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In Defense of the DPE Requirement

(First off, sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was traveling. I’m posting today to make up for it.)

Jerry Coyne recently wrote about the “Difference, Power, and Equity” (DPE) course requirement at Williams. Predictably, he used it as an example of excessive “wokeness”. While I still strongly question his motives in continually targeting the College and its students with hyperbolic language, I don’t think there’s much of a point in discussing them. He’s already banned Ephblog on his site and engaged in name-calling, after all. Rather, his blog post on DPE drew the course requirement to my attention and I thought it would be interesting to discuss and debate.

DPE requirements are not unique to Williams. I did some research on schools similar to Williams found that the following institutions all had some variation of the DPE requirement:

– Dartmouth College (Culture and Identity)
– Bowdoin College (Exploring Social Difference)
– Pomona College (Analyzing Difference)
– Colgate University (Communities and Identities)
– Hamilton College (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies)
– Davidson College (Cultural Diversity)

There are probably more, but I was too tired to find them. I was surprised to find that some of the colleges above had such a requirement given that they can lean more conservative, but then again, a college leaning conservative relative to its peers doesn’t mean much. Williams, for example, is more “conservative” than its peer LACs but is liberal as an institution.

I am personally in favor of the DPE requirement. It’s not an extra course that one has to take in addition to others; it can be fulfilled by any course that examines certain themes. This is the list of fall courses that fulfill the requirement. Since we live in an increasingly diverse nation and an increasingly globalized world, it only makes sense that students learn about non-Western cultures, underrepresented voices in academic fields, etc. It’s important to graduate college with an open mind as well as an awareness of the workings and experiences of other communities. What do you think?

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17 Comments To "In Defense of the DPE Requirement"

#1 Comment By Williamstown Resident On August 1, 2019 @ 8:41 pm

It’s important to graduate college with an open mind as well as an awareness of the workings and experiences of other communities.

I checked out the link to the course catalog and, rightly or wrongly, my perception of >90% of the classes listed is that an open mind is not allowed. These courses are indoctrination venues for radical faculty to force their world view on students and dissent is not only discouraged, it’s likely shouted down. By making these classes a requirement for non-Grievance Studies majors, the college is merely widening the pool of the indoctrinated.

As an employer who recently added 3 recent university grads to my team, any hint of these philosophies was a disqualifier in the interview process for me. Why import problems? Show me your Javascript skills or Excel skills and convince me you have a stellar work ethic, not how woke you are.

#2 Comment By purple & gold On August 1, 2019 @ 9:37 pm

@Williamstown Resident:

With regards to your last paragraph, Williams is a liberal arts college, not a business school. The idea of a liberal arts education is that you learn for the sake of learning rather than receive preprofessional training. Thus, the discussion here is whether or not DPE requirements are a good addition to a liberal arts education, not whether they make for good career prep. Williams students have excellent career placement, as evidenced by data; that’s a total non-issue.

That being said, I’m glad you brought up some contrary points in your first paragraph that people can discuss. It seems like we have some differences in perception. To me, learning about different cultures is not indoctrination. I fail to see how classes on African art and music are equivalent to professors pushing their ideologies. Learning about great authors like Jamaica Kincaid isn’t radical. It’s not leftist to discuss politics in the Middle East, the history of maritime America, or Asian-American culture. Of course, many DPE classes do have a far-left bent, but in no way are >90% of them designed to indoctrinate students.
I also think you misunderstand what a class at a liberal arts college such as Williams is like. Most are small seminars, which are driven by disagreement and debate. Tutorials take it even further. They consist of 2 students, who take turns weekly to write a paper. They are then forced to defend their paper against the intense critique professor and the other student. It is literally enforced debate; I don’t see how it is equivalent to “shouting down dissent” in any way.

#3 Comment By dcat On August 2, 2019 @ 5:07 am

“As an employer who recently added 3 recent university grads to my team, any hint of these philosophies was a disqualifier in the interview process for me.”

So any hint of philosophies outside of those skill sets was a disqualifier? They have philosophies that do not apply to the job one way or the other and you disqualify them automatically based on courses they have taken?

