The Department of American Ethnic Studies celebrated its 30th anniversary on October 12th by hosting an open house for faculty, staff, students, and administrators from across the university. We were also fortunate to have several community partners in attendance. Held throughout the department offices on the fifth floor of Padelford Hall, the open house consisted of food, drinks, and brief speeches by university and community members that truly captured the spirit of cooperation and collaboration the department has built over more than 30 years.
AES faculty, staff and their guests were clearly excited to hear from Dr. Joe Scott, the first chair of the department. As current AES chair Dr. Juan Guerra remarked, “What we do in AES is build on the shoulders of others, and his shoulders have been there from the beginning.” Scott’s remarks painted a portrait of the department in its earliest days as a fledgling program with a dedicated interest in student development. This ethos has clearly continued over the past 30 years as evidenced by the strong ties many faculty, students, alumni, and community members have to the program that supported them.
As recounted through the stories patched together by various speakers, the AES department was born out of the active engagement and participation of students of color who struggled to see themselves represented on the UW campus. What started out as a small student cohort in 1985 has now evolved into a department with more than 140 undergraduate majors. The department has also amassed a rich history of student development and community engagement through strong faculty and student scholarship as well as through an array of interdisciplinary programs and university outreach.
The open house invited speakers from across campus with ties to the AES department that included chairs, directors, deans and other administrators from Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Comparative History of Ideas, English, Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, and the College of Arts & Sciences. Dr. Bob Stacey, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, acknowledged the voices of students in shaping both the past and the future of the department, as well as their role in carving out the department’s impact across the campus community.
Building off of Dean Stacey’s sentiments, Dr. Gabriel Gallardo, the Interim Vice Provost & Vice President for Minority Affairs & Diversity, commented on the parallel growth between AES and programs like the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity. As programs dedicated to diversity and student support on campus, these types of programs have thrived because of the coalitional support they have been able to provide one another. Additionally, Gallardo called for the development of an AES graduate program to much applause from the crowd.
The department offices and hallways were packed for most of the open house’s duration. Many were there to listen to speakers and enjoy the array of snacks, but several students were present to make connections and engage with faculty and staff in a department that has supported them over the course of their studies. Several students from Dr. Connie So’s AES 150 course also came to learn more about the program. As first-year students at the university, they expressed excitement at connecting with a program so early in their time at UW that has allowed them, as students of color, to engage with new ways of seeing their own histories. As Guerra noted, it’s important for all of us to do what we can to support departments like AES because “it is vital for students to learn about communities of color and themselves.” The open house celebration reflected the need for a department that provides the support and the partnerships that AES proudly fosters.
Read more about the AES Open House celebration: