This November marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Ethnic Studies programs in the United States. The push for Ethnic Studies in higher education began when a coalition of student groups, known as the Third World Liberation Front, held a strike on San Francisco State University’s campus in 1968. Members of the group protested racial discrimination in higher education and demanded that San Francisco State University create a College of Ethnic Studies. The strike ended five months later, after the demands of the coalition had been met.
Nearly fifty years have passed since the strikes in San Francisco, and Wellesley College still does not offer an Ethnic Studies major. The Ethnic Studies Coalition, a student-run group on campus, is working to change that. In order to celebrate the 50 anniversary of Ethnic Studies programs in the United States and gather the support necessary to create the major at Wellesley, the group will hold several educational events on campus this November.
In an statement to the Wellesley News, members of the Ethnic Studies Coalition expressed that students of all racial backgrounds could benefit from the major.
“Having Ethnic Studies as a major tells students of color and marginalized students that their lived experiences are complex and worthy of study,” the Coalition said in a statement. “It is also important for white students to understand the historical exclusion of certain groups from full participation in the economic, political and cultural life of the United States and to see how that exclusion reverberates to the present day. Ethnic Studies gives students a framework which we can use to situate ourselves in a broader historical context, a language which we can use to critique our current institutions, and the tools which we can use to work for our own liberation.”
The Ethnic Studies Coalition kicks off its series of events on Friday, Nov. 2 with a professor panel. The professors who were invited to speak on the panel were chosen because they are currently teaching courses across various disciplines relating to Ethnic Studies. On the weekend of Nov. 9, the coalition will host a series of film screenings on the history of Ethnic Studies. The keynote event, which will take place on Nov. 29, is a lecture by Juanita Tamayo Lott; a statistician, demographer, policy analyst and writer who helped found the first U.S. Filipino American Studies Program at San Francisco State University when she was a student there in 1969.
The Ethnic Studies Coalition shared that members of the group are incredibly excited that Juanita Tamayo Lott is coming to Wellesley for its anniversary celebration.
“We are especially looking forward to Mrs. Juanita Tamayo Lott’s keynote event at the end of November. She was a student striker herself at San Francisco State University and has since then worked as a federal statistician, been a pioneer in Filipino American and Asian American Studies, and is currently still a writer. It is a real honor to welcome her to our community,” they stated in their email.
Smitha Radhakrishnan, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College, is one of the many faculty members serving on the professor panel. She has advised several students who are interested in issues relating to Ethnic Studies and fully supports the Coalition’s initiative. Radhakrishnan expressed that while the College offers a Comparative Race and Ethnicity Minor as well as several courses that deal with issues of race, students who are interested in the field of Ethnic Studies have limited options.
“We currently have a Comparative Race and Ethnicity Minor as well as courses in many, if not most, departments on campus that deal directly with issues of race. Still, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a student to pursue a course of study that centers historically marginalized groups, acknowledging our knowledge and experiences as primary sources of legitimate knowledge. Having an Ethnic Studies major at the college would offer students that powerful option,” she stated.
Members of the Ethnic Studies Coalition agree that there is currently a lack of institutional resources available to students interested in the field.
“Students interested in Ethnic Studies here at Wellesley College will find that while the courses they take are not only interesting but also eye-opening, there is a systemic lack of resources for the program,” they shared.
The Coalition indicated that there are several examples of Wellesley’s lack of institutional commitment to Ethnic Studies. One of these examples is that the Africana Studies Department lost several faculty members at the end of last year, including Professor Ophera Davis. The decision not to renew Davis’ contract sparked campus-wide outrage, and a coalition of over sixty students fought to keep her at Wellesley.
Anthropology Major Renee Chen ’21 is one student who is not sold on the prospect of an Ethnic Studies major at Wellesley. Chen raised the concern that an Ethnic Studies Major might be too broad for a four year degree. However, she does feel that Wellesley should offer more diverse courses.
“I think it [an Ethnic Studies Major] is an extremely cool and inclusive idea. I totally agree that we need more diverse courses at Wellesley––as an extremely exclusive and elite private school, the more perspective we can gain, the better. I’m just not sure if an Ethnic Studies major is realistic––there’s simply too much to learn in too little time,” Chen said.
Professor Radhakrishnan advises students who are interested in learning more about the field of Ethnic Studies to do the following this November: “Attend the events that are planned and learn more about the field! It is easy to dismiss efforts to create ‘one more major’ when we already have so many, but there is more to this effort than meets the eye. I have already learned so much from students working on this issue, since I am not formally trained in the field of Ethnic Studies myself. I hope we can all get more educated together!”
Members of the Ethnic Studies Coalition indicated that they are always looking for students to join them in their fight for an Ethnic Studies Major at Wellesley. “The Ethnic Studies Coalition is always looking for more members and we have to keep this movement and momentum going, so we really welcome all class years! You do not have to be in a leadership position or part of any e-board to join our coalition. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get involved.”