Faculty Pass Race, Power, Privilege, Colonialism Curriculum Requirement After Months of Debate


The Race, Power, Privilege and Colonialism Curriculum (RPPC) Requirement passed at the April faculty meeting with 88 faculty voting yes, 25 no and 7 abstaining. This is the third reading of the requirement with previous faculty meetings in February and March considering prior iterations of the legislation. The policy will begin to take place in the fall of 2026.

The proposal that was presented at the start of the meeting required students to take two courses (or course equivalents) in any part of their curriculum. One course had to be designated as U.S. and the other as International. Academic units were not required to contribute classes, but were encouraged to do so. 

This legislation has been hotly contested and prior to the meeting a flier was passed out with a statement signed by members of various departments including Africana, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, English, Politics and Classical and Medieval Studies. The flier protested not requiring students take one of the RPPC courses within their major. They listed four reasons for their lack of support:

  1. This legislation, as it has been amended from the original legislation placed before the AAC, flies in the face of Bates’ origin story: even as we repeatedly cite our institution’s foundation by abolitionists, or the legacy of Dr. Benjamin Mays, the present state of the legislation suggests that we as a faculty body are unwilling to take minimal steps towards the realization of a curriculum commensurate with the vision of social justice enshrined in those legacies. 
  2. In the context of larger national conversations, where the interrogation of race, power and privilege have been frontally attacked as illegitimate sites of inquiry, the unwillingness of the faculty as a whole to participate in the realization of this curriculum reads as an abdication. This legislation would, in effect, suggest that Bates is not up to the task of educating the whole person equitably.
  3. Given that individual units are no longer required to make coursework available for the RPPC curriculum, the labor of this program would disproportionately fall on those who are already disempowered in our academic structure.
  4. We decry the intellectual cowardice of those who refuse to continue educating themselves as part of ongoing professional development in order to serve both their disciplines and their students.

For those reasons, the flier stated that “should the legislation be passed in its present form then the members of Africana:

  1. Will not endorse this legislation as a legitimate means of engaging race, power, privilege, settler colonialism and white supremacy.
  2. Will not allow our courses to be designated as RPPC requirements; and 
  3. Will not participate in the implementation of the legislation.” 

The petition was signed by Professors Dale Chapman, Sue Houchins, Baltasar Fra-Molinero, Patrick Otim, Charles Nero, Josh Rubin, Myronn Hardy, Lori Banks, Therí Pickens, Myron Beasely, Ian-Khara Ellasante, Michelle Greene, Erica Rand, Seulgie Lim, Rebecca Herzig, Emily Kane, Katie Adkinson, Mark Tizzoni, Mary Rice-Defosse, Melinda Plastasand and Lisa Gilson. 

Following the initial presentation of the proposal, the faculty meeting was opened for debate. Lisa Gilson, assistant professor of politics, presented an amendment to the meeting that would require one of the courses to be taught within the students major and by faculty associated with that department. Additionally, she proposed that courses taken during study abroad or at other institutions should be considered for approval by the ad-hoc committee or the curriculum reform committee.

According to Gilson, it is vital for students to know how RPPC has influenced their field of study. As an example, she cited how some facial recognition technology has been shown to be racist because of the dataset it was trained on used primarily white, male faces.  

“It is not enough for me to have students leave the college,” Gilson said. “Knowing that race, power, privilege and colonialism has been influential in the world more broadly. It is important for me that the students leave knowing that their own field of study, that they might pursue after college, is in fact shaped by this.”

Additionally, she reminded faculty that RPPC is fundamental in the mission of Bates and its diversity, equity and inclusion statement. As such, she argued that all faculty should equally take on this labor.

Gilson pointed out that without requiring one course to be within a student’s major, “that is going to lead to a situation where you have more demand on courses that are taught primarily by faculty of color, by junior faculty and by faculty who are already experiencing the consequences of not having curricular requirements of racism and race, privilege, power and colonialism.”

Finally, Gilson addressed the concerns raised in the March meeting about RPPC courses taught by non-experts causing harm to students of color. “What I would say is that the current situation causes harm in the classroom, there is racism, power privilege, colonialism shaping conversations in the classroom already,” Gilson said. She pointed out that harm is caused when issues of RPPC occur in the classroom and are ignored.

