An Intersectional Space for Students and Faculty

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An Intersectional Space for Students and Faculty

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A new interdisciplinary academic center called the Center for Gender, Race and Area Studies (CGRAS) will launch on Clark’s campus at the start of the upcoming Fall 2016 semester. Founded by Professors Denise Humphreys Bebbington, Betsy Huang, and Paul Posner, the center will be comprised of seven different programs: Asian Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, Peace Studies, Race and Ethnic Relations, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the soon-to-launch Africana Studies.

Though the programs will remain autonomous, all but the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program will relocate to Dana Commons once the offices currently occupying the space move out this summer. With most of the programs under one roof, CGRAS hopes to become “some sort of physical intellectual space on campus where race, class, and gender [will] be at the center of interdisciplinary work,” according to Humphreys Bebbington, program director of Women’s and Gender Studies.

Planning for CGRAS formally began in September 2013 when Huang, director of Race and Ethnic Relations and Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion, first invited the other program directors to discuss the possibility of such a center. One of Huang’s motivations for calling the meeting came from a conversation between herself and Bebbington about student complaints that the Women’s and Gender Studies program was not sufficiently intersectional, specifically concerning issues of gender, race, and class.

At the same time, other faculty members were hearing similar concerns from students. “There was no structure in place to really make those [academic] intersections visible,” said Huang, explaining that the burden was on students to navigate all the different majors, minors, and concentrations that were generally isolated from each other.

Thus emerged CGRAS. “Our objective here is to diversify the curriculum so that it will reflect the kinds of issues that students are concerned about but maybe [are] lacking in the curriculum currently,” said Posner, who will serve as CGRAS director while continuing his role as program director of Latin American and Latino Studies. With CGRAS providing “mentoring, advising, and curricular structure for students,” Huang hopes Clarkies will feel more supported in their academic pursuits.

CGRAS will be a space not only for students to engage with faculty and peers, but for faculty to collaborate and exchange ideas amongst themselves. Since most of the programs will occupy the same building, faculty will have the opportunity to build a community and explore their overlapping interests. “We see the benefit to us as teachers, scholars and colleagues, as we see the desire on the part of the students to be engaged in that way as well,” Posner said.

The center hopes to diversify its community by creating a rotating postdoc or visiting assistant professorship position for racially diverse young faculty who work on issues related to CGRAS. Though nothing has been finalized, Huang envisions these visiting faculty members staying at Clark for one to two years, teaching courses within the CGRAS programs and working on research. “We want to be part of the effort in higher education to build a pipeline for strong minority faculty candidates,” she said.

While the prospect of CGRAS’s interdisciplinary work has been met with excitement by the faculty involved, figuring out the logististics of structuring such work on a university campus has been challenging, says Emily Gallagher, the administrative coordinator for CGRAS.

Universities are department-based, meaning that funding and budgets get individually allocated by department, and professors are usually hired to work within a certain department. CGRAS, however, will function unconventionally, with seven interdisciplinary programs each led by faculty from different departments.

In addition, CGRAS is not a major, minor, or concentration, which leads to complications regarding online course listings, as well as determining through which departments the classes should be offered.

“How does a university allocate money to that?” is one question regarding CGRAS that Gallagher thinks about in her administrative role.

Many of the programs involved in CGRAS have little or no funding, so whatever funding CGRAS receives (from both the University and external sources), along with the administrative support Gallagher provides, will be vital to its existence. Huang acknowledged that in creating CGRAS, participating faculty saw it as a way to “bring these programs out of the margins and into the center of our academic identity here at Clark.”

The launching of CGRAS comes at a time when issues that the center has been intentionally structured to address, especially race, have gained attention both nationally and on Clark’s campus.

Two years ago, when CGRAS first submitted its proposal to the administration, “there wasn’t a whole lot of buy-in, and a lot of people looked at it with great skepticism,” said Huang. Although planning for CGRAS began long before the University of Missouri protests and Clark’s race forums, “the events that have occurred recently…have been a catalyst,” Posner said.

Earlier this semester, when Clark crafted its strategic five-year plan (effective Fall 2016), Huang helped write a four-page chapter on diversity and inclusion, which includes a section on CGRAS. The University’s previous strategic plan, written in 2011, included only half a page on diversity and inclusion efforts.

Huang credits Clarkies for this accomplishment. “I thank the students, honestly, for taking center stage and putting the necessity of a center like this in the center of our strategic plan,” she said.

While the strategic plan and the creation of CGRAS are steps forward for the University, Huang recognizes that there is still a long way to go in resolving issues of diversity and inclusion on Clark’s campus.

Look for more information for CGRAS coming this fall. It will launch with the theme “Migration and Exile,” which will be reflected both in programming and a number of course offerings.