BSU urges ethnic studies boost

As part of its push for wider student participation in ethnic studies programs, BSU is reaching out to other campus groups.

by Keaton Schmitt

Amid complaints over insufficient funding for some ethnic studies departments at the University of Minnesota, a student group is looking to boost interest in the programs.

Over the past several weeks the Black Student Union has organized a push to rejuvenate the ethnic studies departments on campus, which the group’s members say are ignored or purposely given lower priority by administration.

Some University faculty members have expressed discontent with the University’s attitude toward ethnic studies departments. The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, which promotes multicultural students’ academics, was recently criticized after it underwent a leadership change.

“MCAE is just a mess right now,” said Javaris Bradford, vice president of BSU.

Other organizations within the University have also received criticism.

“I feel of late we’ve been very unhappy with the [Office of Equity and Diversity],” said Yuichiro Onishi, the chair of the African American Studies Department.

He said some professors feel the University is divesting from the department.

But College of Liberal Arts leaders say they don’t believe the school is neglecting ethnic study departments. CLA is planning to hire four faculty members in ethnic studies or gender and sexuality studies, said spokeswoman Kelly O’Brien.

One hire is already designated for the Chicano and Latino Studies Department, which currently has one full-time professor.

Funding for ethnic studies programs fluctuates from year to year, depending in part on the number of professors each department retains, according to a CLA fiscal report.

“[The departments’ budgets show] there is an investment in these departments,” O’Brien said. “There is no evidence of divestment.”

Last Sunday, BSU held its annual dinner, and in between spoken poetry and lyrical dances, Bradford spoke about the work the group wants to do.

“It’s time to get down to business., We got a lot to get done,” Bradford said during his opening speech.

And Thursday, BSU and other student groups held a demonstration in support of protesters at the University of Missouri in front of Coffman Union.

At the demonstration, the group issued demands to University of Minnesota administration, including calls to require that all University of Minnesota students take at least one ethnic studies class in order to graduate.

Bradford said he thinks the group can influence more black students to take classes in the ethnic studies departments.

“We’re already in a position to make great things happen. These courses are powerful, and students are really receptive to them,” Bradford said.

BSU members also hope for greater cooperation and organization with other student groups with similar goals, Bradford said.

On Friday, BSU will host its general membership meeting, with plans for many other student groups to attend, he said.

Bradford said he plans to discuss ways to increase the number of ethnic student groups in student governments, with hopes to vote an ethnic student group member into the Minnesota Student Association’s executive board.