AIS awarded bachelor’s program
February 14, 2008 10:40 AM
American Indian Studies, an original department when the College of Ethnic Studies was founded in 1969, has recently been awarded a degree program in which students can receive a bachelor’s degree.
“It’s an exciting time for AIS students and faculty,” said Dr. Robert Keith Collins, an assistant professor in the American Indian studies department. “The courses that are offered allow students to get a sense of who American Indians really are, and what they went through.”
The AIS department hopes to graduate at least 70 students in the next several years. This year there are 19 students who have declared an AIS minor, and three who will be graduating with an AIS major, according to the SF State Office of Enrollment.
Previously, only a minor degree was awarded by the department, and currently only eight other universities in California provided Bachelor’s degrees for AIS. SF State joins UC Berkeley, Stanford and Mills College in Oakland as the only Bay Area academic institutions to award a B.A. in American Indian Studies.
Collins, who joined the department in fall 2006 and draws his ancestry from the Choctaw tribe, said SF State is the perfect backdrop for the AIS program.
“To be able to talk about being Native American in a diverse academic environment is very refreshing,” he said. “We are now in the position to do something extraordinary here at SF State.”
Both faculty and students agree that what separates AIS from other majors is the personal connection that exists within the department.
“The professors teaching in the department are very understanding and helpful—they’re the reason why I decided to stay in school,” said Michelle Rodriguez, a junior and AIS major from the Picayune-Chukchansi tribe.
“The professors have a strong desire to build off the knowledge that students already have,” Collins said. “The high-school history books provide a foundation that students and instructors can build upon together.”
With a scope that focuses on the native peoples of California, the AIS program hopes to spotlight self-determination, cultivate self-dignity and provide discourse on what all American Indians represent to other people. The program hopes to do so while using a curriculum that targets AIS majors and non-majors alike.
“We want students who don’t know [Native American history] to be educated,” Collins said. “Genocide, social justice—the classroom is a great place to discuss these problems, and by learning of past Native American history, students have a better realization of who they are as Americans.”
“We hope to expand knowledge beyond the white-Indian dichotomy,” he said.
The new AIS major will increase student awareness about Native people, specifically among the students at SF State, Rodriguez said.
“AIS students in the 1960s fought to have their stories told, and the Native Americans in the academic world fought for the counter-narrative,” said Rodriguez, who hopes to work as a pre-school teacher with her tribe when she graduates. “It’s all about breaking stereotypes.”
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