Thursday, February 2, 2012

Comparative Literature Expresses Solidarity with E.S.C.A.P.E.

FROM: Department of Comparative Literature UC Irvine
TO: Dean, School of Humanities

January 31, 2012

On January 27, 2012, E.S.C.A.P.E, a coalition of UCI undergraduate ethnic students, with support from several other ethnic studies groups at UCI, responded to the UCI administration “Needs Attention” memo (“‘Needs Attention’ Memo and The State of Ethnic Studies at UCI,”). The Department of Comparative Literature calls on UCI to respect and respond to this document, and to take it as a starting point for a meaningful engagement with the interdisciplinary departments and programs at UCI.

The administration memo to which E.S.C.A.P.E responds listed several units in the School of Humanities that the administration considers “need attention”: African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Women's Studies, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Literatures, the Chicano/ Latino Studies Department in the School of Social Sciences, and the now-reorganized Department of European Languages and Studies. The “Needs Attention” memo criticizes the "low enrollments and low student-faculty ratios" in these programs and implies that their nature, existence, and level of support are being reconsidered.

In its response E.S.C.A.P.E writes, “we feel that this is an attack on studies that are crucial to the development of critical consciousness among students and the UCI community.” The signatories single out “the meaningful impact these units offer students in areas of critical thinking, identity and cultural competency, understanding historical legacies and struggles . . . and the futures of our diverse communities.” They argue against evaluating the performance of units based on their size, rather than on their intellectual and pedagogical achievements, and call on the administration and the Academic Planning Group to work with the units and students to increase enrollments.

The E.S.C.A.P.E response continues a history of student involvement in curricular reform at UCI. Significant curricular changes safeguarding or advancing interdisciplinary and critical studies have often been driven by students at moments of systemic crisis such as we are facing today. The African American Studies Department at UCI was created after student activism on behalf of underrepresented populations and fields of study in 1989, when UCI had a total of five black faculty on campus (less than 1% of the faculty). Stephanie Lopez, a member of Associated Graduate Students then, said: “They’ve got to start opening doors today, or we’re going to kick the doors down tomorrow” ("More Minority Students, Faculty Urged at UCI," Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1989). Asian-American students went on a 35-day hunger strike to establish the Department of Asian-American Studies in 1993 ("UCI Needs an Asian-American Program," May 24, 1993). Today’s student efforts represent a source of creative energy and will strengthen the units and the university. We call on the administration to continue support at UCI for cutting-edge interdisciplinary work that benefits the entire campus, and to respond with constructive engagement so that a time of crisis is not made an excuse to reverse decades of curricular and intellectual progress at UCI.

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