This year the American Ethnic Studies (AES) department celebrates its 30 year anniversary of becoming a department at the UW. In 1985, the Black Studies Program, the Asian American Studies Program, and the Center for Chicano Studies combined to form the AES department.
But the history of the department can be traced back further than 1985. In May 1968, the Black Student Union and other student groups began advocating for increased diversity among the student body. In response to these demonstrations, many campus programs were established by 1970, and have continued to grow and evolve since.
These programs include the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center, the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program, and academic departments like AES, Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, and American Indian Studies.
Yesterday, the AES department hosted an open house at their office in Padelford for students, faculty, and alumni.
Vivian Lee, class of ‘58, and Eleanor Cado, class of ‘76, members of the Multicultural Alumni Partnership, praised the department for teaching students about other cultures.
“They’re preparing students for the global world,” Lee said. “The world is no longer just Seattle or the U.S., and they need to have an awareness of culture to be educated by the world.”
Leslie Ikeda and Troy Osaki graduated from the AES program in 2013. Both focused on Asian American Studies, and Osaki said the program allowed him to learn more about his own culture.
“It was the first time I got to learn about my family history and my cultural identity in school,” Osaki said. “I’m really thankful for the program. I got to learn about social resistance and community activism, and how to continue that legacy that my ancestors started.”
After taking Chicano Studies courses, UW senior Salvador Gomez decided to double major in AES and Spanish. He studied abroad in Mexico for the first time this summer in a program organized by both departments. He hopes to become a high school teacher and teach his students about Mexican culture.
“[AES] really gave me a different perspective on other cultures and backgrounds and family values that other people have,” Gomez said. “It really opens you up to different things, not only within yourself but within the UW.”
Sera Wang, another current AES major, said the courses she has taken have helped her embrace her identity as a Korean-American.
“All my life I learned history in a certain perspective, and AES teaches you a different perspective,” Wang said. “They take the struggles of people who are oppressed, people of different colors and people of different power dynamics ... and explain, ‘This is why you feel this way. It’s not your fault. It’s the system in place, and here’s what you can do.’”
Leaders within the UW community made appearances throughout the open house, congratulating the department on its continued success. Judy Howard, divisional head of social sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she has enjoyed watching the department grow during her 30 years at the UW.
“My friends around here are doing such fantastic work, we have such fabulous students, and this is an incredibly important moment, particularly in the study of race and equity at this university and in this community,” Howard said. “This department is absolutely central to the work that we are doing at the university now.”
For students like Ikeda, Osaki, Gomez, and Wang, the AES department has helped them celebrate their own cultural identities as well as those of others. For alumni like Lee and Cado, and for faculty members like Howard, the AES department offers hope for a more diverse, open-minded, and accepting school community.
“You have every nationality represented in this department,” Cado said. “It just shows that, no matter what your ethnic background is, you have a chance.”
Reach Podcast Editor Katie Anastas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KatieAnastas