And also, BFD. While we’re all impressed that you’re a “job creator” (why do I feel like you’ve probably unironically used that phrase about yourself before?) I cannot help but second purple & gold that Williams people really, really do not need your job to be successful.

And here is one of my truisms: The people who accuse academics of being ideologues are ALWAYS far more stridently ideological than those they are accusing, no matter how much they pretend that all they care about is the ability to use Excel. You, after all, are drawing assumptions about people based on what classes they took and by disparaging their “wokeness” and by drawing conclusions on what kind of worker they might be based on your ability to glean “any hint of” their philosophies when all they did was sign up for a damned African history class.

#4 Comment By Williamstown Resident On August 2, 2019 @ 5:59 am

@purple & gold

The idea of a liberal arts education is that you learn for the sake of learning rather than receive preprofessional training.

Sorry. I’m just not wired the same as you Ephs. I simply cannot comprehend the idea of spending $300k on learning for the sake of learning. I didn’t come from a place where I had the luxury of becoming a philosopher poet. I borrowed money to pay for my STEM degree so I needed a return on my investment.

Williams students have excellent career placement, as evidenced by data; that’s a total non-issue.

Actually, that’s exactly the issue … and my original reason for commenting on EphBlog. Williams is the lifeblood of Williamstown and as long as 550 shiny new faces show up here every September we’re all good. The one threat to that IMHO is getting a reputation as an SJW factory a la Oberlin, Evergreen, etc. So after a spring full of insanity (Katie Kent is a racist?) I worry that the motivation for this new requirement goes beyond creating a well rounded Eph to creating a “woke” Eph and I think that’s a mistake.

#5 Comment By purple & gold On August 2, 2019 @ 6:58 am

Sorry. I’m just not wired the same as you Ephs. I simply cannot comprehend the idea of spending $300k on learning for the sake of learning. I didn’t come from a place where I had the luxury of becoming a philosopher poet. I borrowed money to pay for my STEM degree so I needed a return on my investment.

Firstly, Williams is not the only place where people learn for the sake of learning. Most other elite institutions, including other LACs and most of the Ivy League, are centered around a liberal arts education. It’s not a uniquely ‘Eph’ thing.

Secondly, many Ephs come from middle-income and low-income backgrounds and receive financial aid.

Thirdly, STEM subjects (other than engineering) are considered liberal arts! Math and the natural sciences are classic liberal arts, and Williams considers computer science to be a liberal art as well. This is the dictionary definition for ‘liberal arts’: “academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences…”. Currently, the 3 most popular majors at Williams are computer science, economics, and math, all of which are high-paying. And a Williams degree has a pretty high return on investment.

Actually, that’s exactly the issue … and my original reason for commenting on EphBlog. Williams is the lifeblood of Williamstown and as long as 550 shiny new faces show up here every September we’re all good. The one threat to that IMHO is getting a reputation as an SJW factory a la Oberlin, Evergreen, etc. So after a spring full of insanity (Katie Kent is a racist?) I worry that the motivation for this new requirement goes beyond creating a well rounded Eph to creating a “woke” Eph and I think that’s a mistake. .

It isn’t an issue; you’re only presuming that it is. Rather than make assumptions, let’s look at history. Williams had a public relations debacle several years ago over the Derbyshire disinvitation. This incident, unlike the past year’s incidents, made it onto national, left-leaning media outlets such as The Washington Post and TIME Magazine—in other words, the kind of news outlets that prospective students regularly read. It was a much bigger deal, and it was much more publicized.

We would expect, then, to see a drop in applications. After all, that’s what happened to Dartmouth after a media outcry about their frats. In fact, applications continued to skyrocket throughout those years despite the bad PR. This past year, nearly 10,000 students applied for only 550 spots in the class (around 1200 were accepted). Additionally, this past year’s events had no effect on enrollment for this fall’s freshman class.

Big tech corporations and Wall Street firms continue to consistently recruit at Williams. These companies are, as you would say, ‘woke’: they have diversity weekends, diversity conventions, diversity internships, etc (I don’t think these are bad, but you may disagree). The top 3 companies that Williams students work for are Google, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

Lastly, I want to clarify that this curriculum requirement is not new at all. In fact, it is 4 years old (it was called an EDI requirement for the first 2 years). And if we look at career data from the past 4 years, we see that placement numbers and starting salaries have only increased. Statistically speaking, this requirement has had no impact on hiring.

