Race & Ethnicity Major Clears Hurdle

First majors may graduate as soon as Spring 2020.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | September 24, 2017

A key faculty committee has identified Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies (CRES) as a top academic priority, paving the way for Reed to launch an interdisciplinary program in Fall 2018, pending approval by the full faculty.

Declaring the field to be a “fundamental area of inquiry in contemporary academics,” the Committee on Academic Planning and Policy has proposed hiring a new professor in sociology to join current faculty in teaching courses and supervising theses in the new program. Fundraising to endow this position has begun, and interim funding will allow the search for the new professor to commence immediately.

“This is an exciting and overdue addition to the Reed curriculum,” says Prof. Nigel Nicholson, dean of the faculty. “A new position will provide new offerings and create a stronger structure for organizing existing offerings, so that we can better nurture the work on race and ethnicity that many Reed students are keen to pursue.”

The faculty is also creating a junior seminar to equip students with the conceptual and methodological tools to pursue the subject. Students majoring in CRES will be required to complete six units across three fields; a foundational course; the junior seminar; and four additional units in their home departments. They will also need to meet standard Reed requirements, such as passing a junior qualifying exam and writing a senior thesis.

The faculty intends to establish a junior seminar by Spring 2019, with the first set of majors graduating in Spring 2020.

Despite not offering a major until now, Reed faculty have integrated race and ethnicity into the curriculum. Reed currently offers more than three dozen courses that touch on the subject, ranging from History and Memory in African American Music to Economics of Population, Gender, and Race. Reed students have also pursued the subject through disciplinary approaches. Less than a decade after the college was founded, Herbert Swett ’20 wrote a sociology thesis on African American migration during WWI. Kichitaro Umemura ’33 wrote an education thesis on Japanese language schools in the Pacific Northwest. In the 1970s, Ron Herndon ’70 wrote a history thesis on racism in Portland public school system and went on to become a prominent civil rights leader. Kathleen Saadat ’74 wrote a psychology thesis on social services in NE Portland and later led the fight against Oregon’s infamous Ballot Measure 9.

At the same time, many faculty and students have long called for race and ethnicity to be better represented in the curriculum. In 1969, student protests and lobbying successfully convinced the faculty to start a black studies center, but the program was never fully woven into the curriculum; it lost momentum after the college failed to establish a permanent source of funding.

Planning for the new CRES program began in 2011, responding to strong and sustained interest on the part of students. In recent years, scores of seniors have written theses on topics such as language and identity in the poetry of Langston Hughes, discourse and disruption in the novels of Sherman Alexie, African immigration and assimilation in Portland, the economics of Native American reservations, the experience of Muslim Turks in Germany, the politics of affirmative action, and the debate over “veiling.”

The Student Committee on Academic Planning and Policy canvassed student opinion and submitted a report to the faculty in May 2017 identifying CRES as its top priority. In addition,  student protesters have lent their voice and added a sense of urgency to the proposal.

The faculty is expected to schedule a full vote on the proposal in Spring 2018.

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