South Asia Curriculum Shortcomings Spark Student Petition

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Georgetown University has only one professor who teaches Hindi, a language spoken by more than half a billion people worldwide.

Last year, Dr. C. Christine Fair, an associate professor at SFS, taught seven classes in one semester, more than a tenured faculty member is expected to teach for the entire academic year. This fall, she will teach a double workload of two Hindi classes and three Security Studies classes.

The SFS retains only a handful of South Asian professors in the faculty ranks, offers only one formalized South Asian program for undergraduates, and provides minimal South Asian language instruction and structured academic pathways. In response, members of Georgetown’s South Asian community created a task force and wrote a petition calling on the university to hire more South Asian faculty and offer more courses related to South Asia and the South Asian languages. The petition has 261 signatures at the time of publication.

“That a subcontinent of two billion people with a history that goes back to the first civilizations, all the religions of the world, and might I say, a very strong geopolitical presence in the region – it’s too bad that Georgetown has little or nothing about this region,” said Nikash Harapanahalli (SFS ’24), one of the three authors of the petition and vice-president of the South Asian Society.

Harapanahalli, Suhani Garg (SFS ’23) and Shevani Tewari (SFS ’24) started the petition this spring. “People know it’s important and they see it as a lack in Georgetown. The problem is bringing people together to work on it,” Garg said.

The only formalized South Asian program for undergraduate students is the India Initiative, which focuses on research and teachings throughout India. The initiative, however, has a non-inclusive and politicized history on campus.

First, the initiative is limited to India, which means that much of South Asia is not represented. “South Asia is a mosaic, not a monolith. And any program that covers it must reflect that,” Harapanahalli said.

According to faculty, the India Initiative has also been riddled with leadership issues. The initiative’s former director, Dr Irfan Nooruddin, is on leave but remains a professor of Indian politics at Georgetown. His replacement, Dr. Cecilia Van Hollen, is a non-tenured professor and not of South Asian origin.

“For too long in Georgetown, the study of India has been organized by people with no connection to India – without lived experience and without an academic background,” said Dr. Shareen Joshi, professor of development and economics. .

“Imagine if the US study was just one person, in London. That would be laughable,” Joshi added. Fair also pointed to the implications of how the initiative was structured. it’s deaf, really deaf,” she said.

Decisions about the Indian Initiative program were limited to a handful of faculty and included no opportunity for student input, according to Garg. “We know that the process of creating South Asia-related initiatives has not been inclusive, has not included faculty, and by extension has not included students,” Garg said. .

Some professors have noted that this problem reflects institutional problems within the SFS. “I have signed countless petitions from students, understandably furious with the state of India and South Asian studies at SFS,” wrote Dr. Jacques Berlinerblau, professor of Jewish civilization, in an opinion piece for the Voice. “The irony is that we have a few top Indian academics on our faculty who are often left out of program decision-making processes. Shouldn’t they be charged by the SFS with constructing a coherent study program adapted to this field? And shouldn’t they work as a collective?

Joshi stressed the importance of having tenured professors — who, in theory, have published more research and enjoy greater academic freedom and protection from termination — on any task force tasked with changing the programs. “It’s like that [the University of] Chicago did. That’s how all campuses that take a region seriously do it,” Joshi said, noting that bringing together experts with a long-term future at the university helps sustain the proposed changes.

In the meantime, teachers like Fair are overloaded. “I need someone to negotiate a reasonable teaching load from me,” Fair said in an interview with the Voice. ” I do not know how to do. I can’t do it myself and the people I asked didn’t accept it.

To expand the reach of South Asian programming in Georgetown, students like Harapanahalli believe Georgetown needs to expand the languages ​​it offers students. The Hindi curriculum at Georgetown has been inconsistent in its schedule and often poorly advertised to students.

Harapanahalli wanted to take Hindi, but was unaware of its availability. As a result, they made the decision to study Persian instead. “It changed my path, the next four years of my life.”

Fair is working to expand language offerings in Georgetown. She sought out auxiliary language instructors for different programs including Bengali, Urdu and Tamil.

She noted that university finances play a role in why some languages ​​are offered, while others are not. “Without some confidence that students would enroll in these classes, that’s a big risk, that’s a big gamble the university is taking,” she said.

But according to Garg, informal petitions posted by the South Asian Society to gauge interest in Hindi and Urdu language courses noted that more than 40 students would take one of the two courses if offered, proving perhaps the demonstrated commitment that Georgetown requires to make it economically smart. choices.

“We were able to show the administration that students were interested in taking South Asian classes because it was a common excuse,” Garg said.

Garg and Harapanahalli had a chat with Dean Joel Hellman and Associate Dean Mark Giordano, who works on the India Initiative faculty committee. According to Garg, Hellman agreed to convene a faculty meeting with the students in attendance to discuss concrete steps the administration can take to address the petition demands.

“It’s the start of a conversation the university needs to have with its students,” Fair said.

Beyond the trustees, Harapanahalli called on Hoyas to go beyond just signing the petition and learning about the region and its diversity.

“What we would want from the community is not just to sign this or push for this, but to be aware that there are unique cultures, histories, languages ​​and futures in this group of people,” Harapanahalli said. “I deserve the same resources to critically analyze my heritage.”

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