by Meghna Melkote
Meghna Melkote is a rising sophomore from Scranton, Pennsylvania majoring in Political Science and Philosophy and minoring in Music. This is her first summer working with the Race & Racism Project as a member of Team Archive. She is involved with the Mock Trial and Debate teams, performs in chamber music ensembles, is a member of the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity, and is a content curator for public history platform bunkhistory.org.
This week was spent determining our research topics and looking at how to approach our research questions. These questions centered around the experiences of marginalized students, and support use of the archive as a source of inquiry. I decided to examine the curriculum at the University of Richmond. There are several areas to look at here – I intend to focus on the now defunct Core curriculum/current First Year Seminar classes/required reading, as well as course offerings, course content, and faculty specialties. I intend to examine whether or not the curriculum is Western focused and Eurocentric, and, if it is, to what extent. I will also look at the extent of minority representation in required reading and examine whether or not faculty members have specialties in their disciplines to equip them to teach non-Western centric content.
I hope to examine two trends; the focus of the curriculum over time, and the representation and multiculturalism in our curriculum as compared to other similar sized liberal arts schools at similar times. Then, I can discern if our curriculum has, over time, made an effort to embrace non-Western perspectives, and I can compare how we’re doing compared to other schools. One methodology that was suggested to me was a statistical analysis that can compare curriculum changes to major historical periods like the Civil Rights Movement and different waves of the feminist movement. I also intend to find information on how other schools have embraced or shifted away from a Eurocentric, Western focused curriculum.
There were several resources available that were suggested right away: looking at faculty lists and what they specialize in, looking at department reports, reading lists, and course offerings, and looking at Collegian articles that summarize debates on curriculum changes. I anticipate that a potential roadblock I will have to face is narrowing my research; perhaps to include only one department, only general education, or only looking either at the University’s changes over time or the University as compared to others. I hope that as I go further into the archive, I can follow any leads I find and narrow my research to a more specific topic.
Incorporating the topics we studied of the first few weeks, like critical race theory and activist archiving, is necessary for this topic, as this topic encourages looking at the curriculum with skepticism from a nontraditional lens. Particularly, commemorative justice (coined by Untold RVA founder Free Egunfemi) and activist archiving will be critical here as I’m looking for examples where the University has engaged in either of the two indirectly by teaching from non-Western or non-European perspectives. I think it becomes critical to read against the grain – i.e. engaging in alternative readings of texts and finding themes and attitudes not traditionally emphasized – when examining the curriculum because this research is inherently a criticism of the typical structures in place in a traditionally Western focused university serving mainly (and historically) white students.
This topic came about from my own interest in education, as well as my experience in classes both at Richmond and in my high school. Most of my curriculums seriously neglected history, religion, or literature that was non-Western or non-European, and it led to me being essentially illiterate in the material that a majority of the world outside the West embraces as their canon. Particularly, I’ve noted that the few classes I’ve taken that touched on other cultures (such as a high school “world civilizations” class) offered only a superficial, cursory look at other cultures (not to mention one that was incorrect- such as describing Hinduism as point blank polytheistic). This is an area where I think it’ll be important to look at the specialties of faculty in teaching multicultural focused classes; the best way to be fluent in the canons of other cultures is to be taught by someone who truly understands the material and is equipped to teach it.