Actions Speak Louder than Protests
Last fall, the College Faculty Council voted to eliminate a professorship specializing in Asian-American history. This decision was met with strong resistance; even President Nancy Dye spoke out in opposition to the position cut. Nearly 180 students, organized by a group called Asian American Studies Now, congregated for a sit-in outside a CFC meeting held in Cox. Oberlin students adamantly protested and eventually found success as the CFC reversed its decision and re-instated the Asian-American professorship. Unfortunately, only a few months after the hard-earned victory for the students, these students are nowhere to be found.
Add/drop has officially ended for the spring semester and there are many glaring absences in classrooms in which Asian-American history, politics and religion are being taught. Despite desperate emails sent out by the Asian American Alliance and the Multicultural Resource Center urging Obies to enroll in such courses, actual enrollment has fallen far short of the 180 students who so passionately protested the position cut last fall.In anticipation of large enrollment, the seats for Contemporary Asian Pacific American Experience (sociology 215) were increased to accommodate 35 students this semester. For the next four months, however, 31 of these seats will be empty; only four students enrolled. In addition to this course, Chinatown as an American Space, Political Economy of Labor in Asia, Central Asia in World Affairs, Asian International Relations and many other related courses are not near full capacity.
The ramifications of student protests followed by low enrollment could be harmful in the short- and long-term. After a disappointing turnout for several classes this semester, the CFC could return to its original decision and once again decrease Oberlin’s prioritization of Asian-American studies.What would make the decision different and more permanent, however, is that student protests would not have the leverage that they did before. This is damaging for the students who care about Asian-American studies, but also because the CFC may hesitate to consider student opinion on department cutbacks or other important changes in the future. The low enrollment in these classes shows the CFC that their previous decision may have been justified. Even more detrimental, it serves to discredit the worth of student voices.
This blame does not solely fall on the students, though. One of the most underrepresented courses, sociology 215, was not cross-listed as an East Asian Studies class. Many of the classes from other departments, such as history and religion, which have been cross-listed in East Asian studies, have been more successful in attracting students. Enrollment for this semester could have produced a different outcome had the course been listed within other departments as well.
There is no explanation for the Oberlin faculty members and students to have
lost their will after such a strong protest less than a semester ago. It seems
impossible to think that students no longer have a desire to learn about
Asian-American related topics or that faculty members have forgotten about a
field that they claimed to hold great importance. Nevertheless, as a result of
enrollment this semester, the students and faculty of East Asian studies have
suddenly given the CFC reason to do what no one wants: ignore us.