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American Studies Program adds race, ethnicity focus

STANFORD -- American Studies, an interdisciplinary undergraduate program at Stanford, will have a stronger multicultural emphasis with the addition of a new race and ethnicity component.

Beginning Sept. 1, all newly declared majors will be required to take American Studies 164, "Race and Ethnicity in the American Experience." They also must take a second course, selected from among about 20 approved offerings, that focuses on race and ethnicity. Students who take five such courses will have the option of graduating with a race and ethnicity specialization in American studies.

"The idea is to make American studies the study of all Americans, rather than those Americans who have been most prominent," said history Prof. George Fredrickson.

The changes were made in response to the interests of both faculty and students, said English Prof. George Dekker, chairman of the program for the past year. The 14-member American Studies Administrative Committee voted to institute the new requirements upon recommendation of an ad hoc advisory committee that studied the issue.

Undergraduates interested in pursuing a scholarly interest in race and ethnicity can do so within the larger context of a study of American cultures and institutions, Dekker said.

History Prof. Albert Camarillo, who co-teaches with Fredrickson "Race and Ethnicity in the American Experience," said he thinks the changes are "a healthy development." The new requirement "gives an organizational cohesiveness to something a number of students were doing on their own."

American studies had between 120 and 130 majors during the 1990- 91 academic year, said Monica Moore, program administrator. A count made in December in connection with discussions about revising the program showed that 38 percent of American studies majors are minority students.

Michelle Branch, a junior in American studies, who served on the committee that recommended adding the race and ethnicity requirement, said it is important to recognize the contributions of all races to the creation of a uniquely American society.

Stewart Jenkins, an American studies major who graduated in December, said that he hopes other Stanford departments will follow the lead of American studies and reassess their curricula to find ways to incorporate multicultural perspectives. His focus within American studies was on gender issues, Jenkins said. Looking back, he said, he wishes all his American studies classes had focused on race, ethnicity, gender and class, which he called "central to an understanding of America."

Richard Gillam, who is co-coordinator of the program, said that over the last several years, issues of gender, race and ethnicity have become increasingly central to the field of American studies, with national conferences focusing on those issues. He believes the Stanford program initiative, however, is unique.

Dekker said that arguments had been made against adding the race and ethnicity component. One, he said, was primarily financial. Changes making American studies an even more popular major would strain limited resources.

In addition, Dekker said, there was discussion "about whether you should privilege race and ethnicity over all the other factors that might be privileged in redesigning an American studies major. Why not, for example, American women, or class issues?"

To some extent, Dekker said, "we were trying to provide something that isn't otherwise available at Stanford." While there is a Feminist Studies Program, "there was a need for a place where undergraduates could pursue their interest in race and ethnicity."

The new requirements really are additions to the major, Dekker said, "but I think we feel that if we tried to add anything else, we'd have to subtract something."



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