Are Ethnic Studies Programs in Danger?

by Latoya Peterson


Over the weekend, I received two email bulletins about recent events surrounding ethnic studies programs, one focusing on Asian Americans in Maryland and one focusing on Latin@s in Arizona.

Lee Fang wrote in with an Action Alert: Save Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland:

Asian American University of Maryland Students Mobilize To Save Asian American Studies

(COLLEGE PARK, MD) — Students at the University of Maryland are stepping up to demand Asian Americans are included in the future of the University. The current draft of the University “Strategic Plan” – a document which governs future resource allocation and academic affairs policy for the next 5 to 10 years – completely ignores Asian American Studies and does nothing to address meeting the needs of Maryland’s growing Asian American student population.

Outrage has been vented at several recent meetings of Asian American student organizations and activist groups. Given forecasted fiscal shortfalls for the state of Maryland, many students fear Asian American Studies, as well as other academic programs dedicated to the study of race, gender, sexual orientation and issues of identity, face elimination or severe cut backs in the case of a budget crisis.

“Without inclusion in the Strategic Plan, you don’t exist,” lamented Pi Delta Psi President Scottie Siu.

As the deadline nears for community input, several Asian American groups are preparing to lobby and write letters demanding that the Provost add provisions to ensure that Asian American Studies be protected and promoted one day into a Major. Other demands include that there should be more needs based assessment surveys so counseling services can be improved, and that there should be a space on campus for Asian American cultural events.

Take action now! Call Provost Nariman Farvardin at (301) 405-5252 and ask that Asian American Studies be in the Strategic Plan!

(You can also contact Lee Fang at Lhfang@gmail.com).

I also received an email from Aaminah with an opinion piece from the Arizona Daily Star. The piece was written in response to a proposed bill in the Arizona State Legislature to target courses of study that they perceive as anti-American:

Some state lawmakers are again sticking their noses where they don’t belong and trying to tell educators what should or shouldn’t be taught in public schools.

The Legislature is attempting to usurp the decision-making responsibilities of local school boards and is perpetuating lies and creating divisions among Arizonans by pushing a bill that seeks to end programs like Raza Studies in the Tucson Unified School District. The bill would deny state funding to schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization.”

Whatever that means.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services reported in Thursday’s Star that the bill, SB 1108, is aimed at MEChA, the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, a student group that state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, describes as racist.
Raza Studies has also drawn the ire of anti-immigrant-rights activists and last year was criticized by state schools superintendent Tom Horne, who said the program was promoting “ethnic chauvinism.”

[...]

SB 1108 was approved 9-6 by the House Appropriations Committee and goes to the full House.

The measure should be rejected because it goes against the concept of academic freedom — letting local school boards decide what is best for their students.

The bill is vague and subjective.

The measure would give the state superintendent the power to decide when schools “overtly encourage dissent” from values such as democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious toleration. It’s too much power to give one person.

We wonder whether learning about communist China in history class or discussions about the Middle East and current events would fit into the “teachings of Western civilization.” Mexico is in the Western Hemisphere and thus, part of Western civilization.

SB 1108 would encourage propaganda, not education, in our public schools.

I wonder if these are two isolated incidents of school administrators and legislators being short-sighted? Or, alternatively, is this part of an emerging trend against ethnic studies in schools?

Your thoughts?