To be clear about my position: I teach Native American Studies in an institution where I have little hope of ever seeing even an Indigenous Studies minor, but where I do have lots of exciting colleagues with whom I'd like to pursue common interests.In this position, I dream about a Center for Critical Race and Gender Studies that could give my classes and my scholarship a home here at UNH. Today I'll write about the curricular side of things.A Center would give my classes a home by making them visible within a larger framework, and by providing support for students who want to be able to stitch them together my classes in a meaningful way
. E.g., in an eventual "Race and Gender Studies Major," students could choose a "track" in Native American and Indigenous Studies, getting exposure to the specific intellectual history, content and methods of this field (as well as to the specific history and struggle that brought Indigenous Studies to universities in the first place).
But if they also had to take a range of courses in, say, Africana Studies, Queer Literature, Middle Eastern women's history, Latin American criminology, they could be part of some really exciting new work and conversations: around the intersections of colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery, and white supremacist patriarchies and heteronormativities; around the limitations of the nation-state model; around the extra-national effects of globalization and privatization; and around the resistance strategies used by disparate oppressed people. (I'm lifting a lot of this language from the great CESA website
IMHO a new program in Race and Gender Studies (or whatever we wind up calling it) would NOT mean absorbing, erasing or assimilating our distinct fields, nor would it mean eliminating programs like Latin American Studies or Af-Am/Africana Studies that already have enough faculty and institutional resources to basically sustain themselves. It WOULD, however, conjoin those of us who take race, ethnicity, and gender seriously as categories of analysis. And it COULD let all of us--in the more secure and less-secure current minors alike--share precious-few resources, while supporting areas in particular jeopardy.Sometime over the weekend I'll blog about scholarship and research.
The relatively new Critical Ethnic Studies Association
is giving me a lot to think about as we gear up for our 3 Minors program review and planning a new UNH Ethnic Studies Center. To me, these goals are mutually supportive: the 3 Minors could be very fruitfully blended into a single Ethnic Studies Minor (and, eventually, a major) that would enable us to join forces around our existing strengths, while pushing us forward, thinking about what UNH students and scholars really need in this new century.
The CESA wants to honor "the spirit of the decolonial, antiracist, and other global liberationist movements that enabled the creation of Ethnic Studies (Asian American Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, Arab-American Studies, Latino/a Studies, and Postcolonial Studies) and continues to inform its political and intellectual projects." At UNH, the 3 Minors arose at a particular institutional moment (or set of moments), in response to very specific concerns and on-the-ground realities. Today, as it begins to appear that such identity-based programs might not be sustainable (at least not at UNH), we might consider what intellectual frameworks we hold in common. Again the CESA has something useful to say: "An un-disciplinary formation, critical ethnic studies has decolonization not as its goal but sees decolonizing as a set of ongoing theories, practices, imaginaries, and methods in the service of abolishing global oppression. Thus, rather than focusing exclusively on critique, critical ethnic studies stands for decolonizing as a generative praxis of world-making."Siobhan
Looking forward to this year of strategic planning and community-building for our 3 Minors, I find myself hoping that we might be able to merge the 3 into one big-tent program, center, and ultimately a major. In the current university climate of shrinking fiscal support and number-crunching, joining forces under some rubric such as "Critical Ethnic and Gender Studies" might allow us to show some critical mass while making a case for future support.
I don't think of this "big tent" as a way of dissolving or commandeering existing programs, but rather as a space for building alliances. It's exciting to me when students show up in my Native American literature classes with theoretical perspectives on white privilege that they've got from their Intro to Race, Culture and Power; it's galvanizing for me as a scholar to be able to talk with colleagues in Latin American Studies about how globalization shapes the experiences of particular immigrant populations in New Hampshire.At our discussion of Sara Ahmed's book last night (more on this in a later post), Courtney said something that really struck me: that it might actually be okay for an institution or program, even at the level of mission statement, to acknowledge that we haven't, in fact, got it right so far. I love the idea of moving forward with an Ethnic Studies Center that would be REPARATIVE. So, yes, we study what's wrong with white supremacy and settler colonialism; we study the powerful forms of resistance expressed by oppressed people; but we also explore new forms of redistributive justice
, including practices on our very campus.This morning I was looking over the websites for our existing minors and finding some things that I like, and that I think could easily talk to each other under some larger heading:From RCP: This program of study enables students to develop critical perspectives on the ways in which cultural differentiation and racial formulations have been used to maintain social, economic and political power and justify inequalities and injustices. Students will engage both U.S. and international perspectives and contexts as they examine how dominant powers use “culture” to maintain subordination and how subordinated peoples use “culture” to resist exploitation.From Af-Am: The Africana and African American Studies Minor encompasses the multidisciplinary and comparative study of African history and culture, and the study of the African Diaspora throughout the world, from Europe to Asia as well as to North and South America. The program recognizes the global and transnational dimensions of contemporary African Diasporic experiences in the United States, the Caribbean, and in Latin American nations.On re-reading the AMST description after all these years, I wish we had noted the importance of critically examining the construct of "the United States." Looking to other programs that, IMHO, have a place under a big tent, Latin American Studies
does a nice job calling out groups of students who should find the program essential; and Queer Studies
breaks their program description down usefully into big ideas. What would we gain--or lose--by joining forces under a big center/major, while allowing students, perhaps, to retain minor concentrations in areas like Latin American, Queer, and American Studies?
