St. Olaf celebrates 50 years of Race and Ethnic Studies
At this year’s Homecoming and Family Weekend, St. Olaf College will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Race and Ethnic Studies (abbreviated RACE) program. Established as the American Minority Studies program, RACE was started in 1969 with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
RACE is an interdisciplinary program offering a major and concentration that focuses on the cultural and historical concerns and experiences of people of color, recognizing that race and ethnicity have been — and continue to be — crucial components within interlocking systems of oppression, as well as powerful sites of intersectional resistance. The program received a To Include is To Excel grant to update its curriculum to include current concepts, methods, and theories that interrogate ethno-nationalist border-making.
After the field was established at San Francisco State University in 1968, RACE was among the first ethnic studies programs at a small liberal arts college in the U.S. In the late 80s, the program received a Pew Grant to enable it to convene a faculty learning community titled “Teaching Race and Racism,” and as an outgrowth of that work, renamed itself American Racial and Multicultural Studies. Since 2011, the program’s curriculum has turned toward transnational and indigenous contexts, critical ethnic studies, and intersectionality in order to enhance its engagement with new scholarship in the field and to draw upon the program’s origins as a curricular innovator.
Associate Professor of English and Director of Race and Ethnic Studies Jennifer Kwon DobbsThe curriculum exposes students to critical concepts, social conditions, histories, and texts that help students to expand their capacities to imagine and build equitable communities.
In 2019, the program continues to be just as crucial — committed to teaching students about race and systems of power. The interdisciplinary coursework helps students learn how to read, research, and critique cultural and structural racisms in U.S. and global contexts, explains Associate Professor of English and Director of Race and Ethnic Studies Jennifer Kwon Dobbs.
“The curriculum exposes students to critical concepts, social conditions, histories, and texts that help students to expand their capacities to imagine and build equitable communities and to become more ethically minded in a diverse world challenged by systemic oppressions and outsized problems,” says Kwon Dobbs.
Or Pansky ‘20 says majoring in RACE has prepared him to pursue graduate work and apply the lessons he learned to guide his praxis.
“RACE equips students with a critical and multidisciplinary lens from which to understand the world we live in,” Pansky says.
Five decades after it began, RACE represents a thriving community of students, faculty, alumni, and friends. In May 2019, there were 130 RACE majors and concentrators and 32 program faculty representing all five divisions of the college. RACE students have received Fulbright fellowships, scholarships to attend graduate and professional schools, and internships in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York.
Or Pansky ’20RACE equips students with a critical and multidisciplinary lens from which to understand the world we live in.
Kwon Dobbs is proud of the profound impact alumni are making as well. Alumni of the program have informed her that RACE provided them with critical tools to tackle environmental racism, research racial bias and access to medical care, and support trans POC community organizing, among other career and vocational interests. RACE majors and concentrators are concerned about social justice and want to make a difference in the world.
The 50th anniversary celebration will include a Chapel Talk: “An Anti-Racist Education” by Jane Burnett ’72, an open class lecture by Kwon Dobbs, a professional networking event, and much more. Visit the St. Olaf website to see the full schedule of events and register for Homecoming and Family Weekend to attend.