Tufts creates consortium for race, colonialism and diaspora

Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora Program Director, Associate Professor Dr. Adriana Zavala, explained how the program is the result of years of effort from faculty members and students. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Tufts officially launched the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD), an interdisciplinary program linking Africana Studies, American Studies, Asian American Studies, Colonialism Studies and Latino Studies, this summer. The program’s Inaugural Celebration and Plenary, featuring a discussion with program directors, was held last night.

Associate Professor of History Kris Manjapra said that RCD was created in order to better coordinate the workings of the five interrelated programs under its umbrella.

“The consortium is much more than an administrative grouping,” he told the Daily in an email. “It provides a scaffolding for new kinds of intersectional and comparative knowledge and new opportunities for collaborative and team-based teaching to be built up over time.”

The consortium is the result of several years of student and faculty efforts, according to Adriana Zavala, director of RCD and associate professor of art history. The push began with the formation of an Africana Studies Task Force by Joanne Berger-Sweeney, former dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, in the spring of 2011. This group later became the Race and Ethnicity Working Group, which spearheaded the creation of the Africana Studies and Asian American Studies programs.

The working group’s next goal was to develop RCD, Zavala explained.

“In the fall of 2013, a proposal was presented to [former] Dean Berger-Sweeney for the creation of the consortium as it now exists; our proposal was approved over the summer of 2014 by Deans [James] Glaser, Nancy Bauer, Bárbara Brizuela and Scott Sahagian,” Zavala said.

There are currently 80 students majoring in and 14 students minoring in one of the five programs in RCD, although the numbers are expected to increase this year due to the creation of the consortium, she added.

Zavala said that the consortium is structured to allow for greater academic exploration, hopefully encouraging students to expand their interests across the range of programs. Among the themes of RCD’s five member programs are colonialism, slavery, race, orientalism, diaspora and empire-building, Manjapra added.

“[The consortium] helps students to see that they maybe want to be an American Studies major or an Africana Studies major, but that they will benefit and be strengthened intellectually by thinking about the ways that colonialism and decolonization have played within those particular fields,” she said. “[The students] will be able to benefit in a more dynamic way through all the programming we do together.”

Zavala believes that the consortium’s emphasis on ethnic studies represents a major step forward for the university.

“We really can jump in at the forefront of the ways in which these fields are not just ethnically bound, but there is a trend toward comparative, intersectional, transnational and global analysis,” she said.

Zavala also emphasized that although RCD has a heavy focus on ethnic studies, the program is open to all students.

“One of the things that we will be doing is trying to make it clear to students across the university who might be majoring in a wide variety of things … that knowledge of the way that race plays out in the Americas, knowledge of ways that diaspora communities contribute to the cultures and societies to which they come — this is something that matches very well with a variety of departmental-based majors,” she said.

While there is interest among faculty members in creating a full academic department out of RCD in the future, their immediate mission is to increase the visibility of existing programs rather than expand in scope, according to Zavala.

“Right now it’s about solidifying what we have … and not looking to grow beyond our capabilities,” she said. “We do have the energy and the vision to make the RCD and its programs one of the signature aspects of the Tufts education.”