The Global Engagement Minor (GEM) is a new course of study proposed to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) on Thursday, May 7th. The current proposal is a revision, after a first proposal in mid-April was vetoed by the EPC due to student concerns. Billed as an “evolution” which will replace the existing Certificate in International Relations (which, like most certificates, was recently renamed as a minor), GEM emphasizes an understanding of global systems, personal growth and reflection through engagement with culture, communication skills, and, most importantly, intercultural competence.
The GEM was proposed by the Fries Center, with Stephen Angle, Professor of Philosophy and East Asian Studies and Director of the Fries Center for Global Studies, as the primary sponsor. The GEM task force also includes professors from the government department, various language departments, and members of other internationally-focused departments (such as the Office of study abroad).
The idea for the new minor came from studies of similar programs at other institutions, like Mount Holyoke College, various student discussions, and faculty dissatisfaction with the CIR.
“…faculty and staff involved with the existing Certificate in International Relations (CIR) have expressed concern that it has become more of a bare credential for students than a well-designed learning experience,” the proposal reads.
One of the minor’s requirements—termed “on-campus cultural immersion”—raised concerns from students when it was first proposed to the EPC on April 16th. Because it suggested joining affinity-based or internationally-related clubs or program houses (as well as TA-ing language classes or being an ISO intern), some felt that it was tokenizing, a form of “cultural tourism,” or simply invasive. It raised questions of who the minor was for, or was serving.
“I think there was some major worry from a lot of the student body that that is something that places undue burden on these populations,” Tara Nair ’21 said. “For international students and a lot of POC who view cultural clubs or program houses as places of solidarity and safe spaces on a majority-white campus, there is some discomfort surrounding the fact that somebody is entering those spaces to learn about it and is not necessarily giving something back. So it feels more like a taking relationship than a learning relationship.”
After the proposal was vetoed at the EPC meeting in April due to these concerns, among others—including the extensive requirements as compared to the CIR—it was reworked and revised. The proposal received feedback from students, and Professor Angle met with Nair and Jake Kwon ’21, Chair of the WSA’s Academic Affairs Committee. Student input led to two significant changes: a re-understanding of intercultural competence as an on-going process rather than a state one achieves, and making on-campus cultural immersion a recommendation rather than a requirement. Additional changes include a more explicitly complex definition of “culture” and demographic data on students consulted through the process (including majors, languages spoken, and background), among others.
The minor is bookended by two seminars and includes academics, co-curricular work, an ePortfolio, and experiential learning (like study abroad). Requirements also include second language proficiency and off-campus cultural immersion.
“To do it, it’s not just about taking classes,” Angle said. “Taking classes matters, but since this is about trying to—not just learn things, but also develop as human beings in our individual, unique ways.”
Current sophomores and juniors (classes of 2022 and 2021, respectively) will still be able to declare or complete the IR certificate, but the GEM proposal makes it clear that the intent is to fully phase out the CIR after two years. This accommodation ensures that first-years and sophomores who have already started the International Relations track will not lose their progress toward the certificate. In addition, the government department’s international relations concentration will still exist, and could be a substitute for students wishing to engage with the discipline of International Relations.
Angle spoke to the importance of intercultural competence and cultural knowledge.
“We just think that even when you have got the most subtle, dynamic, internally complicated version of culture, culture still matters,” Angle said. “The languages we speak still matter. They’re not monolithic—you know, there’s worries about the hegemony of English and so on that we very much share. But we think that this provides a really good platform precisely to think about those things and to do something about them, and to connect up the doing and the thinking.”
Sophie Griffin can be reached at email@example.com.