Tag Archives: Ethnic Studies

SF State expands ethnic studies department

The Arab and Muslim Ethnicity and Diasporas Initiative minor, offered by SF State’s Department of Ethnic Studies, is one of the first minors in Arab and Muslim Studies anywhere in the world.

The Department of Ethnic Studies at SF State has a long tradition of breaking barriers. From its inception in the fall of 1969, the department has provided an eye-opening education to people who are willing to have an open mind. Fast-forward to 2015, and the department is once again paving the way for not only the university, but the Arab and Muslim community.

In recent years, there has been little to no classes at SF State when it came to the Arab and Muslim community. One could minor in various other ethnicities, yet no curriculum pertaining to the Muslim and Arab communities counted for credit. For example, the Ethnic Studies Department has minors for Africana studies, American Indian studies, Asian American studies, Latina/o studies, and Race and Resistance Studies (RRS). However, RRS has courses such as Arab American identity that covers topics like post-colonialism processes, critical theory, and perception versus reality. With a recent stroke of luck, the department has now introduced an Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) minor, for students interested in expanding their knowledge about these communities.

“When we mean community we don’t mean Arabs and Muslim, we talk about the community of justice. For us it’s all the people that aspire for justice. Justice is at the center of our program, that is going back to the spirit of ‘68. We are exactly exemplifying that in 2015,” says Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Ph.D., a senior scholar and an AMED associate professor.

A lengthy student strike erupted on SF State’s campus, which led to the development of an important event in the history of the U.S. in the ‘60s. The strike was led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, and they demanded an Ethnic Studies program, as well as an end to the Vietnam War.

This became a major news event for weeks in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. At one point, University President S.I. Hayakawa famously pulled the wires out of the speakers on top of a van at a student rally. During the course of the strike, large numbers of police occupied the campus and over 700 people were arrested on various protest-related charges.

“Even today in a globally focused world, many institutions of higher education have not expanded their curricula to include the histories, philosophies, sciences and arts of a greater range of the world’s intellectual traditions,” says Kenneth Monteiro, the dean of the College of Ethnic Studies.

AMED is now one of the first minors in Arab and Muslim Studies anywhere in the world. The department takes pride in its rootedness and commitment to diverse communities among whom people belong and from whose textured lives, experiences and trials and tribulations are drawn to enrich material for research, writing, teaching, and academic progress.

SF State offered a variation of Arab and Muslim studies classes in the past where students were able to take classes for college credit when minoring in Race and Resistance Studies. The new AMED minor will allow students to easily fulfill both graduation requirements while learning about social justice in other racial backgrounds.

In addition to the minor there will also be an Edward Said Scholarship for graduate and undergraduate students minoring in AMED. The support from Dr. Said’s family and a generous donation from SF State alumnus Allam El Qadah, the scholarship will recognize students who exhibit exemplary academic qualifications and a strong commitment to serving their community.

“What AMED is about is Arab communities and Muslim communities and also accounting for non-Arab, Arab-majority, non-Muslim and Muslim-majority. We don’t just focus on Muslims,” says Dr. Abdulhadi.

The biggest news came when Dr. Abdulhadi was able to confirm that there had been an establishment Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between SF State and An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine. This is SF State’s first MOU with an academic institution anywhere in the Arab and Muslim world.

An-Najah National University is a vibrant hub of learning that nourishes science, knowledge and understanding. An-Najah offers undergraduate instruction in the fields of medicine, engineering, humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences, as well as numerous courses of graduate study in the humanities and the social sciences. Since it was chartered as a full-fledged university in 1977, An-Najah has promoted the acquisition of modern knowledge whilst remaining committed to the transmission and preservation of Palestinian history, heritage and culture. Today, as the largest university in Palestine, An-Najah educates over 20,000 students and is home to 13 facilities, offering numerous undergraduate and graduate specializations.

“It was significant for us to get back on track, reaffirm the commitment to the program and the overwhelming support of the senate was really a good sign that we were back on the right path,” says President of SF State Leslie Wong.

AMED was formed to advance the study of Arab and Muslim communities at home and in the diasporas. AMED is focused within a justice-centered perspective, which is crucial with any sort of Arab and Muslim community, committed to reciprocating a very strong collaboration between SF State and non-university communities. No other place on SF State’s campus is as evident as the in the Cesar Chavez building, where a Palestinian Cultural mural is honoring the late Edward Said. This initiative was a collective effort that was brought up by SF State students.

Minoring in AMED will enable students to do as follows: share the knowledge that is produced with multiple publics, create a better understanding of Arab and Muslim experiences and concerns in North America, promote a culture of justice, dignity, tolerance and peace, and finally, deepen a sense of fairness, ethics and solidarity among and between communities.

“We take pride in developing majors and minors that are relevant to the world and the Race and Resistance minor is significant because it goes along well with other minors,” says Wong.

Looking at what SF State has accomplished it’s not hard to see there’s a proven track record for change. This minor is just the beginning of a new chapter for Arab and Muslim communities and as more time passes more changes will take effect for more justice.

