Broad perspectives on the world, diverse cultures and traditions, and unfamiliar and challenging ways of thinking are the bedrock of a liberal arts and sciences education. Within Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, faculty continue to craft and reimagine curricula across disciplines to bring new and powerful lenses for understanding national and global societies.
At few times in our history has understanding, speaking fluently and sensitively, and critically listening to others’ experiences been so crucial as in the present. These skills will be vital to building a shared future, repairing relationships and reforming systems that — intentionally or not — perpetuate injustice. Black Lives Matter. We understand that this work is never finished — that there is much left to be learned and accomplished in our classrooms, in our community and beyond.
Multidisciplinary study of different human experiences and societies happens in every department, and opportunities to explore and deepen knowledge around these issues is available through a network of courses, faculty experts and experiential learning. “No catalog of courses can teach anti-racism,” Associate Professor of English Prudence Layne says. But their availability can broaden our ability to see beyond our individual experiences to honest perspectives on our world.
The College is devoted to building the leaders the world needs to forge ahead, and to creating a space where difficult but necessary conversations can happen. Guided by faculty in exploring our shared humanity, today’s undergraduates will contribute to the healing and implementation of justice that are essential to our future.
African and African-American Studies at Elon
Using interdisciplinary studies of the origins and experiences of the African diaspora in the Americas and Europe, African and African-American Studies at Elon offers frameworks for understanding the effects of race in history and the present. Courses required for the minor include history, literature, political science and policy studies, and mass media.
The curriculum touches every area of life, says program coordinator and Professor of Psychology Buffie Longmire-Avital — economics, social and legal structures, individual and community psychology, health and educational outcomes. Faculty who contribute to the program are experts in cultures and countries that span the globe.
“I don’t think you can consider the liberal arts, business or communication without considering the experience of African and African-Americans. Our world is based on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and to understand what ‘whiteness’ is, you have to have the perspective of what ‘blackness’ is.”
Literature from numerous cultures, sub-cultures, movements and points of view is the foundation for dozens of courses throughout the College. In the Department of English, faculty employ a rich canon of literature to illuminate the threads of humanity. For instance, Layne specializes in African-American literature, African literature and Caribbean literature. She teaches specialized courses in American criminal justice, South Africa and Apartheid.
One of her standard assignments is to ask students to write their own racial autobiographies. On a predominantly white campus, Layne asks students to recall the first time they understood themselves as racial beings. Among her goals is to get students beyond a place of fear and discomfort about being judged and empower them to express themselves truthfully. Awareness of race, gender and identity can lead to change that grows over a lifetime.
“Now you know what you know, and you feel what you feel: What are you going to do about it? Awareness doesn’t mean proficiency or expertise. These are things you have to keep working at throughout life. Graduating doesn’t mean you stop.”
World Languages and Cultures
In World Languages and Cultures, faculty stress the importance of cultural and intercultural competence. Students hone skills of observation, humility, fluency in language and customs, and an ability to understand the world from various national and regional perspectives. What does it mean to be an Argentinian, French, Saudi Arabian, Chinese or U.S. citizen? How do different ethnicities and genders navigate various cultural norms and standards? What attitudes or expectations do we bring from our own lives and upbringing? Undergraduates can major and minor in Asian studies, Latin American studies, Middle East studies, Italian, French, Spanish and more.
Associate Professor of French Olivia Choplin teaches French but researches Haitian literature coming from the diaspora in Quebec. Her students read about Haitian immigrants’ experiences and fictional stories of life in a metropolis that remains majority white.
“Students have to unpack what their assumptions are. They practice shifting their perspectives, withholding judgment and behaving appropriately in unfamiliar situations. That’s what cultural competence is, and it is an infinitely transferrable skill.”
History and Geography
One of the core objectives of the Department of History and Geography is to teach students to understand how their perspectives shape meaning. That understanding requires using a historical lens to examine how class, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion shape social structures, national identities and human relationships.
Undergraduates learn to explore change from humanistic and social scientific perspectives, preparing them to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds and to write and think analytically. William J. Story Sr. Professor of History and Department Chair Charles Irons says the effective study of history offers “a framework for life.”
“We teach them to contextualize everything they read and hear: Who’s saying what, and whom are they saying it to? What are they trying to accomplish? We don’t want students to take things just at face value, but to look at their causes and processes more fundamentally.”
Human Service Studies
Through intensive internships and practicums offering hands-on experiences within governmental and community agencies, the Human Service Studies curriculum examines the complex connections of social systems. Students explore their own intersections with race and social identity, the areas of privilege and marginalization within each of us, to understand human problems and effectively intervene.
Human Service Studies faculty are practitioners and professionals in their fields, providing ongoing mentorship and support to community service agencies through continuing education opportunities. Consistently conscious of the effects of inequity, poverty and the disproportionate burdens of social and economic policy on marginalized populations, they call undergraduates and the broader community to action where it’s most needed.
“Because our culture is constantly changing, our active pursuit of social justice constantly changes. We want our students to value human difference, to challenge the narrative, to be curious about people. We’re teaching them how to work with people, yes, but in every context, we’re helping them show up and be an advocate and ally of social justice.”
Peace and Conflict Studies
What are the root causes of violence and conflict? How can societies advance justice and resolve conflicts peacefully? Students in the Peace and Conflict Studies minor employ broad and interdisciplinary analyses to promote a critical, holistic and intellectually rigorous understanding of violence, strategies of nonviolent resistance, ethical debates, and the promotion of peace, justice and conflict resolution.
