Open letter to administrators regarding Chinese minor cut

Dear Provost Cole,

    I am writing you today to affirm the voices of the students protesting the removal of the Chinese minor, because I am in firm support of the value the Chinese language has in Allegheny’s curricula. Though I had no academic connection with the department, I still appreciate the eminent cultural, scientific and economic utility that Mandarin Chinese holds for a liberal arts student. By removing the Chinese minor, students will be denied an avenue to explore aspects of the Chinese language that connect to their passions or to make new ones. I have studied Swahili and Russian, but these pale in comparison to the presence of Mandarin Chinese, a language that allows one to communicate with 1-in-7 people in this world. I do not even need to interact with their faculty to know the value that their knowledge and voices hold with their ability to give insight into such an invaluable skill. Learning a language in person is a uniquely motivational way to study, one which cannot be replicated by any app or computer, because it is a more personal and humane way. 

     As an aspiring paleontologist, my greatest passion in studying human evolution is inexorably linked to China and Mandarin sources. I will never be able to fully understand the sheer amount of invaluable research information that I could access from the work of Mandarin speakers that studied fossils at these sites, but that remains inaccessible because they never thought to translate it. My good friend, who I met during my first day at Allegheny, studied Chinese because it held multiple meanings to him, specifically: it allowed him to explore his interests in political science and it was also the “lingua franca” of the place that he wants to live in for the rest of his life. During my tenure at Allegheny I met others that found their own reasons for studying Chinese, like an acquaintance interested in the economics of business in the world’s biggest economy. Every individual that studies Mandarin at Allegheny has their reasons, and removing this program severely limits students’ abilities to learn through “unusual combinations.”

     I have heard that you said, “Students should not come to Allegheny to study Chinese.” Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but if I recall correctly according to Professor Guthrie you studied Tang Soo Do under him, did you not? Despite being a Korean martial art, a majority of its style derives from Chinese techniques, and it acknowledges as such in its name. I mean no offense, but I believe that studying the “Way of the Chinese Hand,” and then depriving others of an opportunity to study the ways of Chinese words is hypocritical. With your decision to remove this minor, you take away opportunities for others to study interests within Mandarin that are useful or important to them, equivalent or possibly greater than your passion for this Chinese-inspired martial art. 

     Additionally, didn’t President Link receive her Ph.D. in Italian Language and Culture? To come here with a degree relating to a European language, only to remove the program for the language farthest from Europe is staggeringly insensitive and counterintuitive to what made her successful. Why are all the Romance language programs still entirely intact? In fact, excluding Arabic, every single language program offered by the college is now a European language, and including Arabic, the only portions of the globe which have indigenous languages taught by Allegheny are Europe and the Middle East. The second paragraph of Allegheny’s Statement of Community reads: “We encourage individual growth by promoting a free exchange of ideas in a setting that values diversity, trust and equality.” By removing the Chinese minor, you are restricting Allegheny’s language programs to regions known to the Western world since the time of the Romans: I am positive that the failure to incorporate native languages from areas discovered after Biblical times constitutes an egregious breach of the validity of this statement.

     I understand that Allegheny is in a difficult financial position that requires downsizing, but given that Allegheny is a liberal arts institution with a large and diverse international student base, I cannot fathom why a department that fosters connections with Asian culture during these trying times of hatred is being targeted for exclusion. Objectively, racial tensions in this country are on the rise. During the early stages of the pandemic, we all saw the hatred for Asians that some made manifest into physical forms of hate crimes. That unfounded hatred never went away: the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports that hate crimes against Asians in the U.S. increased by 339% in 2021 over the prior year. To attempt to resolve this epidemic of racially-directed fear and anger requires greater understanding of individuals and cultures. Any program that encourages cultural exchange is part of the remedy; removing them inexorably inhibits forward momentum towards understanding and respect. I vehemently condemn Allegheny College’s removal of the Chinese minor, because in an age of renewed hatred against Asian culture, this action would inhibit the cultural understanding necessary to move towards reducing xenophobia while simultaneously restricting the ability of students to pursue passions related to China as a nation, its people, culture, history, science and economics from abroad.