#6 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On August 2, 2019 @ 7:52 am

> it is 4 years old

It is 30+ years old. See here for a detailed discussion, including some of the relevant history.

> the motivation for this new requirement goes beyond creating a well rounded Eph to creating a “woke” Eph

The College — i.e., the almost uniformly liberal faculty — has been trying to create “woke” Ephs since at least the 80s, if not the 60s. They may have succeeded! Or maybe they failed.

Either way, Williams is almost universally regarded as among the most (if not the very most) “conservative” of elite liberal arts colleges. Swarthmore will turn into Evergreen well before we do.

#7 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On August 2, 2019 @ 7:55 am

> I am personally in favor of the DPE requirement.

Why do you require Williams students to take a course which they don’t want to take? Do you know better than your peers what is good for them?

#8 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On August 2, 2019 @ 8:05 am

Is it just be or is the current list of DPE courses dramatically smaller than the EDI list (pdf) was just a few years ago?

I had heard rumors from the faculty that the College was having trouble getting enough professors to jump through the hoops necessary to get courses approved for DPE. This would seem to confirm the issue.

#9 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On August 2, 2019 @ 9:02 am

I’m reasonably OK with the idea of the DPE requirement. Even if the classes are the most extreme version of what Williamstown Resident would call “grievance studies,” being exposed to this kind of thinking is useful, I believe, as it represents a point of view of a chunk of our society. Perhaps today high school students get more that than they did in my day (for example, Robert E. Lee was almost universally lauded in my high school history class as a great general and good man, and I’d bet that’s often not true today). My guess is that it would also be useful for some students to hear more systematically about viewpoints that are opposite of “woke,” if they haven’t been exposed to those.

#10 Comment By purple & gold On August 2, 2019 @ 9:15 am

@DDF:

It is 30+ years old. See here for a detailed discussion, including some of the relevant history.

I didn’t know that, thank you for the link.

The College — i.e., the almost uniformly liberal faculty — has been trying to create “woke” Ephs since at least the 80s, if not the 60s. They may have succeeded! Or maybe they failed.
Either way, Williams is almost universally regarded as among the most (if not the very most) “conservative” of elite liberal arts colleges. Swarthmore will turn into Evergreen well before we do.

Agreed, although I highly, highly doubt any elite LAC/university will turn into Evergreen or Oberlin. Look at Wesleyan or Brown, for example.

Why do you require Williams students to take a course which they don’t want to take? Do you know better than your peers what is good for them?

When you put it that way, it makes me sound very condescending, which I didn’t intend. I hope it didn’t come off that way. I’ll revise my statement: I think Williams should try and encourage students to learn about non-Western cultures and communities other than their own.

#11 Comment By purple & gold On August 2, 2019 @ 9:20 am

@Whitney Wilson:

I agree that it’s important for students to be exposed to diverse cultures and viewpoints. I do disagree with Williamstown Resident’s characterization of the classes as “grievance studies”, since most of them simply deal with societies that aren’t in the West. I am not sure why anything non-European is deemed “woke”.

#12 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On August 2, 2019 @ 9:54 am

> Williams should try and encourage students

Agreed! I have (almost) no problem with (almost) all the various encouragements which Williams puts towards students. I have many problems with (almost) all of the requirements.

> most of them simply deal with societies that aren’t in the West

Is that an accurate characterization of the classes? American Maritime History, Topics Asian American Studies, Asian Am Perf: Activism Aesth, How to Be Human . . .

Obviously, many of the courses are straightforwardly about “societies that aren’t in the West” but not most, surely . . .

By the way, how does Advanced Arabic 1 possibly qualify? Or is this just a sad attempt to bump up enrollment?

#13 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On August 2, 2019 @ 9:59 am

> Agreed, although I highly, highly doubt any elite LAC/university will turn into Evergreen or Oberlin.

Two issues:

How much more woke will places like Swarthmore and Amherst become? Well, since, over the last few decades, every year they get more woke, I see no reason for that trend to stop. Why would it? If it doesn’t stop, then they will be Oberlin in a few years . . .

