VIII. Education

The diversity of perspectives found across our community serves as a critical foundation for our university’s unique educational experience. We aim not only to have our students learn facts, figures, and critical thinking but also to inspire a greater sense of the complexities of a multicultural world and a clearer understanding of how to engage and grapple with diverse groups and ideas. As Johns Hopkins University’s first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, rightly observed in his inaugural address, “The best scholars will almost invariably be those who make special attainments on the foundation of a broad and liberal culture.”

To achieve these goals, we support a dynamic academic portfolio that exposes students to the full range of human experience and perspectives. With nine academic divisions encompassing a broad scope of disciplines and scholarly activities across the globe, our educational offerings are expansive and offer students opportunities to learn about our world comprehensively and rigorously. Our faculty members ask students to immerse themselves in this reality and struggle with complex, and often competing, viewpoints. We encourage students to approach these experiences in an open, respectful manner and believe they can achieve a greater depth of understanding when they appreciate the rich diversity of the world’s cultures and the human condition.

Below, we highlight several ways that our schools have developed innovative educational opportunities relevant to diversity and cultural competency. In the spirit of our decentralized university, these offerings have sprung up in a myriad of ways that reflect the interests and expertise of the faculty. The undergraduate Black Student Union and other student groups have challenged the university to consider ways to incorporate cross-cultural knowledge and competencies into the educational experience in a more thoughtful manner. We will undertake such an examination and highlight our plans for integrating these ideas in a second Commission for Undergraduate Education (CUE2).

What we are doing


The undergraduate curriculum currently has neither a single required course nor any required competency for diversity. However, our students have the opportunity to select such coursework, and many do so. In response to concerns raised by the undergraduate Black Student Union, the Krieger School in 2015 reviewed nearly 15,000 courses and sections offered over the prior seven years, and identified those that dealt with issues of gender, sexuality, religion, race, or ethnicity, in the United States or abroad, from a contemporary or historical perspective. The review demonstrated that approximately 60 percent of Krieger School undergraduate students and approximately 25 percent of Whiting School students took at least one such course during their undergraduate study.

In other divisions at the university, cultural competency is included as an essential—and occasionally requisite—part of the curriculum. Examples across the university include:

  • At the School of Medicine, a required three-day course over the first week of medical school includes lectures on social determinants of health, implicit bias, and health disparities for specific populations and communities, and activities focused on increasing cultural awareness. Cross-cultural communication is also an integral part of the Clinical Foundations of Medicine course that introduces medical students to medical interviewing and the physical exam.
  • Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center offers Medicine for the Greater Good (MGG), an initiative that couples medical education on health disparities with a required experience of working with the community. The medical education portion is fulfilled with workshops aimed to educate participants on themes that include socioeconomic determinants of health, health literacy, social justice, and health policy and advocacy.
  • The Peabody Conservatory has a number of courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level that expose students to a wide variety of cultures through music, including courses about hip-hop music, Afro-American gospel, issues in ethnomusicology, and community engagement.
  • The Bloomberg School has made significant efforts to incorporate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health issues into its educational offerings. The LGBT Working Group is charged with advancing training and science at BSPH with regard to the health and health disparities of LGBT populations. The working group, consisting of BSPH faculty, staff, students, and alumni, is committed to making BSPH a preeminent LGBT public health training ground, with the broader goal of addressing and improving health status and health equity. From this work, the school has developed new courses in addition to sponsoring other activities. Numerous BSPH courses also address other aspects of diversity and cultural competency, such as Health Disparities and Cultural Competency and International Perspectives on Women, Gender, and Health.
  • The School of Nursing has developed a new core course in the MSN (Entry into Nursing Practice) Program, which provides students with an introduction to Baltimore and underserved populations who live here, as well as an elective course focusing on health disparities taken by both MSN and PhD students. Each semester, the school also conducts reviews of teaching materials to ensure the videos, case studies, and lectures represent cultural pluralism.
  • At the School of Education, a conceptual framework underpinning the curriculum requires all programs to demonstrate how they are preparing their students to be diversity advocates. Each course must highlight which pieces of the framework the course addresses and what assignment and rubric are used to assess student knowledge in diversity as well as other components of the framework. The concepts in the framework have to be addressed in the program in a variety of courses and have to be completed by end of program. Also, all School of Education students in teacher preparation programs are placed in diverse settings and receive guidance and formal instruction on how to teach diversity in their own P-12 classroom.

The university’s academic leadership is committed to exploring options and strategies for expanding our educational offerings in the realm of cultural diversity. Such options might include additional courses, new research and service learning opportunities, an undergraduate distribution requirement, or other academic initiatives.

Africana Studies and Other Cross-Disciplinary Centers

For some time, one of the areas of focus for those concerned about diversity and inclusion in the Johns Hopkins curriculum has been the status of the Center for Africana Studies (CAS) in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Africana studies is an inherently cross-disciplinary endeavor that engages scholarship on the Atlantic slave trade and the African diaspora from across the social sciences and humanities—including the study of politics and society, history, and literature—as well as a range of professional disciplines, such as public health studies. This approach to Africana studies helps ensure that issues of race, ethnicity, and inequality can be brought to the center of the study of human society and culture, and that other relevant departments take account of the profound effects and contributions of this diaspora on the human experience. CAS’ development as a center for teaching and research has followed this intellectual approach, and university leadership regards it as critical to the success of Africana studies that CAS remains connected to the other core disciplines of the Krieger School, allowing multiple departments to benefit from the engagement of CAS-affiliated scholars. In 2012, on the basis of an external review of CAS and a commitment from the university and dean to enhance the stature and presence of Africana studies, the university dedicated additional resources and improved physical space to the center. CAS moved from the Greenhouse to Mergenthaler Hall, and the university engaged in a multiyear effort to expand the center’s faculty. Recently, the university has successfully hired four new faculty members in the field—two through a cluster-hire approach (as mentioned in the Faculty section) in English and history, in addition to one in African history, and a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in English and history. A search to fill a position in African-American history is ongoing. This cohort of new faculty goes some way toward building CAS to its full complement, helping to solidify its work, both intellectually and administratively.

More broadly, current discussions have highlighted the differences and tensions between the demands of discipline-based departments and those of cross-disciplinary scholarship. Accordingly, CAS and other centers and programs, such as Latin American Studies, Jewish Studies, and Islamic Studies, have requested a review of the structure and scope of centers and programs in Arts and Sciences.

Next steps

  • Commission on Undergraduate Education. In 2017, the university will launch a second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2) focused on developing a holistic set of priorities for undergraduate life that will guide our efforts over the coming decade. As part of its mandate, CUE2 will assess best practices and recommend ways to increase cultural competency among students in a way that will prepare them to be responsible and engaged citizens and leaders in a complex and multicultural world.
  • Committee on centers and programs in KSAS. Following consultation with department chairs and other school leaders in spring 2016, the KSAS dean constituted a committee to assess the state of the school’s centers and programs in the arts and sciences, and to make recommendations about how to strengthen the role and presence of centers and programs in the school. The charge to the committee includes whether centers and programs ought to have greater autonomy in faculty hiring decisions; how to apportion and account for faculty effort between departments and centers/programs; and whether departments should be established for some center/program areas and, if so, how to implement such a transition. The committee has been asked to submit its report and recommendations by spring 2017.