University of Richmond Race & Racism Project

The Western Civilizations Debate

One of the biggest debates appearing in the 1990s at the University of Richmond was over whether to include "Western Civilizations" as a required course. Until 1991, the University required all students to take a course in Western Civilizations, covering topics such as John Locke's political philosophy and the Roman Republic's foundation of government. The argument on behalf of this course was that the United States was inherently a Western nation, and thus all students should be required to have a course specifically studying its Western foundations. Regardless of the merits of that argument, opponents said that students should be required to take a course that covers a broader array of topics that were relevant globally, covering other cultures. In 1991, this was replaced by Core, which covered a wider array of cultures including Middle Eastern Civilization and "Oriental Civilizations."

Opinion "Debate over Core is useful"

An opinion by a professor arguing that the debate over Western Civilizations vs. Core was useful.

The debate itself was a point of contention. A student wrote in the Collegian that "opposition to Core is based entirely on ignorance and cultural elitism," while the professor responded in a column, calling the student's tone "scornfully dismissive" and said that "the very process of constructing Core has modeled the values and practices of intellectual exchange that the course itself is designed to teach."

1967 report of Curriculum Committee in which Recommendation 10 asks for a program of studies in non-Western Civilization

However, the necessity for a course in non-Western civilizations wasn't a battle fought only in the 1990s. The need to study non-Western Civilizations appeared as early as 1967, in the report of the Curriculum Committee at the University of Richmond. Recommendation 10 in the report notes "establishment, as soon as practically possible, of a program of courses in non-Western Civilization."

The Western Civilizations Debate