General Education: The Human Community

The Human Community is the core academic program of James Madison University. It is required of all students regardless of their major or professional program. The Human Community seeks to educate students in ways that have been fundamental to higher education and to thinking people for centuries. The philosophy of the program promotes the cultivation of habits of the mind and heart that are essential to informed citizens in a democracy and world community. The program is committed to helping students develop their ability to reason and make ethical choices; to appreciate beauty and understand the natural and social worlds they live in; to recognize the importance of the past and work towards a better future. 


Program Philosophy
General Education: The Human Community is the common core academic program of James Madison University, in which students come to understand how distinct disciplines look at the world from different vantage points. Courses in The Human Community are organized into five areas, each emphasizing unique tools, rationales, and methodologies. Taken together, courses in a student's chosen major and The Human Community complement and complete each other. Both are integral and essential components of a student's full and proper education.

In the liberal arts tradition, General Education: The Human Community aspires to create informed global citizens of the 21st century.

James Madison University’s General Education program is committed to creating an equitable and inclusive academic environment for all persons. We affirm that equity advances understanding and is integral to a liberal arts education. We acknowledge the history of exclusion and inequity nationally and at James Madison University. We embrace the process of making JMU’s General Education program accessible, affirming, and action-oriented.

By placing inclusion and equity at the center of our mission, we seek to implement strategies and diversity policies that reimagine the relevance of a liberal arts education. We challenge our community of students, faculty, and staff to engage in personal and collective reflection, development, and action.

Students understand the historical and contemporary distinctions and interconnections among people, institutions, and communities that create, preserve, and transmit culture and knowledge in the arts, sciences, mathematics, social sciences, and humanities.

Students become skilled in questioning, investigating, analyzing, evaluating, and communicating.

Students participate in a variety of aesthetic and civic experiences reflecting human concerns and values that transcend the limits of specialization.

Diversity Statement

In 2005, the General Education Council (GEC) established a Diversity Board in response to JMU’s initiative to promote diversity on campus. To guide its work, the Board adopted a definition of diversity that reflected the philosophy of the program, General Education: The Human Community, and university then. At the time, diversity broadly included attention to ability/disability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexuality, or world view. Programmatically, the GEC aspired to promote this diversity not through a specific course or “diversity requirement” but through engagement with diversity-related content and outcomes infused throughout the entire General Education Program.

In 2016, the General Education Program renewed this commitment to diversity. The 2016 statement said:

We believe that a deliberate inclusion of diverse points of view and lived experiences enhances learning and understanding for all members of our Human Community.

The goal of JMU’s General Education Program is to challenge students and faculty to engage in personal and collective reflection, development, and action through a diverse curriculum in the arts, sciences, and humanities. And we meet that goal as a Human Community consisting of students and teachers committed to exploring culture, knowledge, and the different orientations individuals develop to culture and knowledge. In this way, any general education course is as much an exploration of knowledge as it is an exploration of relationships students and teachers build with that knowledge. Whether encountered in a book or through interaction with the person sitting next to us, the voices and lived experiences of particular groups of individuals are important elements to any general education course subject.

The health of this Human Community, then, depends on diversity—of courses, disciplines, ways of knowing, and the voices and lived experiences of the people in our community. But we also believe that, historically, certain voices or perspectives have dominated the learning and understanding of human communities in the past, silencing other perspectives that might otherwise inspire new vision and cultivate new growth. To ensure our Human Community evolves equitably so that learning and understanding enrich us all, the General Education  Program aspires to cultivate diversity

  • as a process and an outcome of learning

  • in the kinds of information we study and ways used to frame that information

  • in the range/scope of Cluster learning objectives and the inquiry methods used to achieve the objectives

  • through a range of disciplinary lens used to examine academic subjects and of individual histories with those subjects.

Following campus-wide demonstrations and conversations in the Spring of 2020, the GEC sponsored a new DEIJ working group. In October 2021, the GEC voted to 1) amend the General Education program mission statement, 2) add the word ‘accessibility” to the phrase ‘diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice,’ and 3) commit to seven short-term action items for 2021-22.

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