The ability to major in Ethnic Studies at Edgewood College ends this month.
The faculty association of the private school on Monroe Street voted in November to restructure academic programming in order to accommodate declining enrollment. But some students and alumni say eliminating the opportunity to learn about cultural and racial oppression in the United States is not the program to cut.
The major where students took classes such as “Dismantling Racism, Liberation Theology,” “Rethinking the Border: US Immigration,” “Black Women Writers,” “Native American Art” and “Philosophy and Mass Incarceration” is applicable to all careers including education, criminal justice, politics and the medical profession, said Johanna Heineman-Pieper, an ethnic studies student.
“Who’s going to teach all these nursing students that they’re trying to churn out of Edgewood? Personally, I don’t want to be treated by a nurse that doesn’t know what I go through racially, mentally and physically because that affects my medical record,” she said. “My race affects my medical record. And the fact that I know that now is because of the Ethnic Studies department at Edgewood.”
College spokesperson Ed Taylor said that although the major has been eliminated, a minor is still available and there is an option for an individualized major, where students create their own curriculum centered around personal interests and goals. For two years, Edgewood College has tried to maintain viability and adjust to declining enrollment by cutting more than 30 faculty positions and eliminating other majors such as broad fields social studies – history concentration and theater arts education, Taylor said. Additionally, some majors have been folded into other majors; for example education is offered as a concentration in the theater arts major.
Heineman-Pieper said the Ethnic Studies major at Edgewood was incomparable to other educational majors in the state, and by eliminating it and the one full time ethnic studies professor, the university is showing their priorities.
“It tells people that you don’t care enough to invest in it being a major,” Heineman-Pieper said. “You don’t care enough about our community organizers, you don’t care enough in the Black Lives Matter movement. You don’t understand what the Black Lives Matter movement is. You don’t understand what Indigenous people go through every day. You don’t understand what the threat of ICE does every single day.”
Heineman-Pieper went to high school in Chicago and said students had a “white-washed” education and they took courses at Edgewood to continue learning history.
“That’s a history I’ve never really gotten until I took classes at Edgewood,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was like to be Black and Native. I didn’t know all these stories. I didn’t know who Henrietta Lacks was. I didn’t learn that at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, all I learned was — go white people, Thanksgiving was more or less amicable and things are fine now.”
In a letter to the editor published in On The Edge News, Heineman-Pieper and 14 other alumni or employees said that the university has been dismantling and defunding the program for five years.
Dr. Huining Ouyang, the only full time faculty in ethnic studies, was terminated in May after a 21-year career at the college. She was the director of the Center for Multicultural Education until 2017, when she declined to continue the role because of fears of declining resources and support at that time, according to the letter.
“Yes, ‘Enough is enough,’ and yes, we ‘must take significant, intentional action’ to be ‘genuinely inclusive.’ Let us confront and eradicate structural and institutional, as well as individual, racisms at Edgewood College,” the letter reads. “Let us stand with the students and staff who call for inclusion and equality and demand change within Edgewood. Let us stand with Dr. Ouyang and other professors who have been wrongfully eliminated. And let us join the AAUP to urge the College’s ‘immediate rescission’ of the termination notices issued to our professors. Do the right thing, Edgewood!”