This semester, the University of Connecticut is offering two one-credit, seven-week UNIV 3088 courses for undergraduate and graduate students to take. “Confronting Anti-Asian Racism” and “Climate Crisis: Take Action” are both being offered as online, asynchronous courses beginning Aug. 29 and running through Oct. 14.
It is important to confront anti-Asian racism as well as take action regarding the climate crisis — these topics should be discussed at length at UConn and similar institutions. However, doing so in the form of a streamlined class through HuskyCT is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. It’s good to have this information and these classes available to students who elect to take them; however, it isn’t enough to truly advance the social justice concerns highlighted by these courses.
Often, these one-credit UNIV courses boil down to a few readings, videos and multiple choice quizzes that students can breeze through. Thus, while the information is technically being presented to students, there is nothing in the structure requiring students to retain information, or otherwise interact with the coursework in a meaningful way. Courses on these topics should be accessible while also encouraging a basic level of intellectual rigor. For example, written responses incorporating one’s personal experiences or attitudes allow for further critical reflection on the course content than a simple multiple choice quiz.
There is a lot of value in further understanding these topics, and further good in incentivizing students to take formal classes on them by offering credit for doing so. However, the ease at which students can pass these courses without actually learning the information presented or putting in substantial work is problematic, with the additional consequence of undermining the meaning of the class content as well as work and time put into the creation of these courses by faculty. A pass/fail course does not incentivize knowledge or understanding, rather trial-and-error practices that will still give students credit at the end of the day. In essence, these one-credit UNIV courses do not push students to further understand social issues as they exist now.
If the university wants to incorporate social justice into its curriculum, it can’t do so with a one-size-fits-all Band-Aid of an optional one-credit UNIV course. For example, the university could increase funding and support toward cultural centers or climate-action based organizations and involve them in the creation of these courses.
If there was truly an interest in teaching this information to students, this information could be made into general education requirements
.. For example, starting in the 2019-2022 catalog year, UConn implemented an Environmental Literacy general education requirement. Thus, general education requirements are clearly flexible enough to change with our ever-changing world. Part of that should include acknowledging, understanding and learning about societal systems of oppression on a more formal basis than optional electives.
However, these UNIV courses are a simple “fix” to merely make it seem as if something is being done right here at UConn about long-standing, systemic issues, but without tangible action to remediate the issues being highlighted.
Incorporating social justice education into the general curriculum is one of many ways in which UConn can commit to advancing equity and sustainability. Should it take supporting marginalized groups and environmental justice seriously, the university could use its resources to invest further in cultural centers, make good on its promises as outlined in the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment and incorporate a dialogic or community-participatory element into existing social justice-oriented courses.
While “Confronting Anti-Asian Racism” and “Climate Crisis: Take Action,” along with the similar UNIV courses UConn has offered in the past on anti-Black racism in the United States and confronting antisemitism are certainly starting points, there is significantly more work to be done. The ease of these UNIV courses make them accessible to the larger student body and advantageous. However, these courses in general are not transforming the systemic issues they attempt to, especially in light of wider curricula flaws and ongoing injustices at UConn. They instead create a false perception of change as-is.