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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

In Defense of an Intersectional Education

The liberal arts curriculum advertises itself as preparing us with skills that will apply to any job we might take while offering a selection of classes that spans a multitude of academic disciplines. In some ways, the curriculum is changing, in others it remains deeply rooted in tradition. Some departments are more traditional than others; English majors are expected to be familiar with great works from Shakespeare to modernists and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies majors study works that critique traditional, culturally determined lines of thought — but they all come away with the skills to write, articulate their ideas and critically analyze the world around them. We write today to commend Middlebury on the strides it has taken in making our education more broad and inclusive and to encourage even more breadth and interdisciplinary study that will allow us to modernize our education and experience different perspectives.

Starting next semester, the changes to the AAL requirement will go into effect. For those not in the know, students have been campaigning to alter the AAL requirement for several years now, the argument being that current cultural requirements are euro-centric and lump all cultures that are not North American or European together. Students are currently required to take one course concerning North America, one concerning Europe, one comparative and then one from literally anywhere else. The new requirement will separate North and South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America and make a more equitable representation of cultures a part of the Middlebury experience. There will be five regions of which you will have to get credits in three plus a comparative credit. This gives more agency to students in crafting their own education and it will be possible to avoid a euro-centric education if one wishes.

Middlebury faculty are also considering an Education major for the first time (so long as it is a double major) which will give students teaching credentials in Vermont. Among other developments, there is now a movement to expand the American Sign Language offerings and the College has started to offer newer classes in journalism and finance. We applaud these moves that we believe will move Middlebury forward in fostering an inclusive, modern education.

We have also seen the introduction of academic clusters — food studies, privilege and poverty, the global health minor — that allow students to acknowledge and follow trends in their studies even across traditional academic disciplines. These clusters cross departmental boundaries from economics to anthropology to environmental studies to literature. We encourage the school to continue to foster these relevant and interdisciplinary clusters and advise students to take advantage of them. We also believe that there are ways to make existing classes more interdisciplinary and far-reaching. One way to do this would be more interdepartmental communication and collaboration. For example, more professors could invite their colleagues more frequently to present, for example, both anthropological and economic sides of the same issue, or else literary and social theory. More classes could be joint taught by professors and cross-listed between departments. Many professors have studied the same historical moments, cultural movements and novels in their various disciplines. J-term is a prime example both of where interdisciplinary classes already happen and a prime opportunity to have more of them. Another great example of an already-existing major that is interdisciplinary and interdepartmental is neuroscience, which draws on psychology, biology and even philosophy courses.

By making our experience more wideranging, more diverse and allowing us to think about issues in a variety of ways, the Middlebury curriculum can continue to evolve with the times and keep the liberal arts education relevant. We commend the College on the ways it has already helped the Middlebury experience to evolve and encourage the Middlebury community at large to continue to think critically about the education we are receiving and how to make that education as intentional and as relevant as possible.