Established in 1996, shortly after and partly in response to the hunger strike of 1994, Stanford’s undergraduate program in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE) is the fastest-growing major at the University. The CSRE major is the largest of five offered by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE).
According to professor of comparative literature David Palumbo-Liu, one of CCSRE’s founding faculty members and director of the Undergraduate Program in CSRE, the program’s flexible curriculum and unique focus on comparative studies draws on average 25 to 30 new majors each year.
The Director of the CCSRE, José David Saldívar M.A. ’79 Ph.D. ’83, also spoke about the program’s growth.
“Since 1996, CSRE has probably been the fastest-growing major in the University,” Saldívar said. “We’ve had over 450 majors and minors…In June 2013, we graduated our largest undergraduate class — close to 55 to 60 [students].”
An interdepartmental program
The CSRE program is an interdepartmental program that houses five different majors: Asian American Studies, Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Jewish Studies and Native American Studies.
“One of the things that we were adamant about was that it would comparative,” Palumbo-Liu said. “We created this umbrella — CSRE — under which those programs sit, but there is also yet another major simply called Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and that’s by far our most popular major.”
Palumbo-Liu also emphasized the program’s flexibility and explained that students can design their course path around a theme of their choice.
“Our actual requirements are not onerous at all, but we do leave it up to the students to either create a thematic cluster of their own or else adapt one that we already have — intersectional, public health, migrations, sexuality,” Palumbo-Liu said.
Since the program is interdepartmental, all affiliated faculty members are volunteers and come from several different departments on campus. The CCSRE encompasses two major components: research and the undergraduate study program.
“It’s a volunteer interdepartmental program,” Palumbo-Liu said.“We’re here because we want to invest a certain amount of our time sustaining the program, and it’s been sustained now for a good long time.”
How it began
Despite being approved shortly after the protests in November 1996, the CSRE program had origins well before the 1994 hunger strike.
Palumbo-Liu spoke about the University Committee on Minority Issues (UCMI), which compiled a commission in 1989 that contained extensive research on minority issues on campus. He explained that although the commission was looked over, the issues were not directly addressed. The committee was chaired by Albert Camarillo, professor of American History and the founding director of the CCSRE.
However, Camarillo emphasized the importance of discussions about race and ethnicity rather than the UCMI in the development of the CCSRE. According to Camarillo, before the CSRE program, a group of faculty from the humanities and social science departments received a two-year grant to hold seminars around the topics in 1992 or 1993.
Just as faculty began considering the development of a research center, protests around the issues surrounding ethnicity began to heat up, and the firing of University administrator Cecilia Burciaga sparked the 1994 hunger strike. The strikers’ demands included a request for a Chicano studies program, and after the protests, several University committees were established to address the protesters’ concerns.
“It made the University pay serious attention to the undergraduate curriculum in terms of ethnicity and race,” Camarillo said. “In the end it was more than just Chicano Studies. It really addressed broad issues about ethnic curriculum at Stanford.”
“It probably would have taken several more years for the University to formally recognize ethnic studies in many areas across the board without that prompting that the hunger strike created,” he added.
Palumbo-Liu explained that he and humanities professor Gordon Chang M.A. ’72 Ph.D. ’87 came to Stanford in 1990 under efforts to increase faculty diversity.
“We were hired under that reinvigorated efforts to recruit a diverse faculty,” Palumbo-Liu said. “There was increased and intensified student interest [in diversity issues]… There were more faculty from different schools — not just H&S, but the medical school, the law school.”
Palumbo-Liu became one of the founding faculty members of the CCSRE who was present when the program was approved under Dean John Shoven.
“We were rather late in the game in terms of developing an ethnic studies program here at Stanford,” Palumbo-Liu said. “Earlier programs had existed at UCLA and Berkeley, of course, but the fact that we started late also let us take advantage of how other institutions had done it.”
Growth and development
Since its establishment, the program has continued to grow steadily, and according to Student Services Coordinator Jaime Barajas Hernandez, the program currently has 52 active students in one of the minors or majors.
“We started out with like two or three students in the first year and then afterwards it was the fastest growing major at Stanford,” Camarillo said.
The number of affiliated faculty has also grown from the original 33 or 35 to over 140 volunteers.Saldívar himself came to Stanford under the CCSRE’s Faculty Diversity Initiative, which aims to recruit top scholars in their fields to teach courses specifically through the CCSRE.
In terms of growth, Saldívar explained that the program will graduate its third cohort of honors students through the Bing Honor College this year.
Palumbo-Liu spoke about how CSRE has also seen a shift in the themes over time, as more students have become interested in topics such as feminism and sexuality. The center is also working to develop stronger connections with Stanford’s other schools like the Law School and the School of Medicine.
“There is some talk of starting a graduate program, but that’s at the very early stages of conceptualization,” Palumbo-Liu said. “I think right now we are putting a lot of energy behind community-based learning and [our partnership with] the Institute for Diversity in the Arts.”
Focusing on international expansion and community engagement, the CCSRE also received a grant to hire its first director of service learning, Nadia De Leon. Palumbo-Liu explained that the center hopes the program will continue to grow and gain more recognition.
“For the people who are involved in teaching for CSRE, we say it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching at Stanford,” Palumbo-Liu said. “Not just in terms of the topic, but for the colleagues that we meet and also the students are fabulous — we’re a big happy community.”
Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.