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Monday, December 05, 2022 — Houston, TX

Students, faculty reflect on CDOD course after two weeks

Solomon Ni / Thresher

By Viola Hsia     11/2/21 11:44pm

For the past two weeks, new students have been participating in a new course known as Critical Dialogues on Diversity, discussing critical approaches to culture, identity and dialogue. 

According to Natasha Patnaik, a teaching assistant for the course, the past two weeks for her session have been successful.

“I’m very glad that Rice is now introducing these seminar-style sessions for freshmen,” Patnaik, a McMurtry College sophomore, said. “I think it’s a good space for students to reflect on these issues with one another.”

The new course follows a pilot session that was taught in the spring by Associate Dean Catherine Clack and Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alexander Byrd, which was attended by a small group of students, who elected to take the course. Byrd said that this was one of the things to consider when they were transitioning from the pilot course to offering the class as a required course for all freshmen.

“One of the differences between having a pilot group that was small and mostly self selected, and then moving from that group to the entire group of new students … [is that] facilitating conversations typically went a little easier, because everyone who’s there self selected [to attend],” Byrd said. “Even with that, people are typically pleased with how things are going.”

Byrd said he was able to teach two Lovett College CDOD courses to substitute for instructors who could not teach that week, and said he thought the students in those two classes were remarkable.

“I enjoyed speaking with them, I enjoyed the conversations that they got going,” Byrd said. “[One thing] that was clear to me was the benefits of a college organized section, because it was very clear that I was the newcomer there and these were people who knew each other from the college but also from [Critical Thinking In Sexuality]. So I was happy to be able to take advantage of the ways that people already felt comfortable with one another.”

Evan Joachim, a Brown College freshman, said that the past two weeks have been a positive experience.

“Our class is very diverse and has many different experiences,” Joachim said. “I think we all benefit well from sharing our own perspectives, so my overall experience has been fairly positive.”

Byrd said that, because the CDOD course is still in its introductory phase, there is still the future of the course to consider and whether there is any room for improvement.

“One of the things that instructors almost universally mention is that in the pilot [class], facilitating conversations typically went a little easier, because everyone who’s there [was] self-selected,” Byrd said, “So that was one of the points that’s been that’s been raised in our early discussions.”

Joachim said that the idea of the course being a dialogue is very important and effective.

“Since it’s a dialogue, [the class] dynamic should be shifted a little bit more towards the students,” Joachim said, “I think the focus should be on the students and sharing their experiences and perspectives and thoughts on whatever topic we choose to be discussed in that meeting.”

Nick Harrison, a Baker College freshman, said he believes that the course could also take steps to improve discussions on sensitive topics, like income and privilege.

“I know that some people felt called out at times when they’re talking about specific privileges in which they are sensitive, like income,” Harrison said, “But I feel like a way to solve that is more anonymous activities. That way they can put their information out there and have the class witness it, but they don’t have to have it tied to their name.”

However, Harrison said that he’s glad Rice is doing this course. 

“It’s kind of a blessing in disguise that we have to take these courses,” Harrison said. “I know other universities don’t even bother discussing this at all, so it’s a good thing.”

Arielle Noah, a TA for the course, said that she thinks the CDOD course is a step in the right direction.

“But again, Rice needs to do more than a baby step,” Noah, a Will Rice College sophomore, said. “[It] needs to take a big step. If it was an extended course...I feel like that might be a little bit more helpful so that people can actually think about their own biases and their own perceptions and how that affects other people.”

Byrd said that this is only the beginning regarding the conversation around diversity and inclusion here at Rice.

“This is a start,” Byrd said, “[I hope students] will continue these conversations along these lines and they leave these five weeks committed to leaning into that diversity, and taking advantage of it to make Rice a better place. And also to begin to think about how they will take these lessons from Rice into the communities that they enter after Rice.”

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