CLA Asian cultures program expands; some students still critical

Courtney Lewis

Before fall 2000, the Asian languages and literatures program didn’t exist. Today, with 51 students declaring majors and 44 with minors, ALL department Chairman Joseph Allen said he looks forward to the program’s future.

Designed to incorporate Chinese, Japanese and South Asian languages and cultures into a single department, the program works to educate students through varying media. ALL students learn about their concentration of choice through a focus on Asian art, film and politics.

Classes remain small, with a cap of 30 students to one professor. Reading assignments tend to be large, but Allen said the ALL material is chosen to foster discussions.

Identity and gender issues facing the Asian population have become a fresh perspective to add in classes, Allen said.

“It’s an exciting, new thinking in culture and literature,” he said.

Last year, Allen hired five new professors – two to teach Chinese and three to teach Japanese.

The ALL department tried to find a professor specializing in South Asian studies. After the department hit numerous roadblocks over the past year, a University Hindi professor will join the department in July.

“I was personally disappointed that it didn’t work out last year,” he said.

To gain recognition for the 2-year-old program, Allen and ALL faculty members organized the Asian Languages Week, which begins Monday. Allen said he sees this public introduction as a big step forward, but some students said it’s a venture long overdue.

Rich Bettini transferred from the University of St. Thomas to pursue his major. As a fifth-year student, Bettini intends to finish his college career soon but said it’s going to be harder than he thought in the ALL department.

Bettini said he feels there hasn’t been an effort to maintain or expand this major.

When he first applied to the program, he said, he thought it was a good choice. But once he began the undergraduate major, he said, his viewpoint changed.

“It seemed misrepresented,” Bettini said. “They haven’t made any effort to provide new curriculum.”

Steve Rosenstone, College of Liberal Arts dean, said he’s happy with the department’s progress.

“There’s a tremendous strength in the department of ALL,” Rosenstone said.

He also said there has been a commitment from CLA and from the University to build the department.

Bettini is not the only student frustrated with the new program.

Rohini Khanna, an ALL freshman, said her concern lies with the lack of a South Asian concentration. She said she was angry she couldn’t have a smoother start in the program.

She said that in “this globalizing world” and in light of ongoing religious and cultural tensions worldwide, there should be more done with the South Asian concentration.

“There’s not enough emphasis on the Islamic culture, and it’s such a huge part of the world,” Khanna said.

Bettini said he’s voiced his concerns to Allen and hopes to see a productive change.

“Students’ concerns are important,” Allen said. “We’re looking to make ALL more known and more available to undergraduates.”

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected]