As the U.S. becomes more diverse by the year, employers are seeing a greater need for understanding cultural, ethnic, and racial differences, making ethnic studies one of the most important programs on college campuses today.
That’s one of the reasons why Santa Clara University is launching a new major in ethnic studies to help prepare students for the globalized workplace. Starting next fall, SCU will offer ethnic studies as a companion major, meaning students majoring in it must declare a primary major in another discipline. This would be beneficial for undergraduates wishing to combine their training in majors such as business, psychology, or political science, because the companion major would enhance opportunities for graduate study and/or careers.
For instance, business students might learn about certain traditions in China, which has the fastest growing economy in the world, and then see how American companies are applying them in their marketing strategies. Psychology majors could gain better insight into the psychological impact of Eastern Asian-Americans forced to flee their country during a time of war and oppression. Students wanting to become teachers might focus on comparative ethnic studies to gain a broader understanding of multiculturalism taking place in the classroom.
“We need to look at ethnic studies differently in today’s world where populations have become so much more diverse. In addition to studying a particular group of people isolated from another, we’re also focusing on the interaction between various racial and ethnic groups,” says James Lai, professor and chair of ethnic studies at Santa Clara University.
“I never learned about Latinos or African-Americans when I was growing up. In fact, I had to learn about my history on my own. Ethnic studies has given me the tools I believe are necessary to make effective change in my own community, because it’s up to me to be the change I want to see,” says Gustavo Magana, an SCU sophomore who’s majoring in political science and ethnic studies.
The development of the new major couldn’t come at a better time. The University is celebrating the ethnic studies department’s 40th anniversary this academic year. Already, Lai has been holding forums that focus on the various ways ethnic studies has transformed students, communities, and the campus.