Colorado College American Cultural Studies External Review


Professor Duchess Harris participated in assessing the curricular scope of the American Cultural Studies Department at Colorado College and offered recommendations as to how it can be developed as a program.

(Review downloadable as PDF)

Colorado College
American Cultural Studies External Review
April 4 – 7, 2005

We begin this review of the American Cultural Studies (ACS) program with the observation that Colorado College is a special place. Over the course of our three-day visit, we were continually impressed by the dedication and energy with which faculty and students approach their intellectual work together. The College’s famed Block Plan has something to do with this sense of shared purpose, but structure alone does not explain the curiosity and motivation of the students we met or the determination of the ACS faculty’s to connect the work of the classroom to thorny social problems on campus and in the broader community of Colorado Springs. Ultimately, the responsibility for setting the tone in the classroom belongs to faculty, and in the ACS program at Colorado College the faculty has achieved a unique blend of academic inquiry and social activism. We commend this achievement, and endorse the faculty’s desire (as expressed in its self-study) to play an expanded leadership role in guiding discussions of race and ethnicity on campus. That diversity is a key issue on American campuses hardly needs mentioning; it is a topic that unites faculty members, academic administrators, and student affairs professionals. However, it is unusual to find a group of faculty members as committed as the ACS faculty is to engaging the problems of race or class inside and outside the classroom. We believe this commitment is of great value to the institution, and we urge the College to give careful thought as to how it can best support the ACS faculty’s efforts to develop a broader campus presence. We think that an expanded ACS program could be fruitfully linked to the College’s Alliance for Civic Engagement; as noted below, we also think service learning could play a more prominent role in ACS. No doubt there are other ways in which ACS could expand its presence outside the classroom.

Our primary responsibility in this review, however, is to assess the curricular scope of ACS and to offer recommendations as to how it can be developed beyond its present status as a program and thematic minor. The most important question that ACS now faces is one of identity and focus: how to clarify the mission of the program in its movement from “Ethnic Studies” to “American Cultural Studies.” Several colleagues with whom we spoke noted that this change in the program’s name has confused people. Does the move signal a new emphasis on cultural traditions and folkways, or the study of popular culture and power relations, similar to the so-called Birmingham School of cultural studies? More concerning, given the history of Ethnic Studies at Colorado College, does the new name mean there will no longer be a place in the curriculum to recognize the role of underrepresented groups in American culture and the region? The answer to this last question is certainly no. For as Professors Garcia and Hyde explain in their hiring proposal, “American Cultural Studies” is supposed to reflect “the new scholarship on race and ethnicity as well as the broader diasporic nature of cultural studies.” Still, the confusion has persisted.

To resolve this ambiguity, we do not think ACS should be returned to its original status as an Ethnic Studies program. We suggest that the program be renamed “American Studies” and that its future development take place within the American Studies framework common at other colleges and universities. Alternatively, the ACS faculty may wish to keep the program’s present name while adopting an American Studies curriculum. On this last point, it is worth noting the variety of program names that distinguish the institutional members of the American Studies Association. For instance, the program at the University of Southern California, which was conceived as a combination of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, is called “American Studies and Ethnicity” (at the end of the report, we have appended a letter from the Director, George J. Sanchez, explaining that program’s mission). Regardless of the name, we want to be clear in our affirmation of the program’s continued emphasis on race, class, and gender—the theoretical legacy, one might say, of the social and political transformations that spawned Ethnic Studies programs at Colorado College and elsewhere during the 1970s. In sum, we think ACS is in an ideal position to build on its historical strengths and create an American Studies program that provides an even more effective framework for the interdisciplinary study of the relation between difference and power.

In exploring the prospect of such a change with ACS faculty, we found them open to the possibility but also unsure of what “American Studies” actually is. One colleague assumed it is the study of history and literature, another identified it as the examination of elite cultures, and a third associated it with the consensus history of the 1950s. All these descriptions have a ring of truth to them, but none of them accurately describes the field of American Studies as we know it or that is on display at the annual meetings of the American Studies Association. On the contrary, during the past twenty-five years, the field of American Studies has been the site of a vigorous discussion of how race, class, ethnicity, and gender can and should be incorporated in the study of American culture. As Linda Kerber declared in her 1988 Presidential address, “Diversity and the Transformation of American Studies” (a theme that has been picked up by nearly every subsequent ASA president), the field had been “freed from the defensive constraints of Cold War ideology” and “empowered” by a “new sensitivity to the distinctions of race, class, and gender . . . to understand difference as a series of relationships of power, involving domination and subordination.” This new understanding, Kerber concluded, has led American Studies scholars to “reconceptualize” their interpretation of American history and culture. Significantly, the growth of Ethnic Studies programs during the 1960s and 70s helped speed this transformation by fostering the study of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and bringing new theoretical approaches, like oral history and ethnography, into American Studies. Although Ethnic Studies programs continue to stand on their own, they have also found a home in American Studies, powerfully expanding the field’s collective understanding of citizenship and nationhood.

