Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Ethnic Studies More Timely Than Ever

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Ethnic Studies More Timely Than Ever

Article excerpt

The most active, the most

public, and possibly the most

sustained discourse on race

and ethnicity in the university

has come from those in

ethnic studies.

We offer this not as a self-congratulatory

homage but simply as a

reminder of a time in the university, not

too long ago, when the only muted

discussions around these concepts were

to be found primarily in anthropology

and sociology departments and, in very

restricted ways, a few other social science


The fact that there was such an

intellectual and curricular vacuum made

it necessary and possible for us to demand

and secure a place in the academy

for this long overdue discussion on

ethnicity and race in American society.

There was a great treasure that needed

to be unearthed and shared, and ethnic

studies provided the intellectual framework

for that excavation.

Parched Landscape

The activist critics and reformers

(students and faculty) of this parched

landscape in the academy saw precious

little as they looked around for anything

that might have resembled a comprehensive,

systematic, and interdisciplinary approach

to understanding ethnicity

and race in American society. And indeed,

there was nothing interdisciplinary

that addressed the historical and

contemporary concerns of

ethnic-specific communities in the

United States.

Repeated studies left very, little in

their wake after research teams abandoned

communities in crisis, leading to

a widespread distrust of social scientific

models that failed to engage the community

in some fundamental and practical

way. Where were the connections

that should exist between the models searching

for theoretical explanations and the

right of communities to expect another level

of engagement and responsibility on the

part of the researchers?

In its more radical form, ethnic studies

sought to effect social and structural change

well beyond the boundaries of the institution.

Perhaps at this point the line between

the objective and the subjective in scholarship

and teaching was being tested by this

way of doing ethnic studies.

Making a Difference

In many instances the communities that

supported the creation of ethnic studies in

the distant academy saw these as places that

could make a difference on many levels. …

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