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New comparative program in race and ethnicity debuts

In an effort to practice what they soon will be preaching, faculty affiliated with the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE) program have been trading research perspectives this quarter over turkey sandwiches and peanut-butter cookies.

At the Feb. 13 lunch meeting of the bi-weekly seminar series sponsored by the Research Institute for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (RICSRE), Robert Warrior, assistant professor of English, was tapped to talk about his new book, Like a Hurricane. He had barely finished telling his colleagues what led him to write about the activism that swept Indian country in the 1970s when the questions and observations began to fly.

"I'm interested in thinking about the differences between the African American civil rights movement of that era and AIM [American Indian Movement]," said Claude Steele, professor of psychology and co-director of the institute. "Was there any relationship? Were they in dialogue with each other?"

Warrior, a member of the Osage nation, said the movements had contacts dating from 1850, when friends of both groups worked with Indian and African American aid societies. But in the early 1960s, Warrior added, "the young, educated members of the National Indian Youth Council said, 'We don't want to be in the civil rights movement because we don't need civil rights. We already have tribal rights as tribal nations.'"

Teresa LaFromboise, associate professor of education and a descendant of the Miami tribe of northern Indiana, drew on her experience teaching on reservations in North Dakota and Oklahoma to contribute another perspective.

"Often tribal rights supersede civil rights, and things that might be considered infractions of civil rights still occur on reservations," LaFromboise said. "I worked in one school district where they brought dogs in to check kids' lockers in order to control drugs.

"In most places you wouldn't be allowed to do that," she added. "But the goal has always been to recognize the rights of our sovereign nations. And I think there was a real sense that if we joined the civil rights movement, we were going to lose the ability to serve our people."

The 16 faculty members and graduate students brought years of expertise in education, English, history, law and political science to the interdisciplinary table. As they asked one another about the similarities in tribal distinctions among Indians and South African blacks, or noted the differences between Indian customary law and colonial law codes, their comparative analyses provided the kind of engaged exchange that will be the key to the program's success, according to Al Camarillo, professor of history and director of CSRE.

"We want to make this the most innovative, most attractive major on campus," he said in an interview in his office. "It's the comparative framework that makes the program unique, and we don't think there's anything like it in the country."

Ira Katznelson, professor of political science at Columbia University, is chair of the President's Advisory Committee on Ethnic Studies that is in the process of proposing a similar program at that institution. He and committee member Eric Foner, professor of history, have been in touch with faculty at Stanford who are guiding the new CSRE program.

"I think what we liked best about the Stanford proposal is its promise, first, to intellectually integrate studies of race and ethnicity across group-specific lines while avoiding problems inherent in the creation of ethnic studies departments," Katznelson said. "Second, [we thought it was important] to make such studies constitutive parts of larger campus inquiry, including scholarship that is both international and comparative."

Students at Stanford will be able to declare majors in CSRE for the first time in Spring Quarter, choosing one of four thematic tracks ­ Asian American studies, comparative studies in race and ethnicity, Native American studies and Chicano/a studies. An informational meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday, March 3, in room 305 of History Corner, followed by a reception in the history lounge.

"We'll have brochures and descriptions of the four tracks, and program chairs will be there to answer questions," Camarillo said. "It's the inaugural event for CSRE."

Camarillo already is mentoring a handful of students who are interested in a CSRE major, and in Spring Quarter he will co-teach with George Fredrickson, professor of history, one of the two required core courses, "Introduction to Race and Ethnicity in the American Experience." Sylvia Yanagisako, professor of anthropology, will teach the second core course, "Theories of Race and Ethnicity: A Comparative Perspective."

"George and I have taught our course for about six years, but Sylvia's is brand new and specifically designed for CSRE," Camarillo said. "It's very theoretical, while ours is much more grounded in historical narrative."

The CSRE proposals approved by the Faculty Senate in November included more than 160 courses that will be cross-listed under the new program. Camarillo expects additional courses to emerge from the curriculum development grants that will be offered next year.

Carolyn Wong, an assistant professor of political science who is the first faculty member specifically hired to teach in the CSRE program, is spending this quarter developing two new courses that will be offered in Spring Quarter ­ "The Politics and Economic Effects of Immigration" and "Seminar in Ethnic Politics: Asian American Experiences in Comparative Perspective."

Wong said the second course will focus on the post-war period and examine the participation of Asian Americans in the political process.

"I want to expose students to the contemporary work that is being done on the politics of ethnicity and race, focusing on Asian Americans but also making comparisons with other ethnic groups," she said. "An important component of the seminar will be an introduction to modern tools of social-scientific analysis ­ first, the analysis of quantitative data; and second, some simple examples of formal models to study collective political action. We will also take a look at how electoral and representative institutions in Canada and Australia ­ two countries with rapidly growing Asian populations ­ influence policy toward Asian ethnic minorities."

Wong said that although the course will focus on the Asian American experience, "I really hope that student enrollment will be diverse."

Unlike ethnic studies programs at many universities, which have tended to become isolated or to focus on one dominant ethnic group, the key word in the designation of Stanford's program is "comparative."

"We don't want it to be just an identity program, where students study their own ethnic group and strengthen that identity," said Fredrickson, co-director of the CSRE research institute. "We really hope they'll study many groups ­ in American society and internationally ­ and look at some broad issues of diversity and inclusiveness."

To broaden the base of the program, Camarillo has recently tapped Gail Lapidus, a specialist in East European ethnic conflict at the Center for International Security and Arms Control, to sit on the CSRE steering committee.

"We're laying the groundwork to sponsor some colloquia or conferences in Spring Quarter on the role of ethnicity in global conflicts," Camarillo said. "We're heavily weighted in U.S. comparative contexts right now, so we want to make a concerted effort to bring international ethnicity into play."

Farther down the road, Camarillo would like to see students who are interested in international migration or U.S. immigration policy sign up for summer internships with organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund or the Western Poverty Law Center. He also envisions CSRE majors spending a quarter at Stanford in Washington working for a national advocacy group or government agency.

"What better place to find out how issues of race and ethnicity affect public policy," Camarillo said.

By Diane Manuel