American University Rolls Out $121 Million Diversity and Inclusion Plan

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of American University
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of American University / Getty Images
January 31, 2018

American University rolled out a $121 million diversity and inclusion plan Tuesday, which includes the creation and implementation of a mandatory two-semester race and social identity course.

American has allocated $60 million for FY 2018, though it began spending the $121 million last spring, and intends to keep spending through next year.

The majority of the funds have been earmarked for scholarships to minority applicants, but $7 million has already gone toward the creation of the American University Experience course.

The first section of AUx, taken in the first semester of freshman year, is built as a psychological, social, cultural, and academic transition into college life. Topics covered include "exploring and expressing identities," as well as "diversity, bias, and privilege," in addition to mental health maintenance.

The sole focus of the second semester is "race and social identity." Students will be instructed in identifying and countering the "coded, contentious, or uncomfortable ways" in which "ethnicity, gender and sexual expression, class, disability, and religion are often discussed."

"AUx2 seeks to create a space for conversations and learning about these topics that pushes beyond the norm," according to the course description.

The year-long class will be mandatory for freshman starting in fall 2018, as part of American's overhauled core curriculum — which includes an additional, separate "Diverse Experiences" requirement.

AUx director Andrea Malkin Brenner told a campus news outlet, "The best critique of things that we could change for [the course] would be to expand the number of intersectional identities that we talked about."

An effort to increase faculty diversity has also been promised in the new American diversity blueprint .

The school has said the initiative has been in the works for the last couple of years, but its character was impacted by incidents in recent semesters that some have labeled racist.

In May bananas marked with the acronym for the black women's sorority were found hanging from noose-like ropes, while in September a Confederate flag was hung on campus. Last week, anti-immigration posters were found posted around the campus.

According to a 2016 campus survey, 33 percent of black students reported feeling included at American, compared to 71 percent of white students.

The University of Maryland-College Park announced last week that it had allotted nearly $4 million for diversity programming, including a $200,000 program to train student leaders on intercultural competency, following the murder of a black Bowie State University student by a white Maryland student in May.