While this thumbnail history may offer a conceptual rationale for developing an American Studies program at Colorado College, the students we met during our visit made the case for change in other ways. In our visit to ACS 185 (“Introduction to American Cultural Studies”), we observed a high level of intellectual engagement: the students were ready and eager to discuss several challenging readings on the construction of racial identity. Yet at the breakfast meeting we attended the day before we learned that students who are inspired by such classes cannot easily pursue their newfound interests. It is possible to major in ACS by designing a program through LAS, but students find the process bureaucratically cumbersome. They also noted that the program lacks a physical home and adequate support staff. The program director, Professor Garcia, is “stretched thin” and has significant obligations in the English Department. They observed that the strength of the departments at Colorado College sometimes impedes the development of interdisciplinary programs (we heard this from faculty as well). Perhaps the most compelling argument for establishing a full-fledged American Studies program came from a student who described doing field work with a CC sociologist on the African-American land movement in North Carolina but had difficulty finding an advisor in his home department (History) to oversee an independent study on the topic. An American Studies program and major would create a home for students to pursue this sort of interdisciplinary work.

The following recommendations speak to the development of ACS in four different areas: curriculum, personnel, program support, and the larger American Studies community. We view the recommendations in these areas to be of a piece, and encourage the College to treat the expansion of the program in holistic terms.

1. Curriculum

Recommendation 1.1: We recommend that ACS be continued as a “thematic minor” in the short term (the next two to three years) and that it become a major in the long term and most certainly by year three.

Recommendation 1.2: We recommend that ACS form an Advisory Board made up of faculty, students, and community representatives to give periodic insight into the development of ACS and how the program should engage in cross-campus discussions. Creating such a Board would help expand ACS’s base of constituents and heighten its visibility at the College. We suggest that the program establish the Board within the next two or three years.

Recommendation 1.3: We recommend that ACS be structured around some specific concentrations that have been its strength and that reflect the teaching expertise of the faculty in the program.

A four-course concentration or core is a common requirement in many American Studies programs, and we would encourage the ACS faculty to adopt this structure as well. These tracks typically reflect the teaching resources at the given institution. The ACS faculty might therefore consider concentrations in Race, Class, and Ethnicity; Diasporic Studies; and two or three other areas. We note that first two concentrations are now well represented in courses taught by Professors Garcia, Monroy, Montaño, Rommel-Ruiz, Ibrahima, Hernandez-Lemus, and Feder (among others). We suggest that the ACS faculty conduct an audit of CC classes devoted American culture and design these concentrations accordingly. Over time, new concentrations might be added to take advantage of emerging curricular strengths and to guide future hires. For instance, if the College expanded its offerings in film and media, ACS could consider a concentration in popular culture, supplemented by classes already in the curriculum (e. g. Music 201: From Plymouth Rock to Rock).

Recommendation 1. 4: We recommend converting ACS 185 into a course that serves as an introduction to American Studies and interdisciplinary studies. The class would serve as a gateway to the major, introducing students to the concentrations in ACS and other required classes in the classes in the major.

We favor a gateway class that introduces students to the major, either by offering an historical overview of the field of American Studies, or perhaps through a survey of key historical episodes in American culture, studied in an interdisciplinary manner (the Formation of Modern American Culture class at Yale University is a good example of such a class).

The ACS faculty also asked us for advice on developing its second tier course, ACS 210, “Race, Class, and Gender.” We like the idea of retaining a second level course that focuses theoretically on race. However, we think that AC 185 and 210 are currently similar enough—in terms of their focus on race—that they could be easily collapsed into a single 200-level class. This would leave ACS 185 to be recast as an introduction to American Studies.

A mid-level class on American Studies research methods that could be shared with Southwest Studies and other interdisciplinary programs is worth considering. Given the number of disciplines represented among the ACS faculty—from anthropology to history to psychology—and the support for team teaching as well as in-class field work, the possibilities for such a class are exciting.

We suggest that the ACS faculty consider a service-learning requirement in its revised curriculum. We were very impressed by the experiential learning that the Block Plan enables, and believe that a course in service learning could give the program a distinctive stamp and help advance the College’s “civic engagement” initiative. A service-learning component could be included in a mid-level methods class, or it could be a stand-alone course. It strikes us that Professor Emily Chan’s work in directing student field work in the broader community—in the area of intercultural communications and the psychology of prejudice and the impact of media images—provides an outstanding example of the kind of civic engagement that ACS needs to foster.

