Expand ethnic studies Departments vital to ''U'' community

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published April 2, 2001

Students at the University have always been active in promoting diversity and ethnic awareness on campus. From cultural shows to affirmative action rallies, there are always opportunities to be actively involved. April brings with it a new twist: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Among the events planned for the month are a panel discussion on expanding Asian Pacific American career choices, a poetry slam and a dialogue with international Asian students. Although the APA community sponsors popular programming year-round, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month should give the APA community and the University at large a moment to pause and reflect on its history.

The establishment of an Asian Pacific American program was a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, less than 25 years ago APA student activists staged sit-ins and other demonstrations in hopes of establishing a permanent Asian Pacific American studies course in the American Studies Department. Even in recent years, students lobbied the administration to expand the Asian Pacific American program to include more courses.

The trend of ethnic studies expansion is not exclusive to the APA community. In fact, American Indian culture studies have continued to be overlooked in recent years. Latino/a studies in the American Culture department also promotes critical study of a minority culture that is becoming ever more a part of the American experience. These programs give underrepresented minorities a voice in academia and narrativize multiculturalism and diversity.

The general trend of expansion among ethnic studies departments is beneficial for many reasons. First, it offers students of any ethnicity the chance to study other cultures and histories. It promotes academic diversity by offering students a wide variety of courses that would not be available outside the University. Secondly, it helps preserve the histories of ethnic peoples, which might otherwise be forgotten. Just as we support more traditional departments, such as history, to preserve the past, it is essential that we promote ethnic studies departments to ensure that the full historical story is told. In this respect, ethnic studies are crucial. High school American history and government courses are usually only able to offer a cursory survey of historical events. Oftentimes students hardly learn about ethnic perspectives or ethnic intolerance. College is the first time many students are given the opportunity to study history or culture from an ethnic perspective.

In short, ethnic studies departments are vital for both faculty and students. Besides creating a diversity among academia, these departments safeguard ethnic history and ensure that it will not be lost to future generations. Additionally, it gives most students their first, and perhaps only, chance to study subject material unavailable outside of a college setting. The University should be applauded for its generally good policy towards establishing ethnic studies departments and continue its trends of expanding them.