Samford University’s Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives, Howard College for Arts and Sciences and the Center for Faculty Success and Continuing Professional Development presented a virtual seminar Sept. 15 to highlight the many ways the university’s unique Core Curriculum engages with issues at the forefront of public discourse in America.
Samford provost Michael Hardin said the Core Curriculum’s strength lies in providing all undergraduate students a common set of courses—Biblical Foundations, Communication Arts, Cultural Perspectives and Concepts of Fitness and Health—rooted in Christian tradition. “The courses of the curriculum present important works and ideas to help students address the enduring questions of justice, equity, law, freedom and their duties as citizens that bear centrally on the current demand for racial justice and equality,” Hardin said.
Jason Wallace, director of the Cultural Perspectives (CP) program, said issues of racial justice are a strong thread in CP text selections, which include 23 authors representing minority or non-Western voices. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the program’s designated 20th century author. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail is required reading, and Wallace said the curriculum this fall added more of King’s writing as well as work by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois. CP faculty enrich those readings and discussions with special activities that have included guest speakers, a symposium on King’s legacy and visits to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Wallace expects that intentional effort to increase in coming years. “We will continue to monitor, discuss and innovate pressing civic, social and moral questions as they emerge in our time period, and as they connect with the bigger conversation we are asking of our students,” he said.
Tim Sutton, director of the Communication Arts component of the Core Curriculum, said the second course of the series he leads is a seminar focused on key skills of research and writing. “The seminar model is a great opportunity for bringing diversity into the Core Curriculum because our faculty are able to choose themes that guide their teaching of writing and speaking,” he said. The common CA themes might not appear to be related to diversity, but faculty enrich them through their unique experience and expertise, framing the topics as a guide for student research. “Students are then able to take responsibility for learning in detail about what they’re studying,” Sutton said. Their broad focus on communication might become a paper on visual representations of people of color, for example.
Roy Ciampa, chair of the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, said the Biblical Foundations (BF) curriculum includes significant attention to issues of race and ethnic diversity. “These things come up naturally given the context in which, and for which, the biblical books were originally written, and in which they have especially been appreciated in the centuries since then,” Ciampa said. BF students consider the immigrant, outsider and oppressed people of scripture. They also engage with minority interpretations of scripture and read the many biblical references to slavery while imagining themselves to be slaves. “Proper study of the Bible recognizes that we’re dealing with a cross-cultural experience,” Ciampa said.
Samford public health professors Ahinee Amamoo and Rachel Casiday described their recent work to broaden the Concepts of Fitness and Health curriculum to relate physical, spiritual, behavioral and financial health to issues of race and ethnicity. Casiday said the classes address social determiners of health, such as the way systemic racism influences available food choices and access to health care. “It’s important that we feel that when students leave Concepts of Fitness and Health, they understand that it is not just important to think about their individual health, but also to think about the health of those in the population,” Amamoo said.
“We’re engaged in the hard intellectual work of teaching—what some have called a subversive activity—and it is both hard and subversive because we’re trying to overturn our own prejudices, among other things,” said Howard College of Arts and Sciences dean Tim Hall. Hall said approximately 40 courses in the college address issues of racial justice. “I think we can do better,” he said, “but what we have already done is going to provide us with a broad base for the work that we still need to do, and strengthen and sustain our efforts to engage our students in issues of racial justice and equality, and to do that from a robust Christian foundation.”