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Augsburg Creates New Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies Department

Citlaly Escobar, Opinions Editor, and Terrence Shambley Jr., Executive Editor

A group of students, staff and faculty convened an informal working group in November 2019 to organize what would soon become the Department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies (CRES) at Augsburg University.

On June 4th, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis police, the CRES working group made their official demand to President Pribbenow and Provost Kaivola for the immediate creation of the Department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies. The coalition felt that the murder of George Floyd made the need for this department an urgent matter as it would ensure a generational commitment by the university to provide resources and opportunities for students of color. On June 9th, during a virtual Town Hall, President Pribbenow announced the university’s commitment to the immediate creation of the Department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies.

This working group was inspired by the various racial justice initiatives that Augsburg committed to over the summer. Its work is an extension of the anti-racist Honors Program initiative by Honors students in 2018-2019 that led to greater Augsburg reforms. Per documents retrieved from the archives of former Augsburg president Oscar Anderson’s office, this work is also a continuation of the 1968 One Day in May campaign where students sent the president a 10-point list of “recommendations” which included a similar model of “minority” centered history and literature curriculum. The CRES working group’s efforts follow a long tradition of Augsburg students demanding a department where they can pursue rigorous scholarship about their cultures, histories and political developments.

The Department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies will be rooted in the tradition of ethnic studies, an interdisciplinary field that studies the various racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The aim of ethnic studies is to empower students to analyze the ways in which ethnicity and race affect the construction of the United States and learn strategies for pursuing their liberation.

Historically, the struggle for ethnic studies developed out of the 1960s civil rights movements across the nation. Students of color demanded curriculums that highlighted their communities’ experiences, as the historical narratives of the time emphasized the societies of Western European communities and Anglo-Saxon white voices. In the classroom, the experiences and contributions of communities of color were discussed only in relationship to the colonization of these communities, if they were mentioned at all. Students from every area of education worked in coalition to demand new curriculums that holistically described the communities in which they come.

The Department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies is on track to be fully implemented by Fall 2021, according to proposals approved by the administration. It will have a major and minor in Critical Race and Ethnicity with concentrations in Asian American Studies, Latine/x Studies and Africana Studies. This department will be taught by five new faculty of color who are accredited in this field, three of which have been approved to be hired by Fall 2021. It will work closely with other departments at Augsburg, such as American Indian Studies, but necessitates its own structural independence as CRES’ core analysis is rooted in the distinct interdisciplinary field of ethnic studies. 

Kay Carvajal Moran, a sophomore and member of the CRES working group, believes in the importance of this department. “As a student I dream of a department where I can learn about my hxstory. Where I can learn a little bit about my ancestors and their legacies that are forgotten and never mentioned in hxstory books. I want to be able to have courses that are about latinx studies… And I want other students to feel the same way, where they feel like they are represented, where their history is being taught.”

If you are a student and have any desire to get involved please contact the authors of this article at escobarc@augsburg.edu and shamblet@augsburg.edu

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