If you ask students what makes UD different, they often answer: “the Core.” The two-year curriculum emphasizes the development of Western civilization by including great works from a variety of subjects.
In the Core, the authors and characters are crucial for learning — students sail with Odysseus, listen to Socrates and discover America with Tocqueville. As they explore new ideas and disagree, students see the great works as something that represents their academic and personal growth.
However, limited time forces professors to take works out of the curriculum, meaning that some perspectives or ideas are left unheard. To better understand the effects of this, Human Sciences major Andrew Doyle is surveying undergraduate students about their thoughts on representation in the Core for his thesis project.
The survey includes questions like: “How important is the Core Curriculum at the University of Dallas to you? What is the purpose of the Core Curriculum? Is it important that the Core Curriculum have representation for marginalized groups?” It ends by asking the student to list which authors he believes should be added or do not belong in the Core.
Doyle said that he didn’t like a “quota system,” but mentioned that there were more natural ways to include groups without sacrificing the Core’s nature.
There are many Catholic women authors who are great thinkers that could be added to the core and retain its high value, Doyle said.
He emphasized, however, that including authors only because of their demographics would be “antithetical.”
After he receives the results, Doyle plans to conduct in-depth interviews with respondents and use their input to propose reforms to the current Core text list.
This survey is part of a growing national focus on media representation, particularly of women and minorities. Advocates argue that media should properly reflect other groups’ perspectives and provide role models for everyone.
To a certain extent, they’re right — movies set during the Civil War shouldn’t cast white actors to play slaves, nor should they include other unrealistic characters like male nurses or female soldiers. However, the push for representation disregards the fact that characters can be relatable regardless of, not in spite of, their race or gender.
Last semester, I watched Lord of the Rings, and my favorite arc within it is Aragorn’s; he is initially unsure of himself, but grows steadily more confident through his journey to ultimately embrace his destiny to become king. His relevance for the audience doesn’t come from his particular gender or race — it comes from his hesitation, a universal human emotion.
The Core is structured the same way: the characters come from different cultures and places, but the stories are powerfully similar to what we experience today. But even those which aren’t, like “The Communist Manifesto” or Plato’s “Republic,” still have the potential to stretch students’ minds and challenge their perspectives.
A problem arises when people believe the whole point of an artistic work is to “relate” to it. If everyone wants to see exact copies of themselves, instead of being challenged to gain new insight and perspectives, it could make our society more divisive.
For example, if I, a white person, saw every white character or actor as “more relatable” than black ones, it could make me think that black and white people have more differences than things in common. In addition, it would take emphasis away from the story at hand, and its inherent value regardless of its characters’ appearances and cultures.
This is the real danger, and it explains why the Core should be viewed as an account of the global human experience, not of a particular group or culture. Each work is included for its educational and historical value, telling the story of Western civilization — something everyone, regardless of origin or creed, shares in.
Although most of the students advocating for a change in the Core text list are well-intentioned, and there are some stories that demand proper casting, the Core is ultimately misunderstood if it is viewed through this lens. Instead, professors and students should focus on the ancient great works themselves and become captivated by the characters, “relevant” or not.