Establishing World History as a Meaningful Diversity Requirement

Susanna C Calkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Students entering college today often bring with them a host of painful, frightening, and provocative images that help inform their perceptions of the world. Many enter a world history classroom with disturbing stereotypes, half-truths, and misconceptions about the world and the people and cultures that inhabit it. One of the great challenges for history teachers (and indeed, all educators) is to help students explore different myths, traditions, and belief systems, not only to understand other cultures and societies, but to help them probe their own deeply held values, beliefs, and ideals. For this reason, many universities have designated the world history course as a diversity requirement, on the assumption that such a course would broaden student perspectives, challenge students to think more complexly about history and historical texts, and prepare students to be citizens of the global community.

As Arthur Levine has noted, universities have a responsibility to stress multiculturalism and diversity on campus "to legitimize both the intellectual and the emotional aspects of diverse cultures in academic and campus life in teaching, research, and service." Being exposed to diversity is crucial, particularly in a student's first year of college. As such, the world history course, often taken in the student's freshman year, has the potential to play a particularly significant role in a student's academic and social development. Research has shown that exposure to an inclusive global curriculum helps students: (1) adjust better to the academic and social challenges of college, (2) find a place for themselves in the academy, (3) progress towards degree completion, and (4) develop a strong sense of academic self-esteem that helps them believe they will succeed.4 Ideally, a world history curriculum would help reinforce student awareness about different ethnicities through a multiplicity of perspectives.

Yet the adoption of a world history curriculum does not necessarily mean that a global perspective has been adopted in the classroom, let alone that the intended diversity requirement has been realized. Often, a Western bias remains at the heart of many of world history courses, usually unintentional and generally without malice. Nevertheless, a slanted perspective can hurt all students, but particularly those who are excluded. Anderson points out: "For students of color, bias can occur in the curriculum when they do not see themselves represented in curricular materials, when multicultural materials are addressed as an "add on" to traditional course content, or when personal growth and self-esteem are not offered in positive ways." Thus, instructors must seek to construct and implement a world history course that will induce college students to broaden their political, religious, and ethical world views. Only then will world history as a diversity requirement acquire real meaning.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalWorld History Connected: The EJournal of Learning and Teaching
StatePublished - 2005


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