How To Set Up A Politicized Ethnic Studies Department

1) Hold and publicize discussions on how your ethnic group is under-represented, ignored and invisible on campus. (“Students, faculty, and Native American scholars discussed introducing an indigenous studies program as part of Friday’s Faculty House workshop on the under-representation of Native Americans in Columbia’s curriculum and faculty. …This is our homeland and being invisible is part of the problem…,” said Dawn Martin-Hill, a professor at McMaster University in Ontario – The Columbia Spectator, Feb. 25).

2) If, in fact, your ethnic group isn’t invisible and is already the subject of a variety of courses on campus, belittle those courses as woefully insufficient. (“Although the University offers some courses relating to Native Americans, some feel that the courses are too scattered across disciplines and schools to comprise a cohesive program” – The Spectator).

3) Make sure everyone knows you want an activist political group, not just an academic program (“It should be study to empower native people” said keynote speaker Michael Yellow Bird, a professor at the University of Kansas). On some campuses, working for the cause is required. At Carleton College, students who take a course on Native American religious freedom are expected to undertake “service projects” that get them involved in “matters of particular concern to contemporary native communities.”

4) Make clear that your program will not include any white professors who may be specialists in Indian cultures. (“Native American studies need to be coupled with Native scholars,” said JoAnn Kintz ’08, president of the Columbia Native American Council.”)

5) Pick a keynote speaker radical enough to show that you mean business and that your activist ethnic department will be a muscular one (Professor Yellow Bird thinks the disgraced fabulist Ward Churchill was railroaded and believes that “our traditional indigenous forms of morality” may be a corrective to “the U.S. addiction to greed, war, power and colonization.”)

6) Sit back and wait an hour or so until the campus diversity czar falls in line with your program (“We started to bring scholars to see what questions we should be asking and about creating a center,” said Geraldine Downey, vice-provost for diversity initiatives at Columbia. “The university is committed.”)


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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9 thoughts on “How To Set Up A Politicized Ethnic Studies Department

  1. It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.

  2. Do you suppose the Scotts-Irish would be eligible? I hear they are woefully under-represented at Harvard, especially the Southern rural variety. Seriously.

  3. Michael Reed is right…I love that bit about “our traditional indigenous forms of morality”.
    What’s both funny and pathetic is that the whole concept of “Native Americans” or “indigenous peoples” is, as the pomos say, “socially constructed” by white Europeans. This identity is an invention of post-1960s activism. Two recent books I’ve read (“Dominion of War” by Anderson and Cayton and “Frontier Regulars” by Utley) make it clear that the European settlers of America could never have expanded through the continent without the fractiousness of the American Indian population. Few tribes passed on the opportunity to use the white man’s assistance to pounce on their rivals. The very idea of some sort of common “indigenous morality” is nothing but bunkum. The Indians weren’t any more peaceful or warlike or altruistic or imperalistic than Europeans. Many tribes made damn good fighters; as Utley points out, they were often tactically superior to U.S. Army units in the Old West. But on a strategic level, the Indians were sunk. Their population bases, social structures, technology, and highly individualistic norms of warfare simply couldn’t resist the sort of mass, organized violence and settlement the colonists/Americans could muster. Epidemiology worked in the white man’s favor, too.
    Nor is what happened to the Indians much different from what happened to numerous Eurasian peoples over the course of history, or the Neanderthals for that matter. If I were able to go far back enough in my Anglo-German-Norman ancestry, I’m sure I could also find enough grievances to sustain my own demands for an ethnic studies department.

  4. I’ve met some of the graduates indoctrinated by the ethnic studies process. They come out spewing anti-American vitriol, living in a kind of fictional PC landscape, with degrees that are worthless in the real world. Parents who fund this kind of nonsense would do better to set their money on fire.

  5. It’s embarrassing to admit, with what I read here, but I’m a ’76 KU grad. Being a poor alum, I wasn’t aware of, or familiar with, Prof. Yellow Bird’s tenure & teaching.
    I was there during the AIM / Wounded Knee activist days and was familiar with Haskell students & instructors. It seems not much has changed, and Scott’s comments above are absolutely true & justified.
    Yellow Bird needs to study his Native History a little more before offering “correctives” to his fellow Americans. I do believe many, many American Indian tribes were very well known for, and quite proud of, warring against other tribes over property. Many also practiced slavery and human sacrifice long before any Europeans were settled in colonies on this continent.
    Pot meet Kettle … now shut up & grow up.
    Best regards,

  6. Native American studies need to be “coupled” with Native American scholars. But Ward Churchill was railroaded. So, I guess Native American studies need to be coupled with scholars who claim, however demonstrably fraudulently, to be Native American. Form over substance, as usual, rules. So long as my “oppression studies” lectures are sufficiently shrill and hate-driven, I guess my victim-group bona fides aren’t really all that important to getting my faculty appointment.

  7. Beware when you assume that decades-old Establishment teachers will end up with yet another, then another generation of compliant students…
    I live five blocks down the street from Columbia University. In a dormitory building that hasn’t kicked us old folks out. Guess what I observe, over that last 13 years of living here? Feminism replaced by the feminine. Angry obese females replaced first by really slutty (Madonna/Britney-influenced) ones, then by…and this is new…young women who look and act like neither bra-burners nor strippers, but look like…STUDENTS!!!
    Nik from NYC

  8. The best part about Professor Yellow Bird’s comments is that, while he’s busy teaching taking on the establishment at a relatively liberal institution like the University of Kansas (located in Lawrence, KS, seat of the only county in KS that went liberal in the last general election), there is a Native American college in the same town. Haskell Indian Nations University is located in Lawrence, KS and is specifically directed at the students that the good professor is championing. They even have a transitional agreement in place with KU to help the students along. How much more help do Native American students need?

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