By: Kate Muntzner ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer
In an effort to further conversations surrounding the college’s history of racial injustice and address gaps in curricula, Davidson started the Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) Initiative in 2017.
As stated on the E.H. Little Library website, “The Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) grant was a three-year, campus-wide initiative to support increased transdisciplinary engagement with issues of race, gender, religion, and social justice across the humanities at Davidson College between 2017 and 2020.” Although the grant was intended to end in 2020, the college provided a one-year extension to tie up loose ends and finish events that were cancelled due to the pandemic.
A core component of the grant’s initiatives is curricular development. JEC Archivist Jessica Cottle explained that this aspect of the initiative is designed to help faculty access training and redesign their courses, as well as to recognize courses embodying justice, equality, and community that already exist. This is perhaps the most visible aspect of the JEC initiative because students are required to take a JEC course before they graduate.
According to Davidson’s website, “Courses meeting [the JEC] requirement will address justice and equality as they appear in various communities in local, regional, national, and/or global dimensions, and focuses on methods […] that have been used to foster awareness of or to remedy inequalities and injustice.”
While there are no official requirements for the curricula in a JEC course, professors must submit a proposal to designate a course as fulfilling the JEC requirement. That justification then goes through a review process by the Education Policy Committee, which oversees course proposals and reviews schedules for athletic and other college-sponsored extracurricular activities.
Although the JEC grant is geared towards the Humanities, several STEM courses fulfill the requirement. Cottle said, “[A subject like] statistics certainly plays a part in the way things are reported and recorded. There are politics involved in that process, “ Cottle said.
Although there may be differences between JEC in the Humanities and STEM courses, the initiative has one overarching goal: inclusive pedagogy. Cottle stated, “I think where JEC and inclusive pedagogy intersect is understanding that how you teach has just as much value as what you teach, so [there are] courses that might not be designated as JEC or whose topics may not appear to address issues of justice, equality, and community.”
Cottle elaborated on teaching a course to include an inclusive curriculum. “Part of that process is understanding who you are teaching to. It’s not just about content, but [asking,] ‘how do I need to teach that content to folks with different lived experiences?’ Or ‘how do I need to change the way I give this lecture or design this project so that a multiplicity of voices can be heard and there can be a direct engagement?’”
Because there is not a strict set of requirements for the curricula, the values of justice, equality, and community look different to every professor. James K. Batten Professor of Public Policy Isaac Bailey ‘95 is teaching two JEC courses this semester: COM 207: Media, Empathy, Justice and COM 311: Trump, Race, US Media. “I have focused on the racial justice aspect and trying to honor and respect differences. Other classes might take a different angle on all those issues,” Bailey said.
Environmental Studies Professor Dr. Jessica Worl, who is teaching Environmental Studies JEC classes ENV 242: Political Ecology and ENV 345: Politics of Waste this semester, explained the relevance of the JEC Initiative in 2020.
“In this particular moment when there are and have been so many social issues that are coming to the floor — I think COVID-19 has revealed for many many structural inequalities — I think that JEC is poised in some ways to provide a forum for students’ understanding where a lot of these inequalities are and how even our accepted notions of justice have their limits,” Dr. Worl said.
She expanded on the importance of incorporating marginalized voices into her classes, stating, “My class is all about thinking about whose voices have been left out, how do we bring them in, what might that look like, and how might that come to matter.” In the long-term, the goal for her class is to explore the question: “How do we create social and global orders that allow us to value certain kinds of objects, people, places, and meanings over others?”
Both Dr. Worl and Prof. Bailey emphasized the impact that learning about ethics has for Davidson students specifically.
Prof. Bailey said, “I think that it is always scary to have really smart people who have a lot of influence but don’t actually have a grounding in ethics. For me, that is why this is so vital to Davidson, and it is going to make sure that everyone who comes to these classes will have this ethical framework.”
While JEC classes have only been a graduation requirement for the past three years, starting with the class of 2021, the initiative has received its fair share of criticism.
SGA President Brandon Harris ‘22 said, “I know the issue now is that many classes are certified with the JEC requirement or with the JEC stamp, but they’re not meeting the expectations that people have for that requirement.” In order to improve it, he said, “[SGA Vice President Oğuzhan Çölkesen ‘22 and I] would like to see the JEC requirement be more focused towards actually teaching material that specifically focuses on justice and equality.”
Cottle added, “I think in some ways the grant could’ve been better about centralizing projects and making folks aware, updating people about the work it’s doing on campus. I think there could’ve been more promotion.” She further noted, “I think more student-led projects would’ve also made the grant stronger because students are at the core of a lot of these conversations.”
As to how the JEC requirement can be expanded upon, Prof. Bailey added, “I think that it is actually at a fairly good place, but I think it always needs to be adjusted. Individuals and institutions also can have these blind spots. We should never get so comfortable about ourselves that we stop looking for ways to make these things better.”
Prof. Bailey concluded, “I just want the spirit of this to be the norm in every single Davidson class. Even if it does not have this designation, I still want the spirit of this initiative to affect every single class and everything else we do at Davidson.”