“What kind of books do you like to read?” my graduate thesis mentor, Dr. Berta Gonzalez asked, trying to get to know me better after I mentioned that I loved to read during our first meeting. Of course, I wanted to impress her so I had to bring out the big names, “I like anything by Leo Tolstoy, T.S. Eliot is an amazing poet and I mean who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.” I did not mention that my shelves were also lined with Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts. Then she asked if I enjoyed Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Angeles Mastretta. She was shocked that not only had I not read any of their work, but I had not even heard of them.
Despite growing up in the predominantly Hispanic town of Parlier (just about 20 minutes south of FPU) I was not exposed to a diverse curriculum in my classrooms. As dismayed as Dr. Gonzalez was, up until that meeting I did not realize how many authors I was missing out on. A whole new world was opened up to me when I was able to identify and connect directly with their characters, their poems, their stories. It was not possible for me to imagine myself in certain roles because I did not see people like myself in those roles.
The ALAS Title V program provides our students the ability to make those same connections. With ALAS Culturally Embedded Curriculum (CEC) grants, faculty can revise existing classes or create new ones infused with diverse perspectives and experiences. The original goal was to revise or create 12 CEC courses over the five-year grant period. That goal was almost immediately shattered during the first year when 11 courses were submitted and approved. Our faculty embraced the call for curriculum revision and during the last four years 30 courses have undergone the CEC process (23 revised, seven new). The program has made a tremendous impact on students—last year alone 526 traditional undergraduate students enrolled in a CEC-infused course.
When students can identify directly with the content being taught to them it impacts them beyond the walls of the classroom. Through CEC, students are exposed to an array of amazing experiences, like being required to eat at an ethnic restaurant, interview an international student, watch a foreign film, visit Arte Americas, play loteria, write about their own cultural context—and they get course credit. They discover diverse historical content, reading material and role models. Now, they can see themselves as an artist like Leonora Carrington, a writer like Sandra Cisneros, a filmmaker like Luis Buñuel; now we see ourselves. We go home and we talk to our friends and families about what and who we learned about with a little more volume to our voices, a little more excitement in our hearts. It might influence the topic of a research project. It may persuade someone to make a career change or consider attending graduate school.
The connections we make through CEC also go beyond the curriculum. Hearing the stories of our students and sharing ours with them matter. Dr. Gonzalez changed my life by asking one simple question. Ask questions to get to know our students better. In an institution where “possible happens here,” how are you making possible happen for every student that walks into your classroom, comes into your office, sits across your desk or goes to your event? What kind of connection and impact are you making?