How long with woke colleges survive? Consider Hampshire? Back in the 80s, it was among the most woke of LACs. At the time, I think its status was not much less “elite” than Wesleyan, or even Oberlin. (Contrary opinions welcome!)

And now it is kaput . . .

#14 Comment By purple & gold On August 2, 2019 @ 1:07 pm

Is that an accurate characterization of the classes? American Maritime History, Topics Asian American Studies, Asian Am Perf: Activism Aesth, How to Be Human . . .
Obviously, many of the courses are straightforwardly about “societies that aren’t in the West” but not most, surely . . .

Looking over the list of classes, I guess it may be more accurate to say that a significant portion deals with non-Western societies, and another significant portion deals with minority communities in the West and their interactions with Western societies.

How much more woke will places like Swarthmore and Amherst become? Well, since, over the last few decades, every year they get more woke, I see no reason for that trend to stop. Why would it? If it doesn’t stop, then they will be Oberlin in a few years . . .

Can we necessarily extrapolate trends in that way, though? American society itself has, over the past few decades, become more diverse and tolerant, and it only makes sense that colleges would be at the forefront of that change. Furthermore, I believe that recent activism on college campuses is driven in part by the tumultuous Trump presidency.

How long with woke colleges survive?

Well, that depends on the institution, right? If you look at highly left-leaning universities like Brown and Columbia, which are notorious for protests, they aren’t failing by any means. Call me cynical, but I think students care more about prestige than anything else.

Consider Hampshire? Back in the 80s, it was among the most woke of LACs. At the time, I think its status was not much less “elite” than Wesleyan, or even Oberlin. (Contrary opinions welcome!)

This plays into my previous point. I believe that Hampshire was never a traditionally elite college. It was founded relatively recently as an experimental school. Admissions may have been selective years ago when Hampshire was unique and “faddish”, but the school has been in decline for a while. The same applies to Evergreen. That’s why I think it is inaccurate to compare it to modern elite institutions; the situations are very different.

And now it is kaput . . .

Because, as I implied above, it couldn’t offer the resources, name value, education, and connections that elite institutions offer.

#15 Comment By Current Student On August 2, 2019 @ 10:03 pm

As a current student that took my DPE (or EDI, I don’t remember what it was called) my freshman year, I can say it was an enjoyable experience. The class I took was educational, interesting, and made me appreciate literature (it was a Comp Lit class, I think). That being said, it still seems like a crapshoot; I had a good experience, but some of my friends took the “woke” classes (where dissenting opinions are not welcome, etc.) and hated wasting a class on it. It’s almost impossible to tell which kind of class it’ll be by the class description, too–a far better indicator is what you do/do not know about the professor. Also, tutorial classes are not necessarily places of dissenting opinion–I have taken several, and talked to others that have taken them, and I’ve found that sometimes the opposing tutorial papers are in “disagreement” on the surface but are essentially the same from an ideological standpoint/overall picture. Overall, I liked my DPE class…but the DPE requirement seems like an extremely heavy-handed way to have students take these types of classes. Also, I have also heard the College is having difficulty getting professors to get their classes DPE certified.

#16 Comment By purple & gold On August 3, 2019 @ 5:38 am

@Current Student:
Thank you for the perspective!

#17 Comment By purple & gold On August 3, 2019 @ 6:26 am

(I put this new info in the body of my post, but I am also commenting about the ‘update’ to increase visibility.)

DPE requirements are not unique to Williams. I did some research on schools similar to Williams found that the following institutions all had some variation of the DPE requirement:
– Dartmouth College (Culture and Identity)
– Bowdoin College (Exploring Social Difference)
– Pomona College (Analyzing Difference)
– Colgate University (Communities and Identities)
– Hamilton College (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies)
– Davidson College (Cultural Diversity)
There are probably more, but I was too tired to find them. I was surprised to find that some of the colleges above had such a requirement given that they can lean more conservative, but then again, a college leaning conservative relative to its peers doesn’t mean much. Williams, for example, is more “conservative” than its peer LACs but is liberal as an institution.