This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
I've been enrolled in the Great Books program at Mercer University every calendar year of my four years at Mercer. In that time, I've noticed further and further that there simply aren't a lot of students who look like me in the program.
This isn't an anomaly as being a Black male means being the minority in most scenarios. Yet, knowing that students of color encompass over 50% of students in the College of Liberal Arts, according to 2020 data from Mercer's Office of Institutional Effectiveness provided by Mercer senior Sarah Moore, I was left wondering why many students of color don't enroll in GBK.
In terms of the numbers, 73% of students enrolled in the GBK program in 2020 were white students compared to 49% in the CLA. While many students consider INT to be easier to do less reading, I believe that the curriculum contributes to the disconnect between GBK and students of color. The program has a total of 50 books, according to greatbooks.mercer.edu, and 44 of them were written by white American or European men. As a Black man, to see only W.E.B Dubois's The Souls of Black Folk as a representation of being a Black American was disappointing to say the least.
With that being said, many professors in the program do go out of their way to add authors to their courses. Last semester, I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in Dr. James May's GBK 306 class. May replaced Darwin's The Origin of Species with Douglass's autobiography using the "80/20 rule," which allows professors to swap out a couple texts as long as they maintain most of the original texts. This rule is the only reason I've read more than one woman or Black American in my time with GBK.
I believe if Mercer were to put more women and people of color within the curriculum, there would be an uptick in enrollment for GBK. In fact, Moore conducted a survey where she found that "100% of GBK students and 81% of INT students surveyed responded that they believe the Great Books Program would benefit from offering a more diverse reading list with authors from a variety of cultures."
All in all, I love the GBK program. I believe it's made me a better person. I also believe I wouldn't have loved it as much without the "80/20 rule." Being able to experience philosophy from multiple angles is the best way to experience it, and the program needs more diverse authors to achieve that.
Keith Holmes Jr. ‘22 is a journalism and creative writing double major who has worked with The Cluster as general staff since his Sophomore year. Keith has received Best in SNO awards for his sports articles along with years of work at Mercer’s ESPN3 branch. Keith spends his free time playing video games and writing fiction around campus.