The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Need for diversity in the curriculum

This semester marks the first time since the 2008-2009 academic year that Asian American Contemporary Issues has been offered at Grinnell. Before that, the College never offered this course and, when the professor of both sections—Maxwell Leung—returns to the California College of the Arts at the end of the year, it is unknown when it will be offered again.
The irregularity of this specific class illustrates a larger problem in our course curriculum. As an institution that has a diverse student body, it is essential to offer an array of classes promoting a well-rounded education. Unfortunately, the absence of an ethnic studies department at Grinnell creates a void into which the histories of Asians, Asian Americans, Africans and African Americans and other minorities disappear.

In this past month, the Arizona school system halted the teaching of ethnic studies throughout the state. Following Arizona law SB 2281, courses that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” are illegal. According to the New York Times, if the Tucson Unified School District fails to comply with this law, the education system could lose more than $14 million in state funding. While Arizona’s appalling situation may not seem comparable to that of Grinnell’s, we must question Grinnell’s commitment to social justice as it relates to race and ethnicity.

Although classes such as Race and Ethnicity in America, Traditions of Ethnic American Literature, and Intro American Studies and Colonial Latin America have become a standard at Grinnell, due to the large amount of material and history these courses are forced to cover, they still only provide a general scope of ethnicity studies.

When will ethnic studies be at the forefront of our academic experience instead of at the end of our textbooks? The creation of an ethnic studies department would engender discourse on specific groups and help breakdown stereotypes. Professor Leung’s Asian American Studies class was over-enrolled this spring, bringing the initial total to 31. Clearly there is an interest in this field of study. At our peer institution Colorado College, their race and ethnic studies aims to actively study and understand the “meaning, nature, and enduring significance of race.” These same goals can serve as examples for what a department at Grinnell could attempt to accomplish.

As a liberal arts institution that aims to prepare men and women “in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good,” the instability of minority-centric classes will only reinforce an unbalanced, unegalitarian education that propagates euro-centric values.

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