Core 151 at Colgate, Uncategorized

The Legacy of Legacies of The Ancient World.

An illustration made by an anonymous Colgate student. This illustration was included in the Core Legacies Report from the Student Brown Bag (Spring 2017).

Why am I taking Legacies of the Ancient World?

The Core Curriculum has been the heart of Colgate’s education since 1928 and was created to provide students with a common learning experience. Legacies of the Ancient World was created as part of the Core Curriculum to help students develop into wise, thoughtful humans that could think critically within a global and historical perspective. 

Why should I not be taking Legacies?

Though Legacies explores ancient texts that establish the basis of intellectual discourse and critical thought across different cultures (Homer, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Plato and Roman texts), the core has faced criticisms from students and faculty. Students are scrutinizing the Eurocentricity in the required texts. Though Colgate has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, students at Colgate feel that their legacies are being silenced and ignored; Core 151 inadvertently promotes dominant white cultural narratives, while marginalizing non-western cultures.

Colgate students are NOT alone.

Jesse Jackson leads a student protest against Stanford’s Western Culture program in 1987.

Since 1987 at Stanford University, students have raised concerns about classes that solely promote Eurocentric traditions, uphold white supremacy and send the message that non-western cultures are not sophisticated enough to study. Students at Columbia University and Reed College still don’t feel that their administration is listening, as some of their courses still lack diversity. Unironically, these colleges and many more, including Colgate, advertise diversity, however they continue to defend courses that overshadow the legacy of any non-western, non-white culture. It is necessary for administrations to finally reassess the relevance of their required classes to issues of race, gender, class and sexual orientations–33 years is long enough.

The Legacy of Legacies of the Ancient World.

The texts taught in Core 151 are essential to learn as they inform us how past traditions can influence culture in our current lives. However, is Core 151 truly assisting students after they leave Colgate or is it time to fully reinvent the Core. To help answer this question, I decided to ask 3 different Colgate generations about their experience with Core 151: Louise Harris (‘87), Desiree Arjomand (‘15), and Si Wei (‘20). 

Colgate describes Legacies as a course taught by a variety of multidisciplinary staff each with their own perspectives, however it is clear that Colgate has not encouraged and reinforced their professors enough to explore and learn new diverse texts on their own and leave their comfort zone. Louise remembers her professor was passionate about Greek texts. Unfortunately, because of that her semester was entirely focused on the texts only her professor related to. Si and Desiree agreed that their professors, while extremely knowledgeable, tended to stay within their passions and comfort zones– in their case the Hebrew Bible. In all three instances, Desiree, Si and Louise did not experience a wide range of texts because their professors felt most comfortable teaching Western texts instead. To change this, Colgate needs to take the time and effort to train their staff to be knowledgeable about all societies– not just one. 

Cade Smith (‘24), a student currently taking Legacies, firmly believes that students should be reading more diversified texts such as Buddhist texts. Cade argues that Buddhist texts are refreshing as Buddhism is different from many religions found in the non-Asiatic world. Louise, Desiree and Si all agreed that they would have appreciated reading this life-guiding philosophical perspective. Desiree argued that Legacies would have been the perfect opportunity for Colgate to expose her to Buddhist texts, since she did not take many humanities courses. Similarly, Si argued that “without diverse texts, Legacies leans and promotes the white male perspective”. Throughout three different generations, Colgate has failed to change that narrative by not introducing required texts from non-white cultures. 

Louise praised Colgate for now introducing a wider variety of texts (Qur’an and Bhagavad-Gita), however these texts are optional. This continues to spread the message that some cultures are not important enough to be required for students and that their required texts are the only texts that represent the legacies of the world. Because of this, Si and Desiree felt that their legacies and traditions were blatantly ignored. Rather than combating these criticisms by completely diversifying their reading list, Colgate changed the name of Western Traditions to Legacies of the Ancient World. Clearly, the Core Curriculum was putting a bandaid solution on a much bigger problem. 

Is there hope for Core 151?

A peaceful student lead protest on September 22, 2014. Students peacefully supported diversity and inclusion. They advocated against bias incidents and racism on campus.

As one final note, I asked everyone if it would be better to structure Core 151 with a central theme (Justice, Feminism, etc.). Si suggested that each course have a different central theme, so students would be able to explore their individual interests. If we restructure the course this way, students will be able to read a wide range of texts connected by a theme and the course won’t send the message that culture is not strictly a Western, white-male phenomenon. 

This course is not Legacies of the Ancient World, rather it is some legacies from parts of the ancient world. There needs to be a fundamental change to the University’s curriculum if Colgate wants to accurately represent a variety of cultures through history and to maintain the high diversity standard that Colgate proudly encourages. 

Actions speak louder than words and it is time for action.

Isabelle Malone is a freshmen at Colgate University. She is from Chappaqua, New York, and is planning on majoring in Neuroscience or Psychology.