Six faculty members stressed the challenges that ethnic studies programs at Cornell face, saying many departments lack sufficient resources and faculty members, at a panel Thursday.
Prof. Derek Chang, director of Cornell’s Asian American Studies program, history, called small faculty numbers “the most significant impediment” in expanding the program, which currently has three faculty members. He added that this problem will only worsen as demand grows over the next few years.
“Given all recent events … I think the demand for and the importance of the courses we all teach will surely increase,” he said.
Prof. Kathleen Long, director of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, said her department — which is “fueled largely by voluntary cross-listing from various departments” — faces a similar challenge.
“The problem with depending on other departments to keep feminist and gender studies going is sometimes they lose interest in gender studies,” she said. “And they say, ‘No, gender studies isn’t really important. It’s not a real discipline. I mean, all you’re doing is studying women, right?’”
Prof. Judith Peraino, director of the LGBT studies program, music, added that her program “may not obviously be job training” but can “help you be a better human being.”
“Our challenges are like the challenges of all humanities programs, that is, it’s asserting ourselves as a vitally and critically important thing to be studying alongside of other disciplines,” she said.
Prof. Héctor Vélez, Interim Director of the Latina/o Studies Program, sociology, said ever since the early 1900s, “being Latino in the United States … was being part of an invisible population.” He emphasized the importance of his program, especially considering the “post-election emotional upheaval that so many feel.”
“Our program has to adapt itself to confront this new way of thinking and the new experiences and the expectations that so many of us have, or perhaps the lack of expectations, and the confusion we have,” he said.
Prof. Troy Richardson, American Indian and Indigenous studies, also addressed the challenges Indigenous Studies programs across the country face, due to a lack of recognition for their history and culture.
“I think Indigenous Studies more broadly has, as its primary target and challenge, settler colonialism and the ways in which it continues to erase the presence of indigenous peoples and their ongoing struggles for land and sovereignty,” he said.
Prof. Gerard Aching, Africana studies and Romance studies, stressed that the Africana studies program is not only a research program but also “a place for community discussion.”
“The ways at which the University is going in terms of Engaged Cornell and so on puts us, all of us, toward the sort of center of what Cornell is interested in,” he said.
Aching called for solidarity between the different ethnic studies programs on campus.
“It’s good for you to know that taking a course from one of us is taking a course from all of us,” he said.