A group of students in Professor Meghan Sweeney’s The Challenge of Justice class have started a petition protesting "Boston College’s Eurocentric Core Curriculum" as part of their on-campus justice action project.
“We are hoping to make students aware that right now at BC, they are not getting the full story of human history. We are currently learning in our core classes that Europe is the center and most important part of the world -- but that’s wrong,” said group member Elizabeth Waltman, MCAS ‘18. “There are hundreds of other countries with fascinating histories and cultures which are just as important to understanding the history of the world as we know it. It is time to come together as one species and learn about each and every culture and person.”
The decision to focus on this topic was inspired by Eradicate Boston College Racism’s list of goals, which stated the group’s aim of reforming “Pedagogy & Curriculum to Reduce Eurocentric Focus and Address Racism and Diversity in the Classroom.” The group writes that they had brought this up to Provost David Quigley in the summer of 2015, to which the reply was that there was “no need for this; the curriculum develops critical thinking.” Quigley allegedly “[suggested] the supply of classes would follow demand.”
The list provided a link to the description of the history core requirement, which states that the history core seeks to focus “in particular, on the events, movements and personalities considered important to understanding European history and the impact of European institutions on the modern world” and has the goal of “encouraging the sense of tolerance that results from an understanding and awareness of the histories of different cultures and parts of the world.” The group of students behind the petition claim that the first part of this description directly mirrors the definition of Eurocentric, defined by Google Dictionary as “focusing on European culture or history to the exclusion of a wider view of the world” and “implicitly regarding European culture as preeminent.”
“I was shocked when I read this statement online about our history requirement in the context of our institution,” said Cat Driscoll, MCAS ‘18, a student in Professor Sweeney’s class. “As Boston College students we are called to be men and women for others, but how can we do that without being properly educated and encouraged to learn about other culture’s history? We need to learn about more than just European history in order to be knowledgeable enough to ‘construct a more just and humane world.’”
The September 2014 Vision Animating the Boston College Core Curriculum asks, “‘How does my study of this material contribute to my better understanding of the world in its wholeness?’” Professor Sweeney’s students, however, argue that primary emphasis on such a small portion of the world’s population will inevitably lead to a developed perspective that perpetuates Eurocentrism and the misguided notion that non-Western cultures are inferior.
“With a school only focusing on a Eurocentric form of history, students are taught (subconsciously) that the only important history worth knowing is European. Those students that come from other places in the world are further minimized and silenced by the lack of recognition in their core values and historically-shaped beliefs,” says another group member Riley Kinney, MCAS ‘18, “Without being shown or taught history from other cultures, history, by default, puts a higher value on European history and narrowly constricts the lens of history into one shade: white.”
The university’s cultural diversity core requirement focuses on “introducing students to different cultures and examining the concepts of cultural identity and cultural differences,” but the group believes that cultural diversity should not have to be required as the ideal core curriculum should be inherently culturally diverse.
“Every core class we take should be teaching us that the world is a massive, interconnected place full of diverse people with intricate histories,” said Waltman, “It is important to understand the world in this way, rather than merely through a Eurocentric lens which teaches students that Europe is the most important place and everywhere else is dependent on them. Thinking that way is wrong.”