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What it means.

A guest commentator in the Daily Emerald today added to the drumbeat of demands for the departmentalization of Ethnic Studies. Amidst all the usual complaints about how the University of Oregon is failing in its stated goal to be “more diverse,” Kit Myers, a graduate student in Ethnic Studies at U.C. San Diego, spelled out what a departmentalized Ethnic Studies might mean for this campus:

Departmentalization for ethnic studies will address many of the six major goals of the diversity plan. It means building a critical mass of faculty of color on campus; it means fostering a culturally responsive community; it means developing and reinforcing diversity infrastructures; it means more dialogue and critical engagement with issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class, which improves campus climate; it means knowledge and growth; and for many students, staff, and faculty of color on campus, it means retention.

Such a formulation seems vague, to say the least. While increasing the number of minority faculty on campus is a laudable goal, Myers seems to be unintentionally implying that a departmentalized Ethnic Studies will adopt hiring practices that favor some candidates at the expense of other candidates who do not pass the skin color test. If this is the case, it is nakedly discriminatory and for this university or any other to purposely adopt a policy that is specifically formulated to exclude a large percentage of the population is unethical at the least, if not flagrantly illegal.

As for the assertion about Ethnic Studies “furthering the discussion of race” on this campus… well, I’ve just gotta call bull on that one. As certain members of our own student government amply prove on a seemingly weekly basis, the “discussion” of race on campus often amounts to little more than accusations of racism hurled around in nearly every imaginable circumstance, and is often used as a bludgeon to curtail free speech, stifle criticism, and shut down debate. How any of this “improves campus climate,” I do not know. I also do not know why “issues of gender and sexuality” are assumed to fall under the rubric of an Ethnic Studies department, but Myers seems to take it as a given.

Of course, my worries about departmentalizing Ethnic Studies may be entirely misplaced. Indeed, I hope they are since the Department of Ethnic Studies seems to be a question of “when” rather than “if” at this point. In fact, I am not necessarily hostile to departmentalization as such but as I’ve written elsewhere, there is precedent for such programs to become highly politicized and exclusive. To date, not a single proponent of departmentalization has to my knowledge bothered to address such criticisms and we’re treated instead to the usual blandishments about diversity.

Instead of moralizing to the student body about how necessary Ethnic Studies is, how about putting together an example of what a typical course of study in that department might look like? What about enumerating where exactly the gaps are in currently available courses and how Ethnic Studies might fill those gaps? How about actually answering some of the worries about exclusion and politicization in an honest and forthright way instead of characterizing critics as racists with no legitimate concerns?

Of course, such conciliatory gestures are probably unnecessary since, as I mentioned, departmentalization is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point. Despite their loud commitment to “dialogue” and “discussion,” it’s clear that proponents don’t feel the need to spend their time convincing the portion of the student body that still holds reservations that a Department of Ethnic Studies is truly a boon to the University of Oregon.

Thus, we’re left wondering exactly what a departmentalized Ethnic Studies brings new to the table. So far, all we’ve been offered by the likes of Kit Myers is an empty plate and the promise that there’s all sorts of good stuff in the kitchen, if only we’d shut up and let them feed us.

  1. Toby says:

    fair enough, it has been awhile

  2. Vincent says:

    According to an article by Sho Ikeda, Ben Brown, and Tyler Graf in Vol. 21, Issue 6 of the Commentator (2004), Kit Myers was the co-director of APASU (Asian Pacific Americans Student Union).

    A quick Google search didn’t turn up any evidence that he was an OSPIRG rep, though I suppose it’s not out of the question.

  3. Toby says:

    Didn’t Kit Myers used to be the OSPIRG rep on campus…pretty sure about that one.

  4. Ossie says:

    Actually, it will be covered, along with the rest of the elections’ atrocities, in the next issue of the Oregon Commentator, out April 25. If the OC covered every greivance filed against the OAT, it would seriously cut into our drinking time; does anyone have the count, I think it’s at ten now.

  5. Ossie says:

    No one cares.

  6. anon says:

    So, just curious — why isn’t the Commentator covering the appalling grievance filed by Rock the Yellow, per this morning’s Emerald?

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