ERIC Identifier: ED424898
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Zeszotarski, Paula
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Multiculturalism in the Community College Curriculum. ERIC
Issues of multiculturalism have generated changes in community college
curricula in both form and content. This Digest introduces some definitions of
multiculturalism, demonstrates why a multicultural curriculum is particularly
important to community colleges, and provides case studies to illustrate ways in
which multiculturalism is being incorporated into the curriculum and
The term "multicultural" has generated
considerable debate in educational circles. The purpose of multicultural
curricula is "to accommodate and respect the varied cultural origins of our
diverse population" (Eaton, 1997). Takaki (author of A Different Mirror: A
History of Multicultural America and professor of ethnic studies for 20 years)
defines the objectives of multicultural education: "The multicultural class is
the place where students can understand their larger community, and figure out
what it means to be an American. It is a place where we study the question, How
do our paths intersect?" (Reid, 1995).
IMPORTANCE OF MULTICULTURAL CURRICULA IN COMMUNITY
Multicultural courses are designed to enhance students' ability to
function in an increasingly diverse society and empower them as citizens who can
make a difference. Goals for student learning in multicultural courses include
developing an appreciation of the "knowledge traditions within the contemporary
United States," providing an understanding of the role of racial, cultural and
ethnic differences in the formation of our national identity, evaluating diverse
views of the interrelationship of self and community, exploring the individual
students' own cultural heritage, and developing the ability to read and compare
cultures through their cultural expressions (Olguin & Schmitz, 1997).
Providing a curriculum which reflects the experiences of a diverse population
also helps in retaining traditionally underrepresented student populations by
providing a curriculum which is culturally relevant (Reid, 1995). This is
nowhere more important than in community colleges which currently enroll 42% of
all first time college students as well as 46% of all minority students in
higher education (Foote, 1997).
The creation of new courses is
central to the process of including multicultural issues in the curriculum.
Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, California serves a community which is
largely Latino and Southeast Asian. A course entitled, "American Pluralism in
Microcosm: The City of Santa Ana as Text" proved to be an effective means of
increasing students' appreciation and respect for cultural diversity in this
community (Nixon et. al., 1997). Student teams that prepared reports on the
cultural expressions of the diverse populations in Santa Ana resulted in
increased interactions among students of different cultures. Students exhibited
creative responses to the assignment by producing thematic maps of the city,
videotapes on the city's history, and collages illustrating diversity in
religion, art, and other dimensions. Classroom discussion focused on questions
of what it means to be an American, what causes divisions, and what binds people
together. The basic idea of the course has been transplanted into various
existing courses and expanded to include other communities.
CHANGES IN THE OVERALL CURRICULUM
Overall changes to
academic disciplines, departments, and degree programs are an equally important
aspect of creating a multicultural curriculum. Fresno City College (FCC) has
undertaken the development of a new American Studies discipline that will
address issues of pluralism and identity. The first step in this process was the
creation of a new course, "American Pluralism: The Search for the Common
Ground." The college's American Pluralism and Identity Committee is presently
working on integrating sections of American Literature, American History and
Ethnic Studies into the new discipline (FCC, 1997).
Many FCC faculty reported that class discussions centered on the difficulty
of defining a common American identity rather than on issues uniting our
society. Others commented that our society was more divided by social class than
by race, ethnicity, or gender. These discussions affirmed the importance of a
continuing dialogue on diversity in the curriculum (FCC, 1997).
Itawamba Community College (ICC) (Mississippi) has revised curricula across
various disciplines according to a framework of four questions: What does it
mean to be American? What divides us? What brings us together? What do we have
in common? Students consider these questions on a personal level as well as
through academic materials. For example, participants in the American Literature
class applied these questions to the works of Colonial and Renaissance period
authors (ICC, 1997).
