Winona State officially begins ethnic studies minor

Winona State officially begins ethnic studies minor

Allison Mueller

Olivia Volkman-Johnson / Winonan

This fall marks the start of a movement towards diverse and inclusive course offerings at Winona State University.

Ethnic studies, a new minor offered within the political science department in the College of Liberal Arts, consists of 21 total credits, and includes courses from a variety of departments such as women, gender and sexuality studies, communication studies, education, global studies, history, nursing, political science, psychology and more.

President Scott Olson expressed an interest in developing an ethnic studies program early on in his career at Winona State.

“It was something that is a pretty well established discipline with pretty well established notions of what to study and what the curriculum looks like, but we just didn’t have it here,” Olson said.

The university eventually came together in the spring and summer of 2015 to create the minor, that Olson said many professors supported.

With the help of educators from across the country, who have experience in cultivating and teaching ethnic studies, several faculty members, including professor Frederick Lee and professor Mary Jo Klinker, worked to develop the program.

Lee, a professor of political science and director of the ethnic studies program, said developing the program was complex.

“Sometimes they are driven by faculty…and then sometimes they are legislative mandates,” Lee said. “Sometimes it comes from the administration.”

According to information gathered from the Phi Delta Kappa, the American Educational Research Journal and The San Francisco State College Strike Collection, ethnic studies in the U.S. has a rich history, originating in California.

Klinker, assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies identified ethnic studies as a key piece of a well-rounded education, especially in 2016.

“Ethnic studies has always been critical since 1968 when the Third World Liberation Front demanded equal access to higher education, increased faculty of color and new curriculum,” Klinker said. “That’s what education is supposed to do—make what is seemingly invisible to some people visible, and then deconstructing it.”

According to Klinker, in order to take this step, faculty and KEAP council members came together to discuss potential gaps in inclusive curriculum and possible solutions.

“Students had amazing ideas… It was, perhaps for me, the most powerful part about doing this process is hearing what students wanted and why the curriculum would be important to them,” Klinker said.

Kate Zdon, a sophomore elementary education major at Winona State, has expressed mixed feelings about the new minor.

“I’m really excited for it,” Zdon said. “In high school, and partially middle school, I was bullied and harassed for being Asian. Trying to talk to my parents about it and trying to relate with them was harder for me because I was adopted. I never really felt like I fit in anywhere because I grew up on a white culture.”

Since coming to Winona State, Zdon has felt more accepted and has since gotten involved with student organizations like the Asian American Club and the Midwest Asian American Student Union.

Yet, Zdon said she was a little surprised to see a lack of representation within the minor.

“I came to the opening, looked at the brochures, went through the list of courses and thought, ‘This is wrong…’” Zdon said.

Confused, Zdon consulted Dia Yang, a Winona State faculty member in the KEAP center and inclusion and diversity offices.

“I started a process to get a course implemented. My end goal, which I’m still trying to work on, is to create a course that’s a consistently [there] for Asian American students,” Zdon said.

Since then, Zdon has been working with Lee and Gretchen Michlitsch, another faculty in the program, in order to develop an Asian American literature course

Zdon said she hopes for an Asian American history class in the near future as part of the ethnic studies minor and is planning to add the ethnic studies minor once more Asian American courses have been introduced.

“I would hope for an overall understanding between all the students of what we go through. Every person has their own story, and I think that a lot of us forget that when we go up and meet somebody new,” Zdon said.

Yet, Olson said he believes there is still much work to be done.

“The progress has been made, but we haven’t arrived yet,” Olson said. “And this program, I hope, and all the things we’re doing at Winona State, will help our students and help ourselves to be able to keep fighting for a world that really delivers on the dream of what we’re supposed to be, even if, in practice, we’re not quite there yet.”