Program coordinator and Assistant Professor of Spanish Federico Pous centers study of social justice issues in his courses and encourages students to become activists on campus and beyond. The end result is graduates equipped with the knowledge and skills to effect change by integrating social sciences, humanities and behavioral sciences. They are prepared to mediate and resolve interpersonal, intergroup, interstate and global conflicts.
Among the Department of Philosophy’s core objectives is to lead students to interpretive understanding, giving them the knowledge to bridge the meaning and value systems of diverse individuals, cultures and histories. That sometimes means flipping the standard philosophy canon to integrate Black and minority scholars, and the critical dissection of students’ racial identities.
Stephen Bloch-Schulman, department chair and professor of philosophy, teaches courses about the social construction of whiteness, emphasizing the need to be conscious of the effects of those constructs and how insidious ideas are perpetuated without intentional intervention.
“We want to help students see that these are not problems for other people to solve. It requires different sets of skills and habits, and once you’ve acquired those, you can’t be the same person you were before you learned them. When we think about people who fight against racism, we often think of ‘heroes’ and famous figures. I want students to ask themselves what it means to just be a person who is willing to face up to this stuff.”
Political Science and Policy Studies & International and Global Studies
Through real-world experiences, field-work and extensive studies of political structures and systems, the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies and the International and Global Studies program aim to develop critical thinking around law, politics, business, advocacy and many other fields.
Assistant Professor of Political Science and Policy Studies Damion Blake’s perspective as an interdisciplinary, trans-national scholar informs his teaching. He wants to empower his students to be ambassadors of change, global citizens who will work against racial inequality and injustice.
“I see the world as this exchange of ideas, and I want to expose students to the truth. I want to expose them to the truth about oppression, the truth about international relations, hegemony and who the players are. Who is on the periphery and why? Who is poor and who is rich?”
Poverty and Social Justice
The mission of the Poverty and Social Justice minor is to educate students about the multiple causes and structural nature of poverty so they might work more effectively toward its end. Elon is a member of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, a national coalition of colleges and universities that collaborate to teach about poverty and social justice.
Through coursework, internships and community partnerships, students from any major can learn about how citizens can understand, encounter and advocate for the poor, both in the U.S. and globally.
“You can’t understand the experience or expression of poverty in the country or the world unless you look at all these different aspects: history, sociology, economics and politics,” Peters said. “To make the long-term changes we hope students will take on in the world, they have to be equipped to engage in these areas.”
Housing Elon’s largest liberal arts and sciences major, the Department of Psychology offers basic and advanced courses in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology and social psychology based on the American Psychological Association’s undergraduate learning goals. The department also offers many special topics courses such as Abnormal Psychology, Animal Behavior, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Educational Psychology and the Psychology of Leadership.
As a socio-cultural discipline, the department emphasizes developing students with informed and sensitive appreciation for complex causes of human behavior. They graduate with the knowledge and skills for constructive impact on human affairs — from individual and family functioning to policies governing broader social institutions.
Public Health Studies
The Department of Public Health Studies provides interdisciplinary and population health frameworks for analysis of health outcomes, diseases and health conditions. The equity of health and access to healthcare is emphasized — particularly along racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines — on local, national and international levels.
Assistant Professor of Public Health Studies Stephanie Baker partners with the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative to address racial inequities in cancer treatment, Healthy Alamance to alleviate inequitable access to nutrition and food, and SpiritHouse Inc. to address mass incarceration in communities. Baker also teaches a number of interdisciplinary and Core Curriculum courses to examine the structures of race and racism in society.
“It’s uncomfortable to wrestle with our inaccurate narratives around race. In order to create new narratives, accurate narratives, we have to be honest about our current narratives and where they came from. The students who do this work are transformed. Bearing witness to that transformation gives me hope.”
Religious difference is a fundamental aspect of cultural diversity. History and current events show it as a continual source of conflict and violence across regions. Department of Religious Studies faculty teach students to successfully navigate these differences through exploration of histories and traditions, gaining cultural fluency and understanding.
The department is also home to the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, the faculty-led research and scholarship arm of the university’s multifaith initiative. It offers programs dedicated to cultivating a diverse community of study and scholarly practice, promoting mutual understanding and respect across and within religious traditions and belief systems, and contributing to the development of global citizenship. The department’s Multifaith Scholars also conduct research in communities and global regions to advance shared understanding of religious diversity on campus and beyond.
Sociology and Anthropology
How are we unique? In what ways are we similar? How do individuals intersect, create culture and navigate these aspects of humanity? In the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, theory meets hands-on experience for thorough and practical understanding of society, culture and behavior. Among many other areas, the expert faculty in the department provide study and experiences in criminology, race and ethnic relations, folklore, medical anthropology, relationships between culture and business, religion and familial structures.
Elon combines the disciplines of sociology and anthropology within one department to create a comprehensive, integrated approach to the study of various human societies and how those societies are interrelated.
Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities Studies
Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities Studies includes electives that encompass numerous departments and areas of study, from economics to religious studies. The interdisciplinary minor is designed to give students the freedom to apply gender, sexuality, feminism and women’s studies lenses to their areas of interest.
Sections of WGS 110: Sex and Gender are nearly always over-enrolled. Students in Program Coordinator and Associate Professor of French Sarah Glasco’s course in fall 2019 surveyed the social construction of gender, social and political movements around gender, race and sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues and identities, sexual consent and empowerment, and intersectionality among race, religion, gender and sexuality. Those students also took on topics for campus activism in group learning exercises, creating and implementing campaigns around ideas of equality and inclusion.
“It’s mentoring, pedagogy and scholarship dedicated to interdisciplinary lenses, putting a critical lens to ideas in other disciplines. Every course should have that multidisciplinary lens examining race, class, religion and gender, regardless of what we study.”