Ways of Thinking: New Course Category Addresses Race and Racism

UMD’s Liberal Education Program is gaining a new category, Theorizing Race, Power, and Justice (TRPJ), effective fall 2023. Jennifer Mencl, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Effectiveness, recently answered questions about the addition and its goals.

What inspired the creation of the TRPJ category?

The category as a whole was inspired by the Anti-Racist Subcommittee of the Employees of Color and American Indian (EOCAI) Mentoring Group. In August 2020, the Subcommittee sent a letter to UMD and UMN-System leadership that called for a 3-credit academic course on social and racial justice to be taken by every undergraduate student at UMD. This requirement became a reality in fall 2021 when the Liberal Education Program framework was revised to include the new TRPJ category. During spring 2022, a task force was formed to develop the category’s description, criteria, and student learning outcomes (SLOs).

How are courses being selected/crafted for the TRPJ category?

Specific courses for the TPRJ category are inspired by faculty across the campus who want to teach in the category. Dr. Jeanine Weekes Schroer (Philosophy) took the lead in creating a faculty development opportunity available to faculty with interest in teaching in the category. In August 2022, Dr. Schroer led the first cohorts of the program, with additional cohorts in fall and spring terms. 

As of March 2023, the Liberal Education Subcommittee has approved the following courses:

  • ARTH 2390 US Art and Visual Culture in the 20th Century (3 credits)
  • BLAW 1001 Race and the Law (4 credits)
  • CS 1033 Algorithms, Race & Computing (4 credits)
  • ECON 2025 Economics of Discrimination (3 credits)
  • ENGL 1586 Race and 21st Century Literature (4 credits)
  • ENGL 1619 Race, Culture & Conflict in American Literature (4 credits)
  • GEOG 2406 Race, Place, Identities & Territories (3 credits)
  • PHIL 2025 Theorizing Black Horror (3 credits)
  • PHIL 2075 Racial Cognition (3 credits)
  • PHIL 3025 Philosophy of Race & Racism (4 credits)
  • SW 1619 Race, Class and Gender in the United States (3 credits)
  • WRIT 1206 Writing for Social Change (3 credits)

To be included in the TRPJ category, all courses must meet two criteria and involve measures (i.e., what students do to demonstrate their learning) to assess the category’s student learning outcomes. Faculty who teach TRPJ courses will report
on their course assessment on a regular basis.


Race and racial oppression will be the dominant focus of the course, integral to its content and objectives (whether the course focuses entirely on racial justice or on the structural inequalities facing other marginalized groups).

The course will focus primarily on enabling students to understand systemic analyses of discipline-specific race issues, including historical, socio-cultural, institutional, structural, and/or all of the aforementioned (i.e., systemic) analyses or ways of thinking.

How will the courses be assessed for effectiveness?

Last fall, several faculty came together to draft a category rubric for assessment of the SLOs that were developed spring 2022. In the process, they provided suggested revisions to add clarity to the original SLO statements. The faculty review process for the revised SLOs and rubric is completed, and the campus’s Liberal Education Subcommittee will review them next. Once the Subcommittee’s review is complete, the SLOs and the rubric will be posted on the campus assessment website.

What has been the hardest part of adding these courses to the curriculum at UMD?

One of the initial challenges was identifying where the new category would fit into the Liberal Education Program because our institutional accrediting agency requires a minimum of 30 credits for general education, and we want our program to be clear to students. We are confident the placement of the new category among the “skills” part of the curriculum was the best alternative to meet these objectives.

What has been the greatest success thus far of adding the TRPJ category to the curriculum at UMD?

Other than the fact that we will have the category requirement beginning fall 2023, I think one of the greatest successes is the course array. Although some people may have expected several
race-related courses already in the Cultural Diversity in the U.S. category to apply for the new TRPJ category, almost all of the TRPJ courses thus far are new. Additionally, the courses are offered from all four colleges, which is a true testament to how issues of race and systemic racism are evident throughout disciplines.

How do you think these courses will be an asset to students’ futures?

Students will benefit from the knowledge they acquire, which will be specific to the courses they take. They will also develop skills to look at the world and think about race, racism, and the impacts in ways – the “ways of thinking” as required by all courses in the category –  they might not have been exposed to otherwise. Ultimately, I hope that our students apply what they learn and further develop their knowledge and skills to enrich their lives and their communities.

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