February 28, 2008

SIUC to offer Native American Studies minor

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Beginning with the summer 2008 semester, students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have the option of including a Native American Studies minor in their course of study.

The University approved the minor, setting up a core of required courses from the anthropology and history departments supplemented by courses in English and sociology and from the School of Art and Design.

"We're very excited about the minor," anthropologist Anthony Webster said, noting he has announced the good news in his classes and received positive reactions. He expects the minor will help attract students to SIUC who already are interested in Native American studies, and may make the field more attractive to students presently at SIUC.

"Having the minor available will increase interest in Native American studies. Already there is intense interest in this area of study among some students," he said. He noted the population of students who claim recognized Native American heritage fluctuates from about 60 to 100 students a year. However, many students who may have some Native American ancestry, even if it is not legally documented, are interested in learning about Native American heritage. Others, he said, are drawn because of an interest in history, or particular elements of Native American culture or literature, or because they want to learn more about social injustices against Native American populations. A recent surge of interest in endangered languages also attracts some students to Native American Studies, he said.

"The minor is for all those students," he said. "SIUC has a long history of working with and studying Native American cultures."

Historian Gray Whaley said some students with majors outside the College of Liberal Arts are interested in Native American Studies, indicating the interest might be widespread throughout the University.

"(When I told my classes about the new minor) I got questions about developing the minor field into a program, including graduate study," he said. "I told them the impetus for development would have to come from the students as well as from faculty, but that we now have a great foundation to build upon."

"The minor should provide all students a chance to learn about this important part of our heritage," College of Liberal Arts Dean Alan Vaux said. "We have some amazing faculty expertise in this area, and the minor will provide students a focused opportunity to learn from these experts.

"I hope (the Native American Studies minor) will signal our commitment to diversity and attract students to campus. It is really exciting that the College of Liberal Arts has very recently added several new ethnic studies minors – Native American Studies and Latino and Latin American Studies – that complement our longstanding program in Black American Studies," he said.

The interdisciplinary minor is 18 credit hours, including six hours of required core courses, and 12 hours of electives. The required courses are upper division undergraduate anthropology courses focusing on Native Americans in South America, Mesoamerica, the Andes or the Southwest. Electives include such courses as Latin American Popular Culture, Mayan Texts, Native American Verbal Art, Pre-Columbian Art, Folklore and Mythology, Race and Ethnic Relations in the United States and Native and Contemporary Native American Art classes. A full description of the minor will appear in the summer 2008 catalog.

Webster, a staunch supporter of the minor through its development, noted thanks are due to interim Provost and Vice Chancellor Donald Rice, Vaux, David DiLalla, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and to the chairs of the anthropology and history departments, Susan Ford and Michael Batinsky respectively, for their support. He noted, too, the hard work and dedication of graduate student Nicole Boyd, a past president of the Native American Student Organization.