Following racist incidents, First-Year Experience courses add inclusive excellence curriculum

Following racist incidents, First-Year Experience courses add inclusive excellence curriculum

Shakailah Heard, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Correspondent

STATESBORO — Following recent racist incidents involving Georgia Southern students and those taking place across the nation, the 2019-2020 FYE Steering Committee has added more modules to the first-year experience (FYE) course, to help students understand diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) better. 

Maurice Nelson, assistant director of multicultural affairs and inclusive excellence fellow, wrote the DEI curriculum outline and built out the five DEI modules all with the partnership of Finbarr Curtis, associate professor in religious studies.

“There are actually five brand new modules that have been embedded into our FYE course that focus explicitly on inclusive excellence,” said TaJuan Wilson, associate vice president of inclusive excellence and chief diversity officer.

“The success as an institution depends on how well students and staff engage in matters of DEI,” Wilson added.

The five modules consist of terms for the students to know and topics to discuss. The topics throughout the modules include diversity, equity, inclusion, privilege, valuing diversity and bias.

Instructors are expected to teach students with the modules and connect with students by meeting them where there are and then challenging students to also create their own personal action plan for the things that they can do to help the institution move forward with respect to this work too, said Wilson.

Chris Caplinger is an assistant professor of the department of history and a FYE instructor this year.

“We’re going over key terms related to DEI… there were many terms in there that were not terms that students have not really encountered or that they encountered in different ways,” said Caplinger.

The modules talk about all the material that someone would expect from a comprehensive diversity training, according to Wilson. Caplinger said he likes the direction the modules are going in.

“Instead of leaving it to chance as to whether or not you will learn this, [students are being] exposed to this as a student at the university,” Wilson said, “It literally is embedded in your FYE course in a way that is more meaningful and intentional than perhaps ever before.”

“It is going to continue to be a process, we’re going to have to continue to have conversations and not with just new groups of students,” said Caplinger.

Wilson believes students are generally more open now because of recent racist incidents here at Georgia Southern and across the nation and are willing to engage in the difficult dialogue.

“Recent events have absolutely played a part. I’ve been so encouraged by our students because I think [students] are willing to have difficult conversations,” Wilson said. “I think you can’t ignore those events.”

Olivia Hicks, a freshman multimedia journalism student, said she wants to be able to talk to different people in the FYE class to see their perspective on how they view the topics, and not just a teacher’s point of view.

“We should be put in groups with people that are different from us so we can learn from each other,” said Hicks.

Wilson says people are craving this knowledge right now and in many ways, issues of DEI have been highlighted.

“If we really value inclusive excellence, which we do, we have an obligation to expose all of our students, all of our faculty, and all of our staff to training and education around this work. And I think that’s what folks are starting to see is that we’re shifting in that direction,” said Wilson, “Are we perfect? Absolutely not, but are we committed to doing better.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly noted that the DEI curriculum was created by the office of inclusive excellence. The curriculum was developed by the FYE steering committee. The George-Anne regrets this mistake.