Johnson Gonzáles has had a variety of students take his courses in the past, his current Latino literature course is comprised of mostly Hispanic students.

English Professor Jennifer Conary said that diverse traditions courses taught in the English department focus on a variety of underrepresented cultures and communities. Courses include: literature and identity on LGBTQ memoirs, African-American literature and Native American literature, among others.

“The English department instituted the diverse traditions requirement in winter quarter 2009,” she said. “It was put in place because the faculty felt it was important for students to study literary works by non-canonical writers, particularly writers from historically underrepresented groups. Literature offers us a chance to look at the world from a different perspective, and we want to make sure that English majors are exposed to the perspectives of writers from marginalized groups.”

In spite of the variety of course offerings, lack of faculty to teach these courses puts DePaul students at a disadvantage.

“There’s not a lot of us to teach them,” Johnson Gonzáles said. “Until very recently we had a senior African-American scholar in the department who taught courses in African-American writing among other things and he retired. We haven’t really been hiring new people for budget reasons and so forth and we haven’t been able to replace him.”

Classes like Latino and African-American literature have faded into the background of diverse traditions requirements at DePaul.  The lack of adequate staffing and student interest have only further decreased the amount of students taking these courses, creating an elective culture where marginalized groups continue to be invisible.