Professors share insights about ethnic studies

June 19, 2015
Dr. Rosalyn Broussard
Dr. Frank King

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Two professors from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville recently shared their insights about the development of an ethnic studies program and curriculum with professors at Winona State University in Winona, Minn., who are in the process of developing their own program, set to launch this fall.

The ethnic studies program at UW-Platteville, which has been in place since fall 1990, is dedicated to exploring issues of race and ethnicity in the United States in historical, social and political structures and supports as well as the social realities and moral challenges of racism in U.S. culture. At UW-Platteville, every student in a degree program must complete a three-credit course on issues of race and ethnicity.

Dr. Rosalyn Broussard, professor of political science and director of ethnic studies at UW-Platteville, and Dr. Frank King, assistant professor of ethnic studies at UW-Platteville, spoke with WSU faculty members.

Dr. Deb Hoskins, associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and inclusive excellence coordinator for the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning at UW-La Crosse, facilitated the design components of the workshop.

“Designing interdisciplinary programs is tricky – there are so many more things to consider than for a program organized around just one discipline, like history or political science,” said Hoskins. “It’s really valuable to understand the development and the current state of the field, and to learn about the development of other successful programs like UW-Platteville’s.”

At the meeting, Broussard discussed the history of the ethnic studies program at UW-Platteville and shared the challenges and rewards of its development.

“It was an honor to assist WSU with setting up its ethnic studies program, especially when a number of universities are cutting back on such programs,” said Broussard. “Ethnic studies is beneficial to the United States as a whole because it provides students with the necessary tools to interpret the past in order to navigate the future. It also provides students with an understanding and appreciation of different cultures as well as a respect for them.”

“If you don’t know where you have been, it is hard to understand where you are going,” said Broussard. “An example of this would be the U.S. relationship with Cuba. The American people must understand the history between the U.S. and Cuba as well as the culture of the Cuban people if there is to be a successful relationship between the two countries.”

At the meeting, King discussed the history of ethnic studies as a whole and the purpose of ethnic studies, past and present. “Ethnic studies addresses the stories of marginalized groups and brings their narratives to the forefront,” King said. “It is designed to enable students to understand the historical and present struggles of people of color.”

“One of the challenges of teaching ethnic studies is that some people believe we are in a post-racial society and that racism and sexism are a thing of the past, which isn't true,” said King. “Racism and sexism are still very present and must be examined as large systemic issues – instead of being examined anecdotally – and then addressed.”

“At times, there is a resistance to the idea of ethnic studies,” said King. “Some people think that all we need to do is teach students how to interact and communicate with people of other social classes, religions, races, etc., without discussing the very important, major issues in these areas. Ethnic studies classrooms are a perfect place to have discussions about these issues.”

King stressed the importance of ethnic studies to a liberal education. “At UW-Platteville and other higher education institutions known as STEM schools, there is an emphasis placed on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If we look in the past, we see that all courses of study – whether STEM or business, industry, life sciences and agriculture or liberal arts and education – are affected by ethical issues. Ethnic studies helps people recognize and understand some of the important ethical issues that may arise in future careers and in other life experiences.”

Broussard teaches Introduction to American Government; Current Issues and Democracy; and Political Economy of Race, Gender and Ethnicity.

King teaches Introduction to Ethnic Studies as well as Race, Class, and Gender.

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The meeting with Winona State University faculty members to discuss the development of an ethnic studies program aligns with two of the priorities, including providing an outstanding education and fostering a community of achievement and respect.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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