Petition to Reinstate Western Civilization Course Requirement at Stanford Garners Criticism

An initiative at Stanford University to reinstate a “Western Civilization” course requirement to the university’s core curriculum is being voted on by students today. Editors of The Stanford Review, an independent campus publication, published a manifesto in February announcing a petition to add the course, which has not been mandatory since 1988.

The addition of the course is being proposed nearly 30 years after Stanford abolished it from the core curriculum in reaction to student protestors, led by Jesse Jackson, who demanded its removal.

Offered through the Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program at the university, the “Western Civilization” course is only available to a small fraction of undergraduate students; through SLE, 90 students have the option of taking the class.

In a statement, included in an email to Stanford undergraduates, editors of The Stanford Review said: “In accordance with Stanford’s commitment to educating its students, and in recognition of the unique role Western culture has had in shaping our political, economic, and social institutions, Stanford University should mandate that freshmen complete a two-quarter Western civilization requirement covering the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world.”

Students were quick to criticize the initiative, with some even organizing a counter-campaign focused on promoting diversity, called the Who’s Teaching Us (WTU) Coalition. The group drafted a list of 24 demands to improve diversity and inclusion on campus, including hiring more minority faculty members. In addition, WTU recommended an alternative to the SLE program that would focus on “social justice and anti-oppression scholarship, with an emphasis on works by people of color.”

In an article published in The Stanford Daily, undergraduate student Mara Chin Loy disputed the need to study Western culture.

“We don’t need to learn about Western civilization and its ideals, because we have spent every moment of our lives resisting and fighting to live and love ourselves so that we can transcend Western values,” Loy wrote.

Editors of The Stanford Review argue that a common civilization requirement is essential for students to understand the society in which they live.

“Social awareness arises from a common set of values and norms,” an editorial in the publication says. “Societies neither function nor prosper without shared beliefs, values, or customs. Even if one disagrees with these principles and traditions, reform cannot occur without understanding the historical context in which they arose.”

Despite backlash, The Stanford Review’s petition gained 370 signatures, making it eligible to be included on the Associated Students of Stanford University elections ballot. Voting began Thursday, April 7 and concludes Friday, April 8.

However, even if the majority of students vote for the course’s reinstatement, the initiative would still have to be approved by faculty.