Finally, we recommend incorporating a capstone experience in the major—a senior thesis or essay, and a senior seminar—so that students have the opportunity to reflect on their work in ACS and undertake their own research projects.

Recommendation 1. 5: We recommend the construction of a major that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. A major in ACS might look like this:

Introduction to American Studies
Race and Ethnicity (a combination of ACS 185/210)
Research Methods
Core classes (4 in all)
Electives (1 or 2)
Service learning course
Thesis or essay (1 or 1/2 credit, using the CC calculations)
Senior seminar
[some of these courses could be cross-listed with Women’s Studies and Southwest Studies]

We encourage the ACS faculty to consult American Studies programs at comparable institutions as they develop the requirements for the major.

2. Personnel

Recommendation 2.1: We recommend that ACS immediately initiate a search to make a faculty hire for a Director to coordinate the program. We also recommend that this position be made at the rank of Associate Professor or above and that the College provide the Director with a 2-3 block course reduction to free up him/her to engage in the work of building a major in ACS.

We agree that the hire that has been approved for ACS should be in the area of race and ethnicity. We suggest a “wide net” hire, and strongly recommend that this person have a doctorate in American Studies, or in a related field in the humanities: English, Religious Studies, History, etc. It is important that this person be engaged in interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching, and be conversant in the trends and movements that have constituted the field of American Studies. This person must also be willing serve as program Director soon after his/her arrival. We suggest that this person be hired at an advanced level, as close to tenure as possible (we understand that Colorado College does not ordinarily make tenured hires). To place a newly minted PhD in a position that requires a significant amount of administrative work and community outreach does not seem realistic to us.

In order for the Director to succeed at the College, he or she will require the same level of support currently available to other interdisciplinary programs on campus. We were not able to determine the standard teaching load reduction for program directors; one person told us she teaches “3 and a 1/2 stand-up blocks,” while another seems to teach slightly more. Teaching load reductions vary from institution to institution and according to the size of the program and number of majors. We know of program directors that receive a 50% reduction in their teaching load and colleagues who get a single-course reduction (from a five-course load). Given the expectations for the incoming hire and the kind of program building that will be required of him/her, we believe that a 50% reduction for the first two or three years of the appointment is reasonable.

We think that all ACS faculty can be involved in this very important first hire and should have the opportunity to meet candidates and offer their impressions of them. At the same time, we suggest that a search committee be convened and charged with the responsibility of making a hiring recommendation to the administration.

Recommendation 2.2: We recommend that ACS be granted approval for a second full-time faculty hire to be made in year three of the program’s enhancement. This hire would support the major with teaching expertise in a distinct sub-field in American Studies like globalization, transnationalism, or diasporic studies, and preferably be linked to the social sciences.

Although these subjects are currently represented in the ACS curriculum, we think that a scholar in globalization or diasporic studies, with specific training in American culture, could play a vital role in developing this field of study. We also recognize that some colleagues with interests in this area have commitments in their home departments that may limit their ability to contribute to ACS. Hiring a social scientist would effectively complement the humanities-oriented study of diaspora and transnationalism now taking place in ACS.

Recommendation 2.3: We recommend that ACS be granted approval to hire a full-time administrative staff person to coordinate the activities of the program and assist the Director with faculty searches. This recommendation comes from our sense of the administrative support needed to run Southwest Studies and Comparative Literature—campus programs that may provide useful models for the growth of ACS.

3. Program support

Recommendation 3.1: We recommended that adequate space on campus be assigned to ACS.

We understand that the demolition of the ID House is imminent and that each of the programs located there will receive new homes. We hope that ACS’s new home will be a space where students and faculty can gather in formal seminar and informal mentoring settings. Over time, this space may be expected to assume symbolic importance as the place on campus where key issues in American culture are studied and discussed. Currently, ACS lacks this sort of identity, in part because the program shares space with Women’s Studies and Asian Studies.

Recommendation 3.2: We recommend that ACS be allocated a budget sufficient for developing its curriculum and organizing campus-wide lectures and symposia related to race and ethnicity.

During our visit, we heard a lot about the “entrepreneurial spirit” that governs departmental and program budgets, but we never got a clear picture of what this means from an operational perspective. Of course, every program would like a bigger budget. That said, we think it is especially important that this emerging program be given generous support at the outset of a new Director’s appointment. We assume that such support would go toward the development of lectures and symposia—extracurricular programming that would enable American Studies to organize community discussions of racial and ethnic issues. We understand that such discussions (like the “Race Matters” symposium held during our visit) have taken place under the auspices of student affairs offices and with the input of ACS faculty. These partnerships are vitally important to the social climate on all campuses; at the same time, we think that whenever possible faculty should be urged to play a primary leadership role in promoting and fostering them. To do this, the American Studies program will need a healthy budget.

