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Ramon Saldivar takes helm of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity

The center, whose twin pillars are undergraduate teaching and faculty research, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

L.A. Cicero Ramon Saldivar portrait

Ramón Saldívar, director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity

When Ramón Saldívar, director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, convenes a meeting of his executive council, there are two Professors Saldívar seated at the conference table.

There is Ramón Saldívar, who arrived at Stanford two decades ago and is the Hoagland Family Professor of Humanities and Sciences, with appointments in the departments of English and of comparative literature.

He became director of the center on Sept. 1 and will serve a three-year term.

And there is José David Saldívar, a professor of comparative literature who arrived at Stanford two years ago after a distinguished career at the University of California-Berkeley. He is the director of the center's Undergraduate Program in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, which offers majors, minors and interdisciplinary studies in Asian American studies, Chicana/o studies, comparative studies and Native American studies. The center also houses the Program in African and African American Studies.

"One of the things I like to say to people is this is not a coincidence," Ramón Saldívar said with a warm laugh during a recent interview. "In a way, he's come back home, because he has a Stanford PhD."

Also among the 12 people who regularly join the brothers Saldívar around the conference table are:

Ramón Saldívar said he was delighted to be chosen as the center's sixth director.

"Over the last 15 years, I’ve watched the development of the program and the huge success it has had – not just within Stanford, but also nationally – with great interest and a great sense of pride," he said.

Saldívar succeeded Matthew Snipp, a professor of sociology who served as director from 2008 to 2011 and is a faculty member in the Native American Studies Program.

Saldívar's history with the center dates back to the mid-1990s, when student protests were part of a concerted effort to bring programs in Asian American, Chicana/o and Native American studies to Stanford. Back then, the only ethnic studies program at Stanford was the African and African American Studies Program.

"Students asked: What about Chicano studies, what about Asian American studies, what about Native American studies?" Saldívar said. "Students could do that work as independent studies or as directed reading, and there were random courses they could take to piece together their own programs, but there wasn't a directed course of studies like a major for those fields."

In 1995, Saldívar chaired a university committee that recommended bringing together the African and African American Studies Program and new programs in Asian American, Chicano and Native American studies; forming an interdisciplinary research institute on race and ethnicity; and housing all of them under one roof.

At the time, Saldívar was serving as Stanford's first vice provost for undergraduate education – a post he held from 1994 to 1999.

The center, established in 1996, is located in Building 360 in the Main Quad. African and African American Studies, which has been a degree-granting program since 1969, is an affiliated undergraduate program that complements the four new programs, Saldívar explained.

Saldívar said the center's two "pillars"– the undergraduate teaching program and the faculty research institute – are thriving.

As of last spring, 72 students were fulfilling requirements for majors or minors in one of the four undergraduate programs.

"Think about that," Saldívar said. "We're larger than some of the departments in the School of Humanities and Sciences."

The center recently announced 12 fellows who will be in residence during the 2011-12 academic year; four are visiting faculty from Brown University, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, California State University-East Bay and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and eight are Stanford graduate students.

In addition to providing financial support for fellows, the center's Research Institute of Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity sponsors regular seminars for students and faculty and holds events and conferences open to scholars at Stanford and other institutions. Many of its events also are open to the public.

"The research institute has become a really important, central part of Stanford's research agenda having to do with humanities and social science concerns – on questions of immigration, global migrations, the diaspora – and generally, on matters of citizenship and issues having to do with race and ethnicity," Saldívar said.

He said the research is focused primarily, but not exclusively, on the United States.

"Our audience is, of course, other scholars at the university and our colleagues in other departments," Saldívar said. "But increasingly, our audience is national and international as we become a player on the big issues that are confronting American society today. That reflects how we've grown over the last 15 years."

Looking forward, Saldívar said now may be a good time to "take stock," to look at how the center has changed over the years and to think about its future direction.

"That's right at the top of my agenda of things to do," he said.

"We started out and have been immensely successful as an undergraduate teaching program and a faculty research program, with avenues for undergraduate research as well. Is it possible to think the next level – of graduate concentrations within appropriate disciplines?"

Saldívar said it is an idea he is approaching with caution, knowing that establishing a graduate concentration is a complicated proposition.

"But it seems to me a question worth asking, given there is so much research and teaching interest in areas having to do with race and ethnicity in the United States and globally, and given that so many of our faculty work in those areas," he continued. "Would it make sense now to think about ways in which graduate education could become part of our portfolio?"