American Multicultural Studies: Continuous Questions About the Future

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By: Melissa Gonzalez, gonzalezme@mnstate.edu

Questions still remain about the controversy surrounding the American multicultural studies (AMCS) program as the spring semester is drawing to a close.

Students who are a part of the history, languages, critical race and women’s studies department (HLCRWS) are concerned, particularly around the fact that a faculty member, Professor Phyllis May-Machunda, Ph.D, is retiring at the end of the semester.

Sharing of Values and Concerns

Araceli SpottedThunder, a sophomore majoring in cultural anthropology and minoring in women’s studies, mentioned some of the concerns.

“Students are worried that a lot of classes aren’t going to be offered in the Africana studies because of Phyllis leaving,” SpottedThunder said. “Classes for the minor sometimes don’t get offered.”

May-Machunda, who has taught in AMCS for 30 years, teaches dynamics of prejudice and oppression as well as courses in African American humanities and African American theater and film.

“My concern is both AMCS and women’s studies are struggling,” May-Machunda said. “I think it’s that people are leaving and the university is trying to balance its budget.”

Nisha Anthony, a Spanish major who at one point was a minor in the AMCS program, shared the importance of taking an AMCS course for the student body.

Anthony stressed the importance of learning about different ethnicities of people as well as learning about prejudice and racism and gaining better understanding of different groups’ cultural experiences.

“It teaches cultural differences, especially at a university that is predominantly white and with international students,” Anthony said. “A lot of these students don’t have the opportunities to learn about these cultural differences, to immerse themselves in these communities they don’t have an understanding of. But when you take these classes, you get to learn about certain economical problems at its core and how to best work against them to make progress moving forward.”

May-Machunda took the time to reflect on the changes the program has gone through throughout her time at the university.

“When I first came here 30 years ago, we had every student in the university coming through our department,” she said. “But as we’ve merged with the other universities and we’ve tried to do Minnesota Transfer we went to the lowest common denominator instead of the highest. We had the strongest requirements in this area, (but) to balance with the other universities, we went to the lowest common denominator.”

May-Machunda is retiring as part of the Board Early Separation Incentive Program (BESI) which, according to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ website, is designed to reduce salary and benefit obligations in anticipation of reduced state funding, reallocation of resources to departments and programs and other cost-saving strategies.

Due to a stipulation in the BESI program, May-Machunda’s position will not be replaced for at least three years.

Responses from the Administration

Randy Cagle, the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, said that the university is not immediately seeking a replacement for May-Machunda, but will take the opportunity to analyze demand and potential for opportunities in the program.

Cagle also shared that May-Machunda’s classes will be covered by other faculty members in the history, languages, critical race and women’s studies department.

“We’re committed to having ethnic studies, in some form or another, that meets students’ demands and advances their education,” Cagle said. “We will continue to discuss how to have good, robust multicultural and ethnic studies at MSUM.”

The administration continues to assure that nothing negative is happening with AMCS.

“I can tell you that there have not been any discussions recently or changes in the status of AMCS since the discussions earlier this fall,” said Marsha Weber, the Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs, in an email. “At this point in time, we do not have any specific strategies or proposals for changes.”

Some administrators are perplexed at how the AMCS program has become a topic of intense conversation regarding its future at the university.

“I’m not sure how that came to be,” Cagle said. “Maybe there was some misunderstanding or miscommunications that the administration is disinvesting in those programs, and that wasn’t the case.”

However, concerns about the future of the program persist around the availability and selection of classes each semester.

Currently there are two classes available for fall of 2019 under the AMCS label. AMCS 100, America’s Mosaic; and AMCS 233, Education and Multicultural America, which is restricted for education majors.

AMCS is listed as a minor on MSUM’s website that requires a total of 18 credits. The program has six credits worth of core requirements and 12 credits worth of restricted electives.

Although the program is small, those involved in it are sure of the importance of learning about multicultural experiences in our country.

“I don’t see how you can go into the world without knowing the history and cultural knowledge that we provide,” May-Machunda said. “This is a global world.”

The conversation surrounding AMCS began in the fall semester when a professor from the history, languages, critical race and women’s studies department hung a banner outside of the women’s studies office that raised questions about the future of the program.

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