January 2008 Cover
SCAN"College of St. CatherineThe College of St. Catherine

January 2008
 

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Faculty Voices

Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity
Recognized as Exemplary Program

By Nancy A Heitzeg, associate professor, sociology
and Pamela Fletcher, associate professor, English

St. Catherine created the Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity Program (CRST) in 2002 with the support of the Archibald Bush Foundation Educating for Diversity and Democracy Grant. Consistent with the College's mission and vision, the CRST major/minor advances student knowledge of social justice issues and develops the skills necessary to facilitate systemic change. Growing racial and ethnic diversity in Minnesota, and St. Kate's diverse student population, make this program increasingly relevant for all students.

Recently, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recognized CRST as an example of "an exemplary diversity program" and selected it for inclusion in its forthcoming book on campus diversity efforts, More Reasons for Hope: A New Generation of Campus Diversity Work. Caryn Tieghe Musil, AAC&U senior vice president, offered these comments: "St. Catherine's faculty have embraced the difficult, but necessary, task of drawing on their own experiences to provide multiple and creative opportunities for students to see the complex connections between diversity, privilege, oppression, social justice and democracy."

Racial/ethnic studies is nearly 40 years old as an interdisciplinary area of academic inquiry. Like women's studies, these programs emerged from social movements and represent a link between activism and academia. They also specifically call for inclusion on the campus and in the curriculum.

A growing body of research from the AAC&U and other organizations shows that curricular diversity-related initiatives enhance the educational experience for all students - both white students and students of color on racially diverse and homogeneous campuses. Representation of racial and ethnic diversity in the curriculum enhances critical thinking skills, increases overall satisfaction with college for both white students and students of color, improves the perceptions of campus climate, increases cross-racial understanding and retention rates, and reduces inter-group conflict.

From Understanding to Practice

Nearly 25 percent of all four-year program undergraduates and more than 35 percent of two-year degree program undergraduates at St. Catherine's identify themselves as students of color. The College educates Minnesota's largest population of African American women enrolled in a private college and one of the largest populations of Asian women, particularly Hmong women.

CRST provides a framework for understanding race and ethnicity in historical, contemporary, national and global contexts. It is rooted in an understanding of race as a social construct that shapes identity and experience and perpetuates systems of domination. This field of study uses the lens of race and ethnicity to critically examine texts, language, media, art, music, statistical records, social structures and systems, and the complete array of institutional arrangements. Students come to understand the extent to which class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability interact to magnify both privilege and disadvantage.

CRST students take three required interdisciplinary courses and seven additional courses cross-listed in an array of liberal arts departments, including art, biology, economics and philosophy. This broad perspective allows students to analyze racial and ethnic identity and perspectives; examine individual, institutional and systematic racism; critique race-based policies and socio-cultural representations; communicate across lines of difference; and strategize for social change.

Our students have studied and researched a range of topics through the lens of race and ethnicity, including media representations, the criminal justice system, immigration policy, hate crimes and legal responses, the history and legacy of slavery, black feminist thought, American Indians in the Southwest and the campus climate at St. Kate's. Learning occurs in the community, as well as through internships at a variety of community sites, such as Jane Addams School for Democracy and Citizenship, Casa de Esperanza, Women's Prison Book Project, African American Family Alliance, Resource Center of the Americas, PEACE Prison Ministry at Wayman AME and The Hmong Times.

This major provides students with the knowledge, skills and confidence to actively work to dismantle the structural and systemic inequities surrounding notions of race and ethnicity. CRST students describe the major as challenging yet transformative - they now have the tools to understand and address issues that many have faced without adequate recourse. CRST offers them a bridge to knowledge and action.

 
Nancy Heitzeg and Pamela Fletcher

Heitzeg (left) and Fletcher co-direct
Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity.