Chinese minor supports DEI initiatives

A5 president shares concern over cuts, administration

On Feb. 5, Allegheny College’s Board of Trustees (per Provost Ron Cole’s recommendation) voted to discontinue four academic programs, one of which was the Chinese minor. This decision was made without notice as the Academic Review Task Force report did not recommend the discontinuation of the Chinese minor. Discontinuing the Chinese minor is a racist and short-sighted decision for a college that claims to be committed to a diversified curriculum, inclusive excellence for all students, and preparing lifelong learners.
President Link’s strategic realignment, known as the “Renaissance Vision,” has four interlocking priorities: Holistic Student Success/Inclusive Excellence; Owning Allegheny College’s Distinct Academic Brand; Relevance to Global, Regional, and Local Social Context; and Financial Stability. These lofty goals have not materialized as we see a complicit administration undermining Asian students’ safety and needs.
President Link’s first priority, “Inclusive Excellence,” seeks to create the best student experience for all members of our community. However, Asian students face racism daily on Allegheny’s campus. There are constant microaggressions including permanent foreignization, fetishization, and stereotyping from the student body, faculty and staff. The Chinese minor provides a direct safe space where we can communicate freely and without fear of being misunderstood. For many international students, the Chinese faculty are the only committed advocates for their education.
Removing the only East Asian language will have a tremendous ripple effect. It means Allegheny does not value all voices. I; it means Allegheny will erase resources at will, and it means Allegheny will be complicit in racism towards its Asian students.
Speaking as the President of the Association for Asian and Asian American Awareness, also known as A5, I know firsthand the importance of the Chinese program outside of the classroom. My advisor, Professor Xiaoling Shi, has played an integral role in cultural programming. These events are broadly enjoyed by the student body but require significant dedication from the host organizers. President Link herself attended the Lunar New Year celebration but sent the email announcing the cut the same day.
We are simultaneously highlighted for admissions prospects but undermined when we need support the most. Ron Cole believes A5 doesn’t need a Chinese minor and vice versa. Is Ron Cole willing to spend evenings planning events, recruiting members, and advertising our events?
I have met with Ron Cole four times following his staffing plan announcement. When I have raised my concerns to him, he pointed out to me that other cultures are not represented in the curriculum; however, diversity is not a zero-sum game. Everyone at Allegheny benefits from having more diverse academic programs within our curriculum. What is not okay, however, is ignoring red flags because you hire another Dean, email more empty platitudes and hang cute flags in the Campus Center. Leaving marginalized students’ cultures out of the curriculum is a tool for alienation and helps to erase their unique history, yet we tolerate this erasure at our institution. Removing the Chinese program is cruel, especially when the only commitment Asian students receive is an acknowledgment that it affects our sense of wellbeing.
The next priority in President Link’s strategic plan is “Owning Allegheny College’s Distinct Academic Brand,” which aims to educate students for life. Allegheny’s appeal lies in these unique programs that are the basis of the “Learn Outside of the Lines” brand campaign. For students to engage in multiple disciplines, the college must instruct students on an anti-racist ethos as a prerequisite for diverse learning. The interdisciplinary Chinese Studies minor, which incorporates students’ varied interests, backgrounds, and experiences is an ideal example of this. The minor’s courses are taught by faculty from the Chinese, History, Religious Studies, and Political Science programs.
Ron Cole’s staffing plan recommends maintaining the Chinese Studies minor without the language. He argues that students can take Chinese Studies without the language as it stands. But the program only has three professors, and removing the Chinese language component will render it useless. You cannot have an in-depth understanding of China without the necessary insight the language provides into the nuances of its culture and history. If a student took these advanced classes on Chinese culture without an understanding of the language, they would lack sufficient engagement with the material. It is deliberately more difficult and less rewarding to take Chinese Studies without the language. Allegheny cannot maintain its brand by eliminating essential liberal arts programs while also transforming others beyond recognition.
The third strategic priority is “Relevance to Global, Regional, and Social Context.” However, Allegheny students cannot be cognizant of global issues when you remove East Asia wholly from the curriculum. This curricular blindspot also means International Studies and Global Health Studies will lose an East Asian focus. The importance of Mandarin is clear when over 1.3 billion people speak it, but will be even more relevant in the coming years. Its relevance in economics, international relations, and politics will only grow as the student body continues to diversify. The Class of 2025 exemplifies this given 29% of the class identifies as a student of color. A college committed to recruiting diverse students must provide support in retaining these students. A diverse student population necessitates representation in its faculty. Firing Asian professors now will decrease retention and further homogenize the faculty.
Last but not least, “Financial Stability” is the primary cause for the program cuts. But the data from the Task Force Report suggests the Chinese minor should be maintained. Every language has seen decreased enrollment, but enrollment in Chinese remains consistent. Chinese enrollment rates are higher than the average decline in the WLC department and the college as a whole. This is indicative of a sustainable department. Removing it now would likely necessitate it being reinstated a few years later as interest grows in the East Asia region. Extraneous spending such as a complete college rebranding or countless new administrators should be on the chopping block rather than essential academic programs.
Financial stability will not come from eroding the Allegheny brand or erasing campus safe spaces. Austerity is a mistake; you cannot cut your way to success. Allegheny must instead uphold the core values that it loudly proclaims. I cannot think of anything more antithetical to “creating an inclusive, respectful, and safe residential learning community that will actively confront and challenge racism” than cutting the Chinese minor now. If the Statement of Community means anything, it would prioritize student belonging and safety during times of duress.