American Cultures requirement celebrates 25th anniversary

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Twenty-five years ago, the American Cultures requirement was introduced to UC Berkeley as a new curriculum to encourage students to think critically about the changing nature of society.

This week, the campus will celebrate the AC requirement’s anniversary with various talks and symposiums. Today, the program offers courses across more than 40 different departments and multiple disciplines, aiming to present new perspectives on culture, race and society in varying subjects.

Introduced in 1989 and implemented in the fall of 1991, the AC requirement was influenced by an increase in minorities in student demographics and the anti-apartheid movement on campus. As students protested on campus to show their support of ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, they looked at their own campus and wanted to apply the same social justice principles closer to home.

“Students began thinking about how the curriculum itself could represent, more equitably, the changing demographics of the world and … the definition of multiculturalism,” said Victoria Robinson, coordinator of the American Cultures program and ethnic studies lecturer.

Most of the AC courses offered are concentrated in the humanities and social science departments of the College of Letters and Science; however, Robinson sees potential in expanding the curriculum toward the technical fields.

For example, “Engineering, The Environment, and Society” is an AC interdisciplinary course that explores the intersection of engineering and social justice, encouraging students to not only recognize problems, but also find solutions. Robinson said she hopes to see AC courses in the future in math or applied statistics as well.

Currently, proposals for potential AC courses are reviewed and endorsed by an Academic Senate subcommittee. Composed of seven faculty members and two appointed ASUC representatives, the committee ensures that the courses address issues relevant to understanding race, culture and ethnicity; relate to the larger issues such as history, economy or environment; and engage with at least three ethnic groups. In the past 2 1/2 years, the AC program has introduced 36 new courses for the requirement, according to Robinson.

During the 2012-13 year, five out of five new AC courses were approved, while thirteen out of sixteen were approved the year before. The concept of an AC requirement is now instituted in many universities across the country, including eight other UC campuses.

Rahul Patel, second-year intended computer sciences major, took an integrative biology class on human biological variation that brought historical and cultural perspectives to not only analyze racism throughout history, but also connect it to contemporary issues.

“I gained an interesting historical perspective on science in our society — how it can have huge social implications, and how it can almost be skewed to fit an agenda,” he said. “(The class) helped me understand society as a whole.”

Contact Heyun Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @heyunjeong.