The college campus epitomizes the contradictions of identity and difference within systems of power: on the one hand, it is where many students say they first understood the importance of diversity, while, on the other hand, it has failed both to resolve race-differentiated social stratification and to deliver safety to Black and Indigenous students, and students of color. Even as we participate in the national narrative that “things are better than they were before,” race, gender, sex, sexual identity, class, disability, and citizenship remain key forces of exclusion, inequality, and oppression. What has changed are the conditions of inclusion and exclusion.
To understand these paradoxes and contradictions, this class will focus on the college campus as an institution that both reflects and reproduces its context – including social inequalities. As a course interested in diversity, this will focus our attention on how college students have launched some of the most impactful political protests and public debates, such as the interracial student strikes at San Francisco State College of 1968-69. We will also trace how their demands have become selectively mainstreamed, such as through the creation of diversity general education requirements and the acceptance of previously excluded populations who find themselves treated more like objects to be learned about than student equals. As a course in multiethnic literature, we will enter this analysis through the literary genre of the campus story, and the theoretical field of critical university studies, while centralizing works by artists of color. Throughout, we will use an intersectional lens to ask: What social function is higher education supposed to do? What does it actually do? How can centering the perspectives of people of color help us reimagine this reality?