Concern for multicultural issues
shapes co-curricular as well as academic programs. ICC established a
Multicultural Speakers Forum which addressed issues of identity and pluralism
from a national perspective and included local, prominent representatives of the
Native-American, African-American, Mexican-American, Asian-American and Southern
FCC includes extracurricular activities in its action plan for including
multicultural perspectives. Activities are designed to include the community as
well as the campus. The Social Science Division presented, "Growing Together in
the Twentieth Century: The Search for Common Values in the Midst of Our
Diversity," a symposium which included a student essay contest, a panel
discussion by FCC students representing the various ethnic groups who attend the
college, and a celebration of multiculturalism. The program was co-sponsored by
FCC, Fresno State University, and community service agencies in conjunction with
the National Endowment for the Humanities (FCC, 1997).
REINFORCING THE FOUNDATIONS
Faculty participation is
essential to curricular changes. However, faculty who are trained in the
traditional disciplines are not necessarily qualified to teach courses with a
multicultural perspective (Reid, 1995). To address this issue, institutions do
provide in-service forums as well as opportunities to attend conferences but
these efforts do not always have an impact on the curriculum. In the Maricopa
Community Colleges (Arizona), multiculturalism was made a faculty development
priority in 1993-1994. Opportunities for discussion were made available but not
required. As a result, only one or two of the 800 faculty members reported
making changes in the curriculum as a result of these efforts (Story, 1997).
Faculty commitment and preparation are necessary for the success of any
curricular change. Story (1997) suggests that the administration must provide
both time and resources to allow faculty to create and sustain a more inclusive
Curricular changes also require additional supporting materials. ICC's action
plan aims to "enhance teaching and learning about American pluralism" through
the restructuring of courses as well as a commitment to new resources. The
library acquired both print and video materials which focus on the
Native-American, African-American, and Latino experience in the United States
In recent years, a major goal of curricular
change has been the inclusion of a multicultural perspective in order to prepare
all students to participate in a society with a heightened sense of its own
pluralism. Additionally, since community colleges are responsible for educating
a large proportion of traditionally underrepresented students, the curriculum
must be relevant and inclusive to encourage success among these students.
Efforts at including a multicultural perspective in the curriculum include
creating new courses and revamping existing ones, creating new departments and
degree programs to support these courses, providing extracurricular activities,
re-training faculty, and enhancing instructional materials.
To ensure that students develop at least an understanding of the issues
raised in a pluralistic society, Takaki advocates that colleges go beyond
creating multicultural courses to establishing a multicultural requirement for
graduation (Reid, 1995). According to a 1992 survey (Reid, 1995), only 20 per
cent of community colleges have a multicultural general education requirement
while 48 per cent of four-year institutions have this requirement. A general
education requirement coupled with the curricular reform activities presented in
this Digest are the sign of community colleges commitment to creating
environments in which diversity is accepted and valued.
Eaton, J. S. (1997). Promoting coherence in the
transfer process. In J. G. Gaff & J. L. Ratcliff (Eds.), Handbook of the
undergraduate curriculum. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Foote, E. (1997) "Community Colleges: General Information and Resources."
ERIC Digest. (EDO-JC-98-01).
Fresno City College. (1997) "Fresno City College, Exploring America's
Communities. Progress Report." (ED 403 937).
Itawamba Community College. (1997) "Itawamba Community College, Exploring
America's Communities Progress Report." (ED 403 943).
Nixon, J., Osborne, T. and Veyna. A. F. (1997) "American Pluralism in
Microcosm: The City of Santa Ana as Text." (ED 403 954).
Olguin, E. and Schmitz, B. (1997). Transforming the curriculum through
diversity. In J. G. Gaff & J. L. Ratcliff (Eds.), Handbook of the
undergraduate curriculum. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Piland, W. and Silva, C. (1996). "Multiculturalism and Diversity in the
Community College Curriculum." Community College Journal of Research and
Practice, 20 (1), 35-48.
Reid, G. (1995). "On Technology, Curricula, and Ethnic Diversity: Mapping the
Route to the New Millennium." Community College Journal, 95, 65 (5), 18-24.
Story, N. O. (1996). Weaving the American Tapestry: Multicultural Education
in the Community College. In R. L. Raby & N. Tarrow, (Eds.) Dimensions of
the Community College: International, Intercultural and Multicultural
Perspectives. pp. 79-110. (ED 393 519).