We Have an Ethnic Studies Center?

Nikko Martinez (center), the secretary of the Ethnic Studies Student Resource & Empowerment Center, hangs out with the center's interns Wednesday Oct. 7. The interns (left to right) are Elisa Wong, Elisa Wong, Efraim Sinambela, Nureldin Maslu and Jiayan Fung. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
Nikko Martinez (center), the secretary of the Ethnic Studies Student Resource & Empowerment Center, hangs out with the center’s interns Wednesday Oct. 7. The interns (left to right) are Elisa Wong, Elisa Wong, Efraim Sinambela, Nureldin Maslu and Jiayan Fung.
(Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

The Ethnic Studies Student Resource and Empowerment Center bustles with chatter. A handful of student interns, packed into the small office, talk and laugh amongst themselves. One of the interns sits at the room’s lone computer, which is planted on the room’s only desk. The walls exhibit art of ethnic pride, a portrait of Cesar Chavez is one of the most prominent. One wall holds rows of brochures for campus services. More brochures, pamphlets, and fliers for services, upcoming events, scholarships, and job openings fill a table just outside the door. A whiteboard perched on an easel on the opposite side displays job and scholarship search websites. The only thing that is missing are the students the center exists to serve.

The center was established about five years ago because SF State wanted to create a student resource center that would be open to all students campus-wide. The university asked Phil Klasky, a lecturer in the American Indian Studies department, to coordinate the group because of his past experiences as a social worker and reputation as a student-oriented teacher. He says his background as a social worker taught him “to see the person behind the problem.” The purpose of the center is to guide students to services provided on campus and to give them the tools to help themselves. “I think self-empowerment is at least as important to [academic success] as understanding the material,” declares Klasky. He wants students to “understand there are services they paid for on campus.” He knows not all students have outside support.

Relatively few students seem to know the center exists. “No one knows who the hell ESSO is or where the center is … and, ugh, our name [is too long],” complains Maura Villanueva, a Spanish and Latino Studies double-major in her second semester interning at the center. ESSO is the Ethnic Studies Student Organization formed by a few interns about two-and-a-half years ago as an official Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) organization. It is one of a handful of ethnic studies student organizations in the country. Klasky adds that one of the center’s biggest challenges is “getting the word out and getting students to actually take advantage” of what it and the school has to offer.

The center’s low profile may be driven by its location and youth. Unlike most student organizations at SF State, it is not based in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. Rather, it can be found in Room 110B in the Ethnic Studies and Psychology building. It also has not had the time to develop the kind of history and reputation many other groups on campus enjoy. “I feel we don’t have as strong a presence as other student organizations,” says Nico Martinez, environmental studies major and the organization’s secretary.

It may also be hampered by low funds. It has an annual operational budget of five-hundred dollars and up to five-hundred additional dollars for events. “It can go like this,” says Villanueva, snapping her fingers. Jake Velazquez, an anthropology and American Indian Studies double-major and the initial president of the student organization, believes the center’s presence will grow as it strengthens its foundation. “As we grow a bigger base of skilled interns, I think we’ll be able to reach a bigger audience,” he says.

Helpful literature line the walls of the Ethnic Studies Student Resource & Empowerment Center Wednesday Oct. 8. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
Helpful literature line the walls of the Ethnic Studies Student Resource & Empowerment Center Wednesday Oct. 8. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

During the month of October, the center will offer several workshops and get involved with events coordinated by better-known organizations in the hopes that it will start reaching more students. Two planned workshops intend to help students apply for scholarships and prepare for graduate school. Klasky encourages students to attend graduate school because he believes it allows them to “engage more in their interests in a more profound way.” The center’s interns have been tasked with coming up with more potential workshops. Environmental justice is a key topic at a recent meeting of the Ethnic Studies Student Organization. The interns share their thoughts on the movie Disruption, which was assigned viewing. They talk about some of the factors influencing climate change and climate racism, which looks at who gets the brunt of the consequences. Their homework assignment for the next meeting is to come up with a few steps people can take to address environmental issues as well as possible solutions.

The center lives on students helping students. “It floats my boat to see students helping each other out,” Klasky said with a big grin. “I really love that we’re a community of motivated and passionate people … helping other people,” says President Monica Sandoval, a senior accounting major who has interned in the center for three years. She continues, “I really like that it’s student-run, so we’ve had the opportunity to develop it.”

The interns help more than just others on campus but those in need off campus as well. Last semester, Sandoval organized a march for women who have been physically or sexually abused. She describes the experience as “really hard for me on a personal level” and says others in the center helped her through that difficult time. “I couldn’t have done it without the support from the friends I’ve made here,” she says.

The center is open until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. During the day, though, the center has irregular hours. Sometimes it is full of people, at others, a lone intern may be studying quietly. At other times still, the center’s door is shut and locked when it is supposed to be open. At that recent meeting, Klasky reminded the interns that they need to adhere to the office hours they signed up for. Students in need of a helping hand might want to consider stopping by when the center is open. Odds are if it does not have what you need, it will know who does.