Multicultural curriculum project draws attention from South Africa

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
May 30, 2007

In 2004, Texas State University-San Marcos began an ambitious program to transform courses to include multicultural content and strategies for teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The program goal is to transform at least two courses per year in each college by 2009.  The program has already achieved great success, and its success has caught the attention of Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa. The university has invited the Texas State program’s director, Sandra Mayo, to showcase the program in July on the Tshwane campus in Johannesburg.

Mayo, Director of the Center for Multicultural and Gender Studies at Texas State, will give a two-day workshop on the program to Tshwane faculty. Called the Multicultural Curriculum Transformation Project, the program emphasizes the importance of understanding the cultural diversity among the students in a classroom and using that information to broaden course content, introduce new ways of thinking, and implement teaching strategies that consider students’ diverse backgrounds.

“The goal is for students to understand a subject from many perspectives and to equip themselves to work toward a more democratic society,” Mayo said.

Like the United States, the Republic of South Africa is an ethnically diverse nation with a history of racial segregation; apartheid, the institution of legal segregation, was abolished in 1990 after a long and sometimes violent struggle.  Today, South Africa has the largest white, Indian and racially-mixed communities in Africa.  Black South Africans, who speak nine officially-recognized languages and many more dialects, comprise about 80 percent of the population. Mayo said that Tshwane’s 60,000-student population reflects South Africa’s cultural diversity, and she suspects that problems of integration and respect for cultural diversity present a challenge for the university’s faculty and students.

In her workshop, she will ask the Tshwane faculty what their goals are for their courses and what they are already doing to make their courses multicultural. By the end of the workshop, the faculty will have an overview of the curriculum transformation process and, Mayo hopes, enough information to know whether they would like to pursue the process further.

“I don’t have any illusions that everyone will be on board with the program,” Mayo said. “Our country has been through the same sort of integration process that South Africa is going through, although we’ve had many more years of experience in working together than they have.”

Tshwane has also invited Mayo to present a lecture to its Faculty of the Arts and to give two or three informal presentations to students.  A member of the faculty of Texas State’s Department of Theatre and Dance, Mayo hopes to make her presentations on women playwrights and ethnic theater, concentrating on major African-American playwrights.

While she is in South Africa, Mayo will also present a paper at the 50th annual conference of the International Federation of Theater Research, at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town. Her paper, titled “Reconciling Sterling Houston’s Isis in Nubia with ancient Nubian History and Myth,” examines San Antonio playwright Sterling Houston’s dramatic treatment of the ancient myth of Osiris (Egyptian god of fertility and the underworld) and Isis (Osiris’ sister and goddess of earth and moon).  Nubia, called Kush in ancient history, was the homeland of Africa’s earliest culture, which can be traced to 3800 B.C.E.  Mayo argues that by placing the Egyptian story of the gods in Nubia, Houston Africanizes Egyptian culture in a way that is counter to traditional historical accounts. In combining history, myth, and invention in Isis in Nubia, Mayo says that Houston recovers and recreates African heritage for African Americans.

For more information, contact Ann Frio at (512) 453-2008.