Following the Gilson Amendment, Professors Sue Houchins and Baltasar Fra-Molinero spoke in strong support of the amendment. Houchins added that, speaking on behalf of the entire Africana department, “We need you to know that we feel so strongly that these ideas should be incorporated in every single discipline that we will withdraw all of our courses dealing with these topics if this amendment does not pass.”

Debate on the amendment then ensued and several secondary amendments (to the Gilson Amendment) were proposed.

Sandra Goff, professor of economics, proposed an amendment to eliminate the U.S. requirement, so that students are only required to take an internationally designated RPPC course. This, she said, would reduce the number of conditions students would have to fulfill.

In response to the suggestion that most courses could be designated as both international and U.S., economics professor Amanda Lindsay asked whether a single course could sufficiently fulfill those learning objectives. Mark Tizonni, professor of classical and medieval studies, pointed out that RPPC in the U.S. is often linked to international ideas and histories. 

The Goff Amendment did not pass with 91 voting no, 29 voting yes and 3 abstaining. 

Helen Boucher, professor of psychology, suggested a secondary amendment to clarify how double majors will be dealt with. The amendment passed and the wording was changed to say: 

If a student is a double major, the student would take the required course or set of courses in each of the majors. In the instances where doing this does not also complete both the RPPC-I and RPPC-US the requirements, the student would need to take an additional course to complete the requirement for the missing geographic coverage.

Lynne Lewis, professor of economics, proposed a secondary amendment to the Gilson Amendment that would remove the US and International designation. She argued that singling the US out, separate from other countries, perpetuates the myth of American exceptionalism. 

A number of faculty members voiced opposition to the Lewis amendment arguing that requiring both will give students an understanding of how RPPC operates in the US and work to dispel beliefs about American exceptionalism and US involvement abroad. 

Justine Wiesinger, professor of Asian studies, pointed out that even throughout development of the RPPC legislation, much of the discourse has been U.S.-centric. As such, she believes ensuring students learn about RPPC in the international context is imperative. 

The Lewis Amendment did not pass with 95 voting no, 24 voting yes and 4 abstaining. 

Following the Lewis Amendment, the faculty voted to adopt the Gilson amendment with 88 voting yes, 25 voting no and 7 abstaining. 

The curriculum requirement will go into effect, at the latest, for the class of 2030. In the meantime, according to Professor Fra-Molinero, “The biggest challenge is to open ourselves to the vulnerability of not knowing, to the awareness that what we teach and research is not always true if we ignore its context.”

He pointed out the historical significance of this legislation passing as it is the result of student protests in April of 2020. 

“Many of these students of color and their allies took time away from their study to bring this to the floor of the faculty meetings,” Professor Fra-Molinero said. “Only once before this happened at Bates. Black students protested and pushed to create an academic program in Black studies. Few today at Bates have not benefited from what comes out of the Africana program. We in the faculty become better teachers when we pay attention to what students want to learn.”

Susan Stark, associate professor of psychology and part of the committee that presented the proposal said she is “eager for us as a faculty to continue to cultivate a culture of compassion and care at Bates, so that we can continue to work together effectively to implement courses with the new RPPC attribute.”

Co-Student Body President Ali Manning ‘23 who spoke at the meeting said in an interview that her main concern about implementation regards professors who opposed the legislation. 

“It concerns me that professors who stood up in opposition to it may at some point have to teach it. And that is really concerning to me. I don’t want to be in a chemistry class where the chemistry teacher doesn’t think that race applies to that discipline, because it’s just not true,” Manning said. 

Manning also expressed hope for student involvement in the future. She imagines student engagement as including students on the ad hoc committee tasked with approving courses to be designated as RPPC. 

Class of ‘24 Representative Mia Brumsted also spoke at the meeting and in an interview emphasized the importance of faculty including students as this legislation is implemented.

Many students have no idea that this legislation exists, so it would be really helpful if professors took a moment to talk to their classes about RPPC, and be open to answer questions and listen to students’ ideas,” Brumsted said. 

Professor of Politics Seulgie Lim said that departments not already considering RPPC within their curriculum will likely have a more difficult time implementing the requirement. 

“We did a lot of work to get here. But again, I think the real work actually begins after the vote, in terms of actually coming up with classes, coming up with the ad hoc committee,” Professor Lim said. “And how are they going to revise and review all of the different syllabi that perhaps they’re not all familiar with in each field of study?”