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Focusing on students, multicultural issues

About 20 faculty and students in the University’s Ethnic Studies department met yesterday afternoon in the Union with a candidate who may become the department’s new dean.

Larry Shinagawa, a professor at Ithaca College in New York, said what he’d do if he’s hired during a question-and-answer session that came after an hour-long presentation.

As dean, Shinagawa said he would encourage students to work in the community outside an internship, hire faculty trained in specific ethnicities to teach new courses and possibly create a master’s degree within the department.

“Realize that I feel very strongly about ethnic studies,” he said. “It has the power to change people’s lives.”

In an interview afterward, Shinagawa said he wants to increase student engagement.

“You’ll find in me someone who has a lot of experience but also someone who’s very concerned with students,” he said.

During his presentation, which focused on Asian Americans as they relate to ethnic studies, Shinagawa touched on three issues that he said should be researched more extensively by scholars in his field.

The first is to acknowledge that many ethnic studies debates were begun in the 1960s and need to be evolved.

“We’re still living with the legacy of colonized minority,” he said. Colonized minorities are minorities who immigrated to the U.S. generations ago.

Shinagawa said immigrant minorities today are “racialized” – categorized with all others of their race – but do not share the same history and experience of minorities who have lived in the U.S. for generations.

The second issue Shinagawa outlined had to do with a “process of culturation” – minorities becoming Americanized after emigration.

“There is some retrogression [of their culture],” he said. “It leads to them becoming part of the mainstream.”

Not enough emphasis is placed on interminority relations, he said, as opposed to the emphasis on majority-minority relations.

Shinagawa’s third issue dealt with many people feeling an allegiance to several cultures at once, including race, nationality and age.

“When people say ‘who are you,’ they’re not only saying ‘who are you,’ they’re asking who you belong to – who owns you,” he said.

Our cultural identities overlap, he said, and it’s important to recognize how that causes people to classify themselves.

After the presentation, Jason Carrick, a senior ethnic studies major who attended, said he isn’t sure Shinagawa can make the changes he wants to make at the University in less than three years.

“I think he did a nice job touching on pan-ethnicity and making it more evident,” Carrick said. “[But] I think putting it on a college campus isn’t possible in a short amount of time.”

He said Shinagawa’s focus on studying the culture that results from two ethnicities combining, such as Japanese and Chinese Americans, conflicts with the focus of classes he’s taken so far.

“Most classes I’ve taken, we’ve studied just one ethnicity at a time,” Carrick said. “He’s talking about not looking at it as [individual] ethnic studies, but the culture that forms when two ethnicities are combined.”

Despite that, Carrick said Shinagawa seemed open-minded.

“I can see him doing a good job,” he said.

Shinagawa was chosen as a candidate because of his scholarly and administrative experience, according to Gary Lee, a professor who temporarily heads up the ethnic studies department while the search for a dean continues.

“He’s someone who can provide leadership to the deparment,” Lee said.

Shinagawa is one of four finalists being interviewed for the position.

A new dean for the department will be chosen in March, Lee said.

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