Race and Ethnicity Working Group presents findings at open meeting

The Race and Ethnicity Working Group has been meeting regularly this semester to discuss the creation of a new interdisciplinary program on the study of race, ethnicity, diversity, disparity and identity.

The program would combine new and existing majors and minors from a number of departments to create multiple courses of study.

The working group presented their conclusions to the student body in an open meeting held on Jan. 27.

“What they’re going to do now is start to describe the mission and what they think the program is, and then still try and get feedback from students and from other faculty members, and particularly departments and programs that seem to be somewhat related to this,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger−Sweeney said.

The working group is co−chaired by Professor of Biology Frances Chew and Professor of History Peniel Joseph and includes Associate Professor of English Christina Sharpe, Professor of Anthropology Deborah Pacini−Hernandez, Assistant Professor of Political Science Natalie Masuoka, Associate Professor of Psychology Sam Sommers, Assistant Professor of Music Stephan Pennington and Assistant Professor of History Kris Manjapra.

“The new program is an interdisciplinary umbrella program meant to bring together multi− and interdisciplinary perspectives on race and ethnicity,” Chew told the Daily in an email. “It will be centered around a few new majors and minors that do not currently exist at Tufts, and it is hoped that some other majors and minors that already exist may become part of the program.”

Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate President Tomas Garcia, sophomore senator and Diversity and Community Affairs Officer Joe Thibodeau, junior Logan Cotton and freshman Marcy Regalado are the four student representatives on the working group, according to Chew.

They will serve as liaisons between the student body and the faculty working group to ensure that a full range of opinions are considered during the creation of the new program.

“We’re going to work hard to make sure that every student who wants to be heard will be heard, and their input will be brought before the working group,” Garcia, a senior, said. “I would urge any students on campus who have a strong opinion on the matter to reach out [to the student representatives].”

The working group was created in response to ongoing student demand for an Africana Studies department. It considered the creation of a new department but decided to pursue an interdisciplinary program instead, allowing for a wider focus of the program, greater flexibility, a more immediate time frame and less financial and administrative input.

The working group hopes to agree on a specific curriculum proposal sometime toward the end of this semester, according to Sommers.

“[The working group has been] having conversations with departments that have overlap, like English, Women’s Studies, Sociology, Psychology and American Studies,” Sommers said.

The next stages in this process involve administrative approval.

“The new curricular initiatives will be submitted to the Curricula Committee, which itself has student representation,” Chew said. “If that group approves, they will be put up for vote by the Arts and Sciences faculty.”

Berger−Sweeney committed to a cluster hire in September of three tenure−track faculty members who would be based in different departments but would teach courses related to race and ethnicity.

Once the hires are authorized early this summer, the departments will have the following year to conduct a search for new faculty members who would begin teaching in the 2013−2014 academic year, according to Berger−Sweeney.

Three new faculty members were hired this year separately from the cluster hire and will start teaching subjects related to this program in September, according to Berger−Sweeney.

Students called for an Africana Studies department since 1968. In 2010, the Senate passed a resolution supporting the creation of an Africana Studies department, which helped lead to the creation of the race and ethnicity working group, according to Garcia.

There has been a mixed response to the proposed program among faculty and students.

“The feedback that I have received has really been quite positive, but limited,” Berger−Sweeney said. “If I were a student, I’d be really excited about this.”

Sommers said that he has heard feedback ranging from enthusiasm for the program to concern for how the program may affect other programs and courses taught by faculty.

“Everyone has an informative opinion, and it’s useful,” he said.

The biggest student concern seems to be about the focus of the program, according to Garcia. A main point of contention among students is the broad scope of the program, which focuses on a much wider range of issues than Africana Studies.

“Some students feel … that it’s not going to the full limits of what they’ve been asking for,” Garcia said. “I’ve heard a lot about how… perhaps this program is a little too broad−reaching in its vision by saying that it’s going to try and include everything.”

A department, as opposed to a program, would allow for tenure−track faculty hires that would teach specifically and exclusively about Africana Studies. On the other hand, a program allows for a more interdisciplinary study of topics, according to Garcia.

“The Africana area will be the first priority but is not the only area to which the working group is paying attention,” Chew said.

Garcia said that he has also heard concerns related to the cost of the program and a lack of student involvement in the visioning process for the program.

The student representatives have not yet attended a working group meeting, but when they do, they plan to prepare by holding an open forum to try to understand the perspectives of the undergraduate student body, Garcia said.