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Designated theme courses

The designated themes are topics central to an understanding of contemporary life. Investigating these themes helps prepare you to become knowledgeable, ethical, and engaged public citizens. You are required to satisfy four of the five themes.

All theme courses have the common goal of cultivating a number of habits of mind:

  • Thinking ethically about important challenges facing our society and world

  • Reflecting on the shared sense of responsibility required to build and maintain a community

  • Connecting knowledge and practice

  • Fostering a stronger sense of individual roles as historical agents

In addition, each theme requirement must meet theme-specific criteria.

Civic life and ethics theme courses equip you to manage contemporary problems by developing an understanding of how civic and ethical principles have been historically developed, critically assessed by individuals and groups, and negotiated within specific cultural settings.

To satisfy the civic life and ethics theme requirement, a course must meet these criteria by:

  • Presenting and defining ethics and the role of ethics in civic life

  • Exploring how the ethical principles of a society or societies have been derived and developed through group processes, and debated in various arenas

  • Encouraging you to develop, defend, or challenge your personal values and beliefs as they relate to your life as a resident of the United States and a member of a global society

  • Giving you concrete opportunities to identify and apply your knowledge of ethics, both in solving short-term problems and in creating long-term forecasts

The designated theme, Race, Power, and Justice in the United States was formerly called Diversity and Social Justice in the United States. If you were admitted to the University fall 2021 or later, you are required to fulfill this theme.

The United States is a diverse nation founded on the principle of equality, and yet has roots in slavery, indigenous genocide, colonialism, and dispossession. Courses that fulfill this requirement wrestle explicitly with the complex interactions of diversity, especially race, power, and justice in the United States, and the persistent structural inequalities embedded in those relationships.

Such courses promote historical and contemporary understandings of how racially based social, economic, cultural, and political inequalities have been constructed and perpetuated in the United States. They explore how those inequalities have created deep systemic injustices, particularly toward Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, which are shaped and often amplified by the intersections of race and ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, and/or disability.

These courses will help you examine how the contested nature of race, and/or its intersection with other identities, affect social dynamics, democratic practices, and systemic economic inequalities. It will help you identify specific actions that address power hierarchies and promote social justice.

Race, Power, and Justice in the United States courses must meet these criteria:

  • The course promotes historical and contemporary understandings of how systemic structural inequalities that sustain social, political, economic, and/or environmental inequities, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, have been constructed and perpetuated in the United States.
  • The course may focus entirely on racial justice or may focus on the structural inequalities facing other marginalized groups in the United States. However, all courses must substantively integrate issues of racial justice, whether the course focuses centrally on issues of race, or focuses on other forms of difference (e.g., ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, disability).
  • The course amplifies voices and scholarship from Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
  • The course promotes agency to address disparities in institutionalized systems by helping students identify specific actions to address power hierarchies and promote social justice.

The environment theme courses engage you in complex environmental issues. Finding solutions to these environmental issues will have you vigorously debating the myriad of solutions; weighing the costs with the benefits among alternative policies and practices; exploring the roles of science and technology; and learning to become involved, informed, and a constructive citizen after graduation.

To satisfy the environment theme requirement, a course must meet these criteria by:

  • Raising environmental issues of major significance

  • Giving explicit attention to interrelationships between the natural environment and human society

  • Introducing the underlying scientific principles behind the environmental issues being examined

  • Having you explore the limitations of technologies and the constraints of science on the public policy issues being considered

  • Teaching you how to identify and evaluate credible information concerning the environment

  • Having you demonstrate an understanding that solutions to environmental problems will only be sustained if you are consistent with the ethics and values of society

Global perspectives theme courses assure that U of M graduates have at least one significant academic exposure to the world beyond the U.S. borders and the opportunity to consider the implications of this knowledge for the international community and their own lives.

To satisfy the global perspectives theme requirement, a course must meet these criteria by:

  • Focusing on the world beyond the United States

  • (1) Focusing in depth upon a particular country, culture, or region or some aspect thereof; (2) addressing a particular issue, problem, or phenomenon with respect to two or more countries, cultures, or regions; or (3) examining global affairs through a comparative framework

  • You will discuss and reflect on the implications of issues raised by the course material for the international community, the United States, and/or for your own life


Technology and society theme courses consider the impact of technology on society as well as how society has shaped, used, and responded to new technology. You are introduced to a broad range of perspectives on the adoption and use of certain technologies.

To satisfy the technology and society theme requirement, a course must meet these criteria by:

  • Examining one or more technologies that have had some measurable impact on contemporary society

  • Building understanding of the science and engineering behind the technology addressed

  • Having you discuss the role that society has played in fostering the development of technology as well as the response to the adoption and use of technology

  • Having you consider the impact of technology from multiple perspectives that include developers, users/consumers, as well as others in society affected by the technology

  • Developing your skills in evaluating conflicting views on existing or emerging technology

  • Engaging you in a process of critical evaluation that provides a framework with which to evaluate new technology in the future