4. Programmatic Benefits of Linking ACS to American Studies

The scholars presenting their work at this conference are as diverse as the subjects being discussed. We study or teach on almost every continent on the global. We may be trained in American Studies, ethnic studies, women studies, literature, history; music, art or anthropology. Some of us never left the United States. Some of us are visiting the United States for the first time this week. There are probably as many definitions of American studies in this room as there are scholars; indeed, one of the reasons many of us were attracted to American studies in the first place was its capaciousness, its eschewal of methodological or ideological dogma, and its openness to fresh syntheses and connections.
–Shelly Fisher Fishkin, Presidential Address to American Studies Association, November 12, 2004.

Recommendation 4.1: We recommend that the American Cultural Studies Program at Colorado College establish a formal association with American Studies and with the American Studies Association.

The terrain of American Studies has changed considerably over the last two decades. A number of world events have pushed American Studies as a field to consider what it means to construct a “post-national” American Studies. Among the elements contributing to this new focus is the increasing multi-lateral movement of people between developed and underdeveloped parts of the world. Predictably, the United States remains the most dynamic point of this migration and relocation. These questions have given rise to the study of diasporic communities and to comparative area studies.

These changes have made American Studies the locus for the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, class and gender in comparative and transnational contexts. This new emphasis is bringing critical attention to the research and study of globalization, borders, colonialism and post-colonialism and diaspora. In American Studies programs, especially those located in regions like the Southwest where transnational questions have historical antecedents, there is now a renewed call for regional and area studies. Colorado College’s geographic location, its strong program in Southwest Studies and the ACS focus on the study of race, ethnicity, class and gender, ideally situate it to engage in a “new critical regionalism” that embraces the study of local and regional histories within transnational and global contexts. In short, this is the kind of scholarship that is underway in American Studies. We are therefore confident that a number of unmarked benefits will accrue to ACS as it becomes more widely recognized as the place on the Colorado College campus where students do transnational and regional American Studies. We believe that ACS in collaboration with regional area studies at Colorado College is ideally suited to engage its students in transnational and regional American Studies. Our review of ACS found that the program’s core faculty members—Professors Monroy, Montaño, Feder and visiting scholars Michael Trujillo and David Torres-Rouff—are already doing a fair amount of transnational American Studies that embraces the decades-long merging of Ethnic Studies and American Studies curriculum and mentoring at the College.

We also feel that there are already strengths among ACS faculty in the area of critical regionalism that can link local and global aspects of Southwest history with the study of race, class, ethnicity and gender. As reviewers, we believe such work is best enhanced and sustained by ACS establishing a formal affiliation with American Studies programs regionally and in the nation. We believe that there are real benefits to ACS aligning its mission to American Studies as an interdisciplinary enterprise.

The benefits of affiliating with American Studies as a discipline are both pragmatic and pedagogical and have the potential to enhance all aspects of faculty and student interaction. First, it should be noted that programs in American Studies self-designate their program names and missions based on a number of factors (the range and scope of their curriculum, faculty expertise, the history of the program, etc.). A cursory look at the current listing of programs in the “Guide to American Studies Resources, 2004” reveals the diversity of programs coming together under the American Studies Association banner. To cite a close example, one notes that the American Studies at Bowling Green State University is called the “American Culture Studies Program.” American Studies also rosters faculty and affiliated faculty in programs according to the design and mission of individual programs; it is therefore not uncommon to find instructors self-designating as African American studies, Chicano/a studies, and Native American studies in programs where an ethnic studies focus is important. We believe this kind of flexibility is key for a program like ACS at Colorado College as it goes through a building phase. The ability to self-determine its programmatic goals and objectives will allow the program to transition while building on the work it has done to coalesce its curricular and faculty strengths as ACS.

The American Studies Association offers a wealth of academic resources to assist member programs in advancing their teaching and research missions. These resources include conventional forms of academic support and networking (annual meetings, publications, newsletters, grants and fellowships). Among the most innovative and far-reaching initiatives having direct benefit for ACS is ASA’s Crossroads Project, in particular, the project’s support of the use technology in the classroom and in curriculum development and design, matters of key importance to the teaching mission of a liberal arts college. Another important arena is the ASA International Initiative that is been spearheaded by the current ASA President, Shelly Fisher Fishkin (Stanford University). This initiative has enabled the creation of a new International Partnerships Program, a project that provides small grants to help establish collaborations between programs here and abroad. The ASA International Initiative is an avenue for any program seeking to build a diasporic/globalization studies track.

