On February 11th, an array of faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and community members gathered for a Forum on Race and Equity co-sponsored by the Departments of American Ethnic Studies, American Indian Studies, and Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies. Conceived in part in response to UW President Ana Mari Cauce’s ongoing Race & Equity initiative, the forum served as an opportunity for a representative from each of the three departments to reflect critically on what their joint 45th anniversary means to them.
The forum was moderated by AES Chair Juan Guerra at Kane Hall and attracted a crowd of over a hundred attendees. A veteran representative from each of the three departments sat on the panel for a “talk show style” conversation about the past, present, and future of their departments. Those in attendance were gifted with a crucial discussion about the shared and varied histories of the three departments in the context of an informal lively conversation among Professors Steve Sumida, Dian Million, and Shirley Yee.
In his opening remarks for the audience, AIS Chair Chris Teuton intermixed Cherokee with English as he reviewed his own evolution as a scholar in the academy. Professor Teuton urged audience members to consider the definition and place of intersectionality within the academy and stressed that “We cannot tell any of our stories alone.” As moderator, Guerra asked questions that ranged from the history of the departments and their evolution over the last 45 years to a discussion of pedagogy and disciplinary connections and their potential.
All three of the professors on the panel engaged Guerra’s questions thoughtfully in answers that reflected their many years of experience. After reflecting on the university and the larger community needs that established a place for AES, AIS, and GWSS at the UW, speakers quickly turned to more complex topics such as the goals of their interdisciplinary departments and the role each has played within the university community over the years. In seeking out the foundational connections that draw the departments together, Yee pointed to the importance of the intersectional feminism of the 1987 collection This Bridge Called My Back as a common tool of all three departments.
All three speakers also stressed the importance of stories and histories as ways of making sense of the world that their students encounter outside of the UW. Million, for example, explained that “Because histories have always been stories, they’re needed to create our communities’ knowledge. Our histories,” she stressed, “are our epistemologies.” This sentiment was echoed repeatedly by both Yee and Sumida in their own descriptions of their approaches to both teaching and navigating the UW campus.
Their work in the communities with which each department is affiliated was also a key concern repeated by all three panelists. Million advocated for the importance of acting in relation to our shared and interconnected communities through scholarship and activism, while Sumida shared the explicit goals of a pedagogy that focuses on community activism. In Yee’s words, “We help students understand that every one of us has internalized some form of oppression. [Our departments] give them tools to figure that out in their own lives.”