On May 4, Provost John Aber responded favorably to our requests for support for the 3 Minors. Thanks to everyone who signed our letter and met with administrators! The Provost is offering a full year of support, effective in July, for both an administrative assistant and an external review. The goal of the external review is to "assess the current Minors program and offer recommendations for elevating the programs to an Ethnic Studies Center." By July 2013, we are to have prepared a 10-year strategic plan, including "a proposed budget, curricula offerings, the feasibility of hiring a tenured faculty/coordinator, and a timeline for establishing a University-funded and supported comprehensive Ethnic Studies Center at the University of New Hampshire."It seems that, all despondency about university budgets and corporatization aside, this could be an exciting time to reorganize and reconceptualize what we are about. As someone who teaches and writes about Native American Studies with a heavily regional focus, even
I have been feeling the limitations of the old nation- and U.S.-centered identitarian models: increasingly, it seems, global indigenous movements help me understand local indigenous histories and practices, and vice versa. And I know I have much to learn from my colleagues who are thinking about all of these issues--colonialism, conquest, migrations, diaspora, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, labor movements, environmental depletion--in such purportedly disparate contexts as Chican@ studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Queer Studies.What do you all think? How could we create a larger tent that could, as an eminently practical matter, SUSTAIN the teaching and scholarship we have been trying to do (and that too many of us feel we have done in relative isolation), while still creating, say, coherent pathways within that tent for students and professional scholars who want in-depth exploration of, say, African-American literary traditions?
These questions won't be easy, but I am excited to see a brand-new Critical Ethnic Studies Association
forming, which seems to be wrestling with many of these same questions.We have lots of work to do next year, but I for one would be happy to see some of this stuff start percolating over the summer, in a lower-key, friendly way, via blogging and iced coffee! Siobhan SenierEnglish
March 30, 2012
To the Editor:
UNH has dramatically cut its support for diversity curricula. Until now, the 3 Minors--Africana & African American Studies, American Studies, and Race,Culture,Power--have been a home for students aspiring to think critically about race and ethnicity in both local and international contexts. These programs took two decades, faculty persistence, and student protests to build; more recently, we secured a full-time paid program coordinator, who was able to recruit and advise students, develop innovative programming, and foster community around these programs.
Two months ago, however, we lost our talented program coordinator to the threat of a layoff; she easily found work with a more supportive institution. Provost Aber and Dean Fuld have declined to replace this position.
These programs are crucial. In an age of intense competition, UNH will languish behind peer schools, unless it maintains the most visible and tangible commitment to diversity. Given the evaporation of this commitment to the 3 Minors, which effectively renders them moribund, the Advisory Board has decided to resign.
Let us be clear: we will continue to teach our classes in ethnic literature, history, and culture. We will continue to inspire, and be inspired by, the many students who remain committed to this course of study. But we cannot allow UNH to continue touting “inclusive excellence,” while it withdraws material support.
The 3 Minors Advisory Board
February 22, 2012
Dear Provost Aber and Dean Fuld,
We are writing to call your attention to an immediate crisis in UNH’s diversity curricula. The departure of Cait Vaughan from her position as coordinator of the 3 Minors (Africana Studies, American Studies, and Race/Culture/Power) means that these programs have been effectively dissolved. We are not speaking rhetorically; without a staff member who can collect titles of cross-listed courses and ensure that those are included in the Time/Room schedule (due in the next few weeks), these programs are officially moribund as of Fall 2012.
The faculty who have been teaching in these minors, and who fought for years to get them established in the first place, feel compelled to register our concern. We are fully aware that you are in the midst of making some challenging decisions regarding funding allocations. In this era of vertical cuts, however, we would hope that UNH move not backwards, but rather, look to the future and support emerging strengths. A decade ago, Cait’s position was secured after a successful program review of the three minors; at that time, UNH administration made what we had hoped was a longstanding commitment to nurturing programs that seem perennially at risk in our predominantly white institution. The position has enabled us to protect and slowly build our enrollments; just as importantly, it has helped foster community among faculty, students and staff. Now, with several recent, hard-won hires in critical race/ethnic studies in English and elsewhere in COLA, UNH actually has a chance to become the only institution in northern New England with an interdisciplinary center committed to these fields. The creation of such a center would, in truth, be a relatively inexpensive way forward, as the university seeks to distinguish itself in budgetary hard times. Most of the pieces are already in place; it would be a shame to lose momentum here.
However, Cait’s departure represents a critical loss of momentum, exacerbated by the loss of JerriAnne Boggis and the popular Black New England Conference, and paralleled by similar losses in our mutually supportive sister programs in Women’s Studies and Queer Studies. We are thus asking you to take prompt action to re-fill this full-time, benefitted PAT position, and add a full-time OS assistant as support for the 3 Minors and the Ghana Program. Cait Vaughan left her position amid a climate of demoralization, in which more and more of these programs’ labor was piled on a single position, and fear of impending “review” (and job cuts) was added to the mix. We would be dispirited to see this happen again.
To let the 3 Minors dissolve at this point, silently and out of inertia, would be racist in its effect. In saying this, we are not accusing any individual of racism, but rather following a central insight of the 3 Minors themselves: that racism is systemic, a product of institutional forces that requires constant vigilance and resistance. We feel strongly enough about this that we have drafted our concerns into a public statement, which we plan to submit to the Chronicle of Higher Education and other media. Like other institutions, UNH has often availed itself of faculty and student work in ethnic and critical race studies to market its commitment to “diversity” and “inclusive excellence.” If the 3 Minors disappear, we feel the public has a right to know. But first we would like to meet with you to hear whether you are willing to provide the immediate staffing, and longer-term administrative leadership and commitment, that these programs require.
Mary Jo Alibrio
Joelle Ruby Ryan