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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Students for Ethnic Studies hold teach-in to inspire community involvement and rebuild ethnic studies curriculum at Western

Pamphlets lay on a table at the Students for Ethnic Studies teach-in on May 28. // Photo by Mariena Xiong

By Mariena Xiong

Students for Ethnic Studies held a teach-in event to bring awareness to the history of the College of Ethnic Studies at Western. The event on May 28 was open to all students and recognized the student-led work being done to rebuild the program.

“The teach-in went wonderfully. There was a great turn out and many new people came,” Students for Ethnic Studies external outreach officer Michaela Budde said.

According to Budde, teach-ins have been used in many movements throughout history to inspire people to join a cause through community engagement and learning.

Students for Ethnic Studies is a student organization advocating for the return of the ethnic studies program to campus. Their goals include educating students on the benefits of ethnic studies and building coalitions with other organizations.

“We thought to include students with research or knowledge that uses an ethnic studies lens to highlight the ways in which ethnic studies is already present here,” Budde said.

Students presented research related to a number of fields including: mixed race representation in the media, black-led social movements and allyship, resisting imperialism through community organizing in the Philippines and international solidarity, archaeology, repatriations, and the need for decolonization, queering family and more.

In addition to rebuilding the ethnic studies program, the organization hopes to empower students by taking the obscurity out of campus bureaucracy in order to empower them towards self-advocacy.“We work to gain student and faculty support and we are working with administrators to create the foundations of an Institute of Ethnic Studies,” Budde said.

Daniela Tierra, historian for Students for Ethnic Studies, mentioned that the curriculum of the ethnic studies program has solely covered the experiences of folks of color within the U.S..

“Our mission with ethnic studies as a whole as well as bringing ethnic studies to Western encompasses a global solidarity with oppressed people across the globe and not just making it U.S.-centric,” Tierra said.

There are various classes at Western which have roots in ethnic studies. Western’s largest minor, education and social justice, is one of many curriculums rooted in ethnic studies. According to Budde, the minor is currently understaffed and underfunded and is not providing curriculum that students want to be a part of.

“One way that we know the education and social justice minor has even more potential is the number of independent studies that are done each year. Independent study projects are indicative of the fact that Western is not providing the curriculum that students need and crave,” Budde said.

The College of Ethnic studies existed at Western until the fall of 1978 when the program was disbanded and its funding was distributed to other colleges, according to “The College of Ethnic Studies at Western Washington University: A Case Study.” Originally established in 1969, it was one of three cluster colleges, including Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and Huxley College of the Environment.

According to the major thesis by Maurice L. Bryan Jr., the budget and bigotry played a major role in the demise of the College of Ethnic Studies. Factors such as faculty, administrative turnover and structural barriers had a significant impact on the program.
Western alumni Erick Yanzon and Realia Harris were the first co-chair officers during the 2017-2018 academic year. The organization was also run by alumni Jonathan Pendleton and Lung Le as officers.

When the founders graduated, the leadership was passed on to students Pauline Elevazo and Hunter Eider, current co-chairs of the student organization. Alexis Rutter, Seleni DeJesus, Daniela Tierra, Anne Lee, Sofian Mahmoud and Budde also sit as officers of the organization.

An important piece to many of the board’s involvement was attending the National Conference on Ethnic Studies in Richmond, Virginia.

Upcoming goals for the organization is to lobby in Olympia and encourage legislators to fund the program and to work over the summer to build up their understanding of ethnic studies programs around the country.

“We must learn about what does and doesn’t work so that we can structure our program in a way that is best fit for success,” Budde said.

The student organization hopes to continue to raise awareness of ethnic studies on campus through teach-ins and other events and demonstrations.

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