In becoming an American Studies program, ACS at Colorado College would join the ranks of American Studies programs in the Rocky Mountain region at the University of Wyoming, Utah State University and the University of New Mexico. The program at Utah State offers a MA and MS graduate degrees in American Studies in concentrations that include: American Institutions, American Art/Literature, American Culture and Diversity, American Folklore, Nature/Environment and the American West. Wyoming offers the MA and has long had a solid reputation for its work on the American West and for preparing students for a career in the public sector. American Studies at the University of New Mexico offers the MA and PhD, in six areas of concentration (Race, Class, Ethnicity, Environment, Science and Technology, Gender Studies, Popular Culture, Cultural Studies and Southwest Studies). All three programs offer degree options, which would be of interests to ACS students seeking an advanced degree in American Studies.

Additionally, ACS students and faculty would also have access to and could expect to play a visible role in the regional and national American Studies Association meetings. For example, the Rocky Mountain American Studies Association meeting is an ideal setting for faculty mentors and advanced undergraduates to present their research and scholarship in a non-threatening and supportive venue. The next annual meeting of RMASA is scheduled to take place in the region in 2006. Similarly, ACS faculty and students can greatly benefit by attending the national meeting of ASA. In practical terms, this possibility will become even more available in 2008 when the ASA annual convention will take place in Albuquerque just down the road from Colorado College.

Timeline for developing program and major in ACS/American Studies

 Summer-Fall 2005: Initiate search for faculty hire at rank of Associate Professor. Hire in place by spring 2006.

 Fall 2005: ACS establishes a formal association with American Studies and the American Studies Association.

 Fall 2005-Spring 2007: Develop concentrations for major that reflect teaching expertise of faculty in program.

 Fall 2005-Spring 2006: Hire full-time administrative staff person.

 Fall 2006: Space on campus assigned to ACS

 Summer-Fall 2006: Initiate search for hiring second full-time faculty member. Hire in place by spring 2007.

 Fall 2006: Convert ACS 185 to a gateway course that serves as an introduction to American Studies.

 Fall 2006-Spring 2007: Establish major and strengthen “thematic minor.”

 Fall 2007: Establish Advisory Board with faculty, student, and community representation.

Addendum (Source:

The following description of USC’s program in “American Studies and Ethnicity” highlights the overlaps between Ethnic Studies and American Studies.

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your interest in the Program in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. I encourage you to explore this site and welcome you to send us additional inquiries via email, telephone, or regular mail.

USC’s Program in American Studies and Ethnicity was created in the wake of the 1992 disturbances in Los Angeles and was conceived as a new way to examine the diversity and various cultures of the United States. Combining the best of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, the Program houses undergraduate majors and minors in American Studies, African American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Chicano/Latino Studies, as well as a minor in Jewish American Studies. Each of these undergraduate programs has an emphasis on diversity in the American West, particularly in the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles, as we take advantage of the cultural resources available to students in the region.

In 1999, USC approved a plan for a new Ph.D. program in American Studies and Ethnicity, and we accepted our first applications for graduate admissions for the academic year 2001-2002. This new Ph.D. program, with classes that started in Fall term 2001, emphasizes three strengths of our collective faculty: 1) the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity; 2) a regional focus on Los Angeles and the American West; 3) the multidisciplinary exploration of culture, from its production in film, literature and media, to its theoretical and methodological study across the disciplines.

Our faculty comes from disciplines across the humanities and social sciences in USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as well as from several professional schools, especially those in Cinema/TV, Communication, and Law. We share a commitment to the interdisciplinary study of American society and culture, and to the training of students to see the United States and its peoples from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We also view our location in southern California as a perfect laboratory to study the impact of diversity in America’s past, present and future.

Speaking as both the Director of USC’s Program and the President of the American Studies Association (2001-2002), I encourage you to learn more about American Studies and Ethnicity by taking one of our courses, enrolling in one of our programs, or by simply coming by our offices. I look forward to meeting you and having the opportunity to tell you more about USC’s Program in American Studies and Ethnicity.


George J. Sanchez, Director


We close by thanking the faculty, administrators, students, and support staff at Colorado College for giving us this opportunity to review the American Cultural Studies program. We believe ACS has an exciting future ahead, and we hope these recommendations will help guide the program’s development. If we can be of any further assistance, please let us know.

Duchess Harris, Macalester College

Gabriel Melendez, University of New Mexico

Tim Spears, Middlebury College



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