The CU Board of Regents’ decision on April 7 to support CU Denver’s proposal to recognize the Ethnic Studies Program as an official department reflects the university’s commitment to accomplishing its strategic plan goal of becoming an equity-serving institution by 2030.
“CU Denver’s Ethnic Studies Program has been treated like a department for a long time,” says Department Chair Faye Caronan. “Our Dean (Pamela) Jansma is very supportive of us, as was our former dean. We offer a major. We have full-time faculty housed in ethnic studies. Our budget is determined in the same way as other department budgets in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). We were a department in everything but name and felt that, as a program, our status was more precarious than a department’s.”
Ethnic studies courses have been offered at CU Denver since the late 1960s. “The program began in 1974 when Dr. Cecil Glenn became our founding director while simultaneously serving as the full time EOP (Educational Opportunity Programs) director,” Caronan says. “Recognizing us as an official department is an equitable decision. Part of becoming an equity-serving institution means recognizing that students do better when they are taught diverse histories and the ethnic studies curriculum offers that.”
Caronan says that when diverse students are able to see themselves in the curriculum it fosters a sense of belonging and student success. Recent studies demonstrate higher graduation rates of students who major in ethnic studies. “Diverse students are often not represented in their curriculum prior to coming to college,” she says. “When they take courses, like ethnic studies courses, that show they belong in American society, these students often perform better in college.”
The Ethnic Studies Department offers a range of classes that explore the experience of different racial groups. Required courses focus on the history, culture, and contemporary situation of Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians. “We also offer courses with an intersectional focus such as women of color, feminisms and race, religion, and belonging,” Caronan says.
She believes the department designation represents the culmination of a long push that began with her predecessors. “The previous director, Dr. Donna Martinez, advocated for department status for the whole of her tenure,” Caronan says. “I want to acknowledge her efforts before mine in bringing about this important change.”