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SIAR gen-ed requirement to start Fall 2025

Students will be required to take a general education course on Social Inequality and Anti-Racism starting in the fall semester of 2025 after Professors McGovern and Riordan-Goncalves, and two Monmouth students, petitioned to add the requirement for all students.

Associate Professor and Sociology Program Director Jen McGovern, Ph.D., and Associate Professor and Department Chair of World Languages and Cultures Julia Riordan-Goncalves, Ph.D., have worked over the last few years with several students, some of whom have now graduated, to add a new general education requirement for students that would teach them about important, current issues such as systematic inequality and anti-racism (SIAR).

This project began in 2020. According to Riordan-Goncalves, students started a new student organization called Students for Systemic Change. This included three students and founding members, Jenai Bacote, Brittany Macaluso, and Cameron Gaines. They talked to many different students and faculty members, in addition to President Leahy, to discuss racial disparities on campus and to advocate for social justice at Monmouth.

After researching this topic, the group determined that Monmouth did not have any required classes that addressed issues such as racism, systemic inequalities, or anti-racism. They then sought to add more to the General Education Cultural Diversity requirement because they thought it was insufficient in addressing such important topics.

Not all Civil Discourse (CD) classes were required to cover these topics, and because general education requirements vary depending on a student’s major and when they started college, not all students were required to take a CD class.

This lack of discussion was then brought to the Monmouth faculty’s attention, and a request to develop some type of class or requirement to fill this void in discussion topic was made. The idea in mind that these students and faculty had was that this would help educate and prepare all Monmouth University students to have discussions and read about historically oppressed groups, their contributions, and the existing systemic inequities in the United States.

The Faculty Council began to work on this immediately, starting with charging the General Education Oversight Committee to do thorough research on the issue. Since the fall semester of 2020, there have been several faculty members who have worked on this endeavor. They developed a proposal through internal and external research and outreach to faculty and students.

“It can take time to get a curriculum change passed because it needs to be right. We need to get as much feedback as possible and do thorough research on what is needed and what is feasible at Monmouth, and what best practices are at other colleges and universities,” said Riordan-Goncalves.

A complete proposal for the new requirement was brought to the full faculty on Wednesday, Mar. 6. This proposal was for a new General Education designation called SIAR (Systemic Inequalities and Anti-Racism). It will be like a Writing Intensive or Executive Education (EXED) requirement. This means there are no extra credits attached to courses under the designation, but they will need to address specific student learning outcomes.

This also means that in a course that fits this requirement, students will be actively learning about racism, systemic inequality, and oppression in the United States, as well as the important contributions of members of groups who have been historically oppressed within the country. There will also have to be a part of these courses where students learn strategies for anti-racism and anti-discrimination.
At the end of the proposal presentation, the faculty voted unanimously to approve it. Though this step was important, the gen-ed requirement still needs to be approved at a few higher levels within the University. If it is fully approved, it will go into effect in fall of 2025 for incoming students.

Even though there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before students are required to take these courses, Riordan-Goncalves has high hopes for the outcome. “I hope that this requirement will help to grow a greater sense of belonging and understanding among students. Some people tend to assume that the younger generations have a good understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging, yet we know through anecdotal and hard data that misunderstandings, microaggressions, and racist acts happen every day on school campuses, including Monmouth.”

Riordan-Goncalves continued, “This requirement is just one piece of the work being done at Monmouth, but it’s an important piece. I hope students will get the information they want and need, and also develop a meaningful social awareness and an understanding of what they can do in their lives and professions to combat racism and oppression.”

Despite being in the works for almost four years now, this project was brought back because of two current Monmouth students. Taylor Johnson-Bradley (junior, sociology) and Madison Latimer (junior, criminal justice) shed light on this issue to Riordan-Goncalves and McGovern. Johnson-Bradley and Latimer helped create a new survey for students so that better data could be collected on the general atmosphere surrounding these topics at Monmouth. Though neither Johnson-Bradley nor Latimer would be taking these courses as a gen-ed requirement, both have taken them for their majors, and both have agreed on the overall importance of learning about these issues.

“I think as a black girl, a black person, and a black woman at a predominately white institution, it’s kind of uncomfortable in classrooms to talk about race, and people aren’t educated enough on race and racism and what happens in this country. I think not just for sociology, but for every major, to know about racism is important to go out in life and to use these skills to go out and make good decisions that don’t negatively affect someone’s life,” said Johnson-Bradley.

Even though students who started courses at Monmouth previous to 2025 are not required to take these classes, McGovern says there are many ways these students can still learn about these issues. “We can always learn more about the topics that interest us. Some students really like documentaries, so seek out documentaries that teach you about this; other students like podcasts. There’s a lot of really good podcasts that will kind of touch on some of this. There are both fiction and nonfiction books. Take the initiative to talk to someone who’s taken one of these classes or talk to the faculty who learned this and say, ‘Hey, I really want to learn this, can you recommend any materials that I can look through on my own?’ That’s something that someone can always do, on any topic, but especially about this topic. Ask an expert,” emphasized McGovern.

Though there is no doubt in these scholars’ minds that this is an important issue that needs discussion, it has also become obvious to them through work and through their studies that many people are not up for these difficult conversations, according to Johnson-Bradley. “I think people get really uncomfortable because when you look at race, you have to look at things that are wrong in this country. I think it’s hard for people to believe or want to believe that our country really is a racist country, and a lot of what our country is, is built on racism. People want to think that we’re in a post-racist society when we’re not, and I think that it makes people uncomfortable. I think it makes them question a lot of what they know, and people don’t want, or have a hard time, coming to terms with that fact: that what we know isn’t alright,” Johnson-Bradley explained.

McGovern concluded, “The world we live in today is full of people who look different from us in terms of race and ethnicity, and we are going to have to learn how to interact with those people. Part of that involves understanding better the history: all the good and the bad, all the ways we overcame discrimination, as well as all the ways discrimination still exists. So if Monmouth students are going to be future leaders and co-workers of people of all different races working together, knowing what kind of things people of color face is especially important. Monmouth students, no matter what their race, can design policies, can design institutions, can design companies that are more inclusive… so to know actually how to do that is such a key to living in this world as we know i