Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies Program Approved
Danny Reinan, news editor
The new Critical Race and Ethnicities Studies (CRES) department has been officially approved by Augsburg administration and faculty, and will be fully instated for the 2021-2022 school year. The program is a triumphant example of community activism and social change at Augsburg, as it was spearheaded by a group of staff, students and faculty who have been campaigning passionately for the creation of the CRES program since November 2019.
The precursors to the CRES campaign were the Anti-Racist Honors Program and the Anti-Racism Coalition, comprised of student activists whose fight for reform in Augsburg was spurred on by the deeply entrenched racism in Augsburg’s Honors Program, which was discontinued in Spring 2020. Although they began their work to establish the CRES department in November 2019, their demands became even more urgent last summer following the Minneapolis uprisings.
“The wrongful murder of George Floyd by MPD pushed us to make our demands official as we realized that there is no reason why Augsburg should not have a department of ethnic studies in this day and age – especially as Augsburg claims to be a host for diversity, equity, and inclusion and for students of color nation-wide,” said Citlaly Escobar, a student activist and member of the CRES working group. In their petition to administration in June, they demanded a fully-realized department to be established by Fall 2021, with a major and minor in CRES including three concentrations in Africana Studies, Latine/x Studies and Asian American studies and five tenured professors with experience in the fields.
Karen Kaivola, the Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, was involved in the process since November 2019, and advised the group, gathered the Committee on Academic Planning, guided the review process for programmatic materials, and approved the process to search for the new faculty members for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Work on CRES began as a grass-roots, collaborative effort on the part of a small group of students, faculty, and staff committed to a vision of a more culturally-inclusive and responsive curriculum,” said Kaivola. “By summer 2020, they had reached out to President Pribbenow and me with a vision (and list of demands) for a new department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies. (We were both excited by the vision they presented and happy to support moving it forward.)”
From there, the proposal had to go through several stages of approval. It first passed through the University Committee on Academic Planning for review, and was then approved by the Academic Affairs Committee of the faculty, the Faculty Senate and the Faculty as a body. Then it moved on to the Board of Regents, which supported the new department, and the final faculty vote ruled in favor of the department.
Escobar stresses that, although a CRES department will be new at Augsburg, it is nothing new for academia as a whole – students have been campaigning for ethnic studies departments nationwide since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, seeking curriculum that highlights their communities’ experiences and dismantles the Eurocentrism that has pervaded higher education since its inception.
“I think Augsburg has gone this long without an ethnic studies department because of the way ethnic studies challenges the structural forces of white supremacy in which Augsburg University was founded on,” said Escobar. Although Augsburg’s population is now primarily students of color, it has been a predominantly white institution for most of its history, having begun its life in the 1860s as a missionary school that directly contributed to the colonization of Indigenous people against the backdrop of the Indigenous Removal Act.
“The recent changes for social justice don’t eradicate centuries of white supremacy at Augsburg, or even the decades-long training of our Augsburg professors. Augsburg professors and admin alike rejected ethnic studies because they didn’t see a point in it, didn’t desire to enable the political autonomy of ethnic studies, or wanted to actively divest from the agency of communities of color. In short, I simply don’t think Augsburg want [sic] to empower students or communities of color, grant the funds for it, and didn’t want to challenge the structures of white supremacy.”
One of the most critical requirements for the CRES program, according to Escobar, is that it be required for all students at Augsburg, not just those who select it as a major. She and the other members of the CRES working group see this as a “necessity,” and also hope that the program will expand to the graduate level. Moreover, the CRES working group hopes that the tenets of the CRES department will not be confined to CRES major coursework, but threaded throughout Augsburg curriculum as a whole, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn about communities that have historically been silenced and oppressed.
When imagining the future of the program, Escobar also hopes for community engagement to uplift and center marginalized voices. “I think the department should lead the charge in actually working with communities of color to create their material and actively inviting and reparating knowledge from community leaders in their classes and work,” she said.
Reflecting on the experience of helping to guide the program through its creation, Kaivola also has high hopes for the future of the program. “It has been exciting – and deeply meaningful – to be in a position to support the change the new program represents (and promises) for Augsburg,” she said. “There is so much energy around the new department – and we see it as a catalyst for further curricular and pedagogical change.”
Students who are interested in the CRES department are encouraged voice their support by reaching out to the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Ryan Haaland (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the provost, Karen Kaivola (email@example.com), and may also view the results to a recent student interest survey around CRES at tinyurl.com/CRESReport.