Pathbreaking Global Studies Major Offers New Framework for Diversity Learning
Traditionally, undergraduate students have learned about U.S. diversity and about global or international issues through largely separate courses and programs. An explosion of new comparative scholarship and the rapid rise in global interdependence, however, are prompting a re-thinking of curricular structures in both these areas. It is becoming more and more important for today's students to learn about U.S. diversity in the larger context of global interconnections. Further, we can certainly learn a lot from the strategies other countries are developing to deal with their own diversity challenges.
Drawing on a decade of faculty and curriculum development in both international and intercultural studies and a sequence of grants, St. Lawrence University (SLU) has developed a new curricular model that promises to take diversity learning to a new level of global awareness and interconnection. A new major in Global Studies at SLU builds on a strong institutional history in study abroad and Area Studies programs, but moves these programs to a new level of interdisciplinary and comparative integration. It also parlays a growing emphasis on student research into a major that is both firmly based in a set of core courses and custom-designed to suit each student's research interests.
Global Studies is not only interdisciplinary in the minimal sense, but draws on all the major divisions of knowledge, including the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The depth of the major lies in area studies concentrations (including one on the U.S.). The program teaches theory and methods drawn from both cultural studies and political economy.
The goal of the Global Studies Program is to teach students to analyze comparatively the impact of global processes on specific phenomena connected with, across, and between geographical areas. Students examine how similarities and differences in these larger contexts affect human actions and beliefs in two or more geographic areas. They learn how a local place is crisscrossed by regional, national, continental, and transnational cultural flows, environmental processes, and economic relations. Students compare the ways particular states, cultures, economies, or ecologies are interconnected in larger global systems.
In six core courses, students are introduced to key concepts and theories of global processes, intercultural relations, political economy, and cultural studies (see below). In their other eight courses, they study two areas of the world. Their choice of courses is guided by their own particular interests which they examine in depth in a comparative senior project. In this balance between core courses and two areas of concentration, the major combines coverage of key concepts, theories, and methods with maximum flexibility for students, allowing them to design their majors around a problem or theme of importance to them. They pursue language study and methods relevant to their comparative senior research project. For example, a student focusing on women's labor in Africa and India might study Swahili and Hindi as languages. For the methods course, she might focus on ethnography and microeconomics, or on statistics. A student working on tourism in Costa Rica and the Adirondacks would study Spanish. For methods she might study statistics and survey methods. A student comparing the uses of ethnobotany by Latin American and North American indigenous peoples might study Spanish and/or Mohawk.
Most global studies majors will also choose to spend at least a semester abroad gaining field experience in at least one of their areas of concentration. Many will spend a semester abroad in each of two countries, or will seek available student travel or research grants to do field research in their second area. The courses they take abroad count toward their relevant area of concentration and allow them to do field research toward their senior project.
This is an advising-intensive major. Students structure their coursework with a comprehensive view of where they want to end up in their senior project.
Another distinctive feature of the program is that it positions the U.S. as one of a series of studies that includes African Studies, Asian Studies, Canadian Studies, Caribbean and Latin American Studies, European Studies, Native American Studies, and United States Studies. St. Lawrence is currently developing a U.S. Studies program and students can use courses that focus on the U.S. to create a concentration for the major. We believe that placing the U.S. within a global context is essential to the major. All students need to learn about the role of the U.S. in the global political economy. Study abroad options currently include Kenya, India, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Australia, Japan, Russia, Denmark, England, Austria, France, Spain, and Canada, as well as the many universities in the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP).
In addition to a fourteen member advisory board that designed the major and wrote the proposal for it--from which this article was taken--St. Lawrence is also hiring five new tenure-track faculty to staff the Global Studies Program. The hiring for these positions is initially being funded by the Christian Johnson Endeavor Foundation, which also provided generous funding for the faculty and curriculum development work through which the new major was created.
At many universities, new programs present challenges to traditional institutional structures. With the exception of the Environmental Studies Program and the Canadian Studies Program, SLU has traditionally required that all faculty be tenured in departments. As a result, SLU's Area Studies and Gender Studies programs have had to depend on the excess energies of faculty who have primary responsibilities in another department. A new position in Gender Studies and the five new hires in Global Studies are breaking with that pattern and making the faculty's primary commitment to the interdisciplinary programs. The Global Studies faculty will serve the Area Studies programs as well.
While the program will formally begin in 20002001, it builds on a great deal of faculty and curriculum development work in African Studies, intercultural studies, and St. Lawrence's participation in AAC&U's Cultural Legacies and American Commitments initiatives. These efforts have enabled faculty to join in collaborative, interdisciplinary reading seminars and field study. Several courses that will form the core of the program have also emerged from these efforts including Global Studies 102, "Introduction to Intercultural Studies" which has been taught for several years and this year is being taught in a living-learning context (see sidebar).
Another important catalyst for the development of this major was SLU's involvement with the Ford Foundation Crossing Borders initiative. Through this project, SLU participated in a national debate about different ways of organizing knowledge--for instance into spatially-bounded regions or into larger systems of globalization, migration, and cultural transmission. These debates have been on-going in a variety of places including at the Social Science Research Council and the Ford Foundation, both major funders of Area Studies programs.
We see the Global Studies major as synthesizing the strengths of both approaches, building on the strengths of area studies, but placing the study of specific regions within a larger global network of transnational movements and processes. The major is especially suited to undergraduates at a liberal arts institution because it allows students to design a course of study focused on a problem or issue in two regions and to pursue their own comparative research on it. Finally, the availability of funding to hire five new faculty members made our vision a reality. This development will not only be essential to building the new program, but will also strengthen SLU's Area Studies programs since these new faculty members will also teach in them.
We hope this new program will generate some individual courses that will help all SLU graduates attain more global knowledge and skills and will provide an opportunity for those who choose to major in the program to study complex global issues comparatively and to develop deep knowledge in two areas of the world. For more information on the program, see www.stlawu.edu/slu:http/acadpro/glob.htm
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St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York
A Living/Learning Project
"Introduction to Intercultural Studies" was piloted as a living/learning project at St. Lawrence University in the Fall of 1999. Students enrolled in the course lived in a common residence designed to foster intercultural communication and collaboration. The course engaged students in an interdisciplinary study of U.S. cultural diversity in a global and comparative context. Students studied the confluence of social, political, and economic forces that have made the U.S. the culturally diverse nation that it is, and examined how such differentiating categories as gender, race, ethnicity, class, spirituality, and sexuality structure our relations with one another, and shape our perceptions of how we are different.
As a living / learning project, the work in the course drew upon the relationships, conversations, and negotiations that went on in the students' lives together. To develop the skills required to talk productively about differences, the project included an intercultural communications laboratory in Intergroup Relations. In addition, students were asked to study how diversity is defined and functions in the St. Lawrence community, and to develop programs designed to improve the St. Lawrence environment for diversity.