By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications
A new initiative in Ethnic Studies is aimed at adding a global perspective to the division’s curriculum.
The program’s courses on race and ethnicity have been largely grounded in a U.S. context, but that no longer reflects the transnationalism of today’s world.
“We wanted to explore more comparative approaches in ethnic studies, which is where the field has been moving,” said Lourdes Alberto, associate professor in the Division of Ethnic Studies and the Department of English. “Our students are also asking us to go beyond the areas we currently have organized in ethnic studies.”
The division received a $10,000 grant from Global Learning Across the Disciplines and the Office for Global Engagement that it will use over the coming year to study how to bring a global emphasis to its offerings.
Alberto is leading that effort, with colleagues Edmund Fong, associate professor in Ethnic Studies and political science, and Elizabeth Archuleta, associate chair and academic program manager in Ethnic Studies.
They’ll use the grant to form a global curriculum working group, create a learning “track” and propose pilot courses. Alberto said over the year they’ll bring in speakers, host workshops for students and faculty and begin to explore internships and study-abroad opportunities.
The Division of Ethnic Studies is part of the newly founded School for Cultural and Social Transformation, launched last November. The Division of Gender Studies is also housed in the new school.
“That has allowed us to really pursue changes that we’ve wanted to make in ethnic studies,” Alberto said.
The “Race and Ethnicity in Global Contexts” initiative coincides with other curricular revision activities underway in the division, including streamlining undergraduate major and minor degree programs and exploring creation of a combined ethnic studies/gender studies graduate degree program.
Adding a strong global component to the curriculum that emphasizes awareness, critical analysis and engagement with complex and interdependent global systems and their legacies will equip students to be transformative citizens and leaders of change in the U.S. and abroad, she said.
“It will position us to ask much more daring questions and to meet our students where they are,” Alberto said. “Our undergraduates increasingly ask us to account for their transnational identities and global connections — global experiences not easily slotted into our curriculum of African American, Asian Pacific American, Latina/o and Native American areas.”
An example: at its core, Asian-American studies have focused on Japanese, Chinese and Korean experiences in America but other Asian populations have grown in significance in recent years — Nepalese, Burmese and Indian, etc.
“Currently, our classes don’t necessarily speak to the multitude of differences within that category,” Alberto said. “Our students are asking to have more expansive content that covers all of this variety.”
Middle Eastern refugee and Muslim students also question how Ethnic Studies’ offerings align with their experiences as religious racialized minorities.
Another example: Native American studies have tended to be U.S. based but the reality, Alberto said, is that Native American tribes are sovereign nations that can be placed in a transnational context — particularly given the fact some tribes straddle the borders of Canada and Mexico.
The grant will give faculty, many of whom already conduct research that emphasizes global and transnational crossings and exchanges of peoples, the opportunity to think creatively about how to address questions our students have, Alberto said. They’ll be able to explicitly engage global questions on topics such undocumented lives and how legal status interacts with race, gender, class and whiteness.
“For the team, this is the start of a much longer project but for supporting our faculty doing this kind of work and translating all that exciting research into opportunities and courses for students,” Alberto said.