the importance of ethnicity in ethnic studies programs

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  • ~nternotional Journal of Intercultural R&lions, Vol. 3. pp. 1%185, 1979 Printed in the USA. All rights reserved.

    0147-1767/79/020175-11$02.00/0 Copyright 0 1979 Pergamon Press Ltd.



    Incarnate Word College

    ABSTRACT. A study was undertaken to determine the importance of ethnicity in an ethnic studies program. Three different dimensions were examined (1) the importance of the ethnicity of the teacher in the opinions of administrators and students; (2) ethnic differences among students in attitudes and expectations regarding such a program; (3) the relationship between the structure or content of the ethnic studies program and the long-range ethnic goals of society. Results of a nationwide sample of academic deans and a sample of students from two colleges in San Antonio, Texas, indicate that the ethnicity of teachers is an important concern for both administrators and students. It was also found that attitudes and expectations, as well as what the primary function of the program and the long-range ethnic goals should be, differed with the ethnicity of students.

    Ethnicity has always been important to people because it not only locates them in groups, but also helps them to answer the question who am I? (Gordon, 1964). In the United States people have been expected to subordinate their particular ethnic identity to national identity. To this end, schools have been used as instruments of Americanization (Lampe, 1976). This process has usually entailed the internalization, on the part of students, of appropriate American attitudes and behavior (translated WASP).

    During the 196Os, however, there was a great upsurge of interest among certain ethnic minorities, who were experiencing problems in assimilation, in reasserting their unique ethnic identities and traditions. This interest gave rise to the introduction of ethnic studies programs into colleges and universities in many parts of the country, particularly where there were large minority enrollments (see Banks, 1976; Rochin, 1973).

    Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Philip Lampe, Incarnate Word College, 4301 Broadway, San Antonio, Texas 78209.


  • 176 Philip E. Lampe

    Previous research has indicated that such programs tend to emphasize the study of minority groups, especially Blacks, Mexi- can Americans and Native Americans (McConville, 1975). This emphasis on nonwhite minorities resulted from the social forces which gave rise to the ethnic studies movement. It also appears to be due to an attempt to make up for the past historical neglect of these groups as recognized contributing members of American society and a corresponding attempt to deal with some of the social, psychological and economical problems of disadvantaged American minorities (Record & Record, 1974).

    According to Banks (1976) conceptualizing ethnic studies almost exclusively as the study of nonwhite ethnic groups pro- motes a kind of we-they attitude. Therefore differences in attitudes and expectations regarding ethnic studies programs between the members of various ethnic groups, and particularly between whites and nonwhites, may be expected. Differences may likewise exist between administrators and students since they are viewing the programs from different perspectives. These possible differences give rise to three questions concerning the importance of ethnicity in ethnic studies programs, the answers to which may assist educators in making such programs more relevant and effective. First, how important, in the opinions of administrators and students, is the ethnicity of the teachers in such a program? Second, what differences, if any, in attitudes and expectation, are there between Black, Mexican American and Anglo students regarding an ethnic studies program? Third, what relationship, if

    any, is expected or seen to exist between the structure or content of ethnic studies courses and the long-range ethnic goals of society?


    In order to answer these questions a two-part study was undertaken. First, a cover letter and questionnaire were sent to the academic deans of 60 colleges and universities which had been randomly selected from the directory, American Universities and ColZeges. Second, a corresponding questionnaire was given to all students attending classes on a designated day in a four-year private liberal arts college which has an enrollment which is approximately 60% Anglo, 40% Black and Mexican American, and a two-year public Junior college which has a student body which is

  • Ethnicity in Ethnic Studies 177

    approximately 85% Black and Mexican American, 15% Anglo. These two schools were selected in order to include, as much as possible, respondents from all parts of the city and all segments of the class structure. In addition, neither school had an ethnic studies program, so student responses would reflect only their attitudes and beliefs toward such a program and not their experience with one. Questionnaires were answered anonymously, but included a question requesting the respondent to indicate his/her choice of an ethnic identifying term.

    Both questionnaires requested information concerning the gen- eral desirability of ethnic minority members as teachers of ethnic studies and explored various facets of the relative importance of academic preparation versus ethnic membership in the selection of teachers. Student questionnaires included questions regarding the need for ethnic studies; personal desire for such a program; and what the primary function of an ethnic studies program should be. Also sought from both deans and students was a personal opinion indicating what the ultimate goal of an institution of higher learning and the ethnic studies program should be concerning ethnic relations in the United States, Results were computed in terms of percentages and the z test was used to test the signifi- cance of difference between the responses of the following categories: Blacks vs. Mexican Americans; minority (Black and Mexican American) vs. nonminority (Anglo); and the pre- dominantly white vs. predominantly nonwhite college.


    Importance of Ethnicity in Faculty Selection

    Seventy-two percent of the questionnaires sent to the academic deans were returned. In answer to the question of whether they believe students prefer faculty members who are themselves from ethnic minorities to teach these courses, Table 1 shows that 91% of those responding indicated they did. This opinion was validated by the response of the 830 student respondents to a similar question which revealed that over 77% of them, regardless of their own ethnic membership, did agree that teachers of such a program should themselves be members of ethnic minorities, Minority students were even more likely to express this view with 88% of

  • 178 Philip E. Lampe

    TABLE 1

    Responses of Academic Deans


    Yes No Other

    Number % Number % Number %

    Do students prefer minority teachers for ethnic studies? 39 91 2 5 2 5

    Would (did) you employ a minority teacher over an equally qualified nonminority teacher? 28 65 1 2 14 33

    Would (did) you employ a qualified minority teacher over a better qualified nonminority teacher? 21 49 19 44 3 I

    Would (did) you pay more to a minority teacher than to an equally qualified nonminority teacher? 22 51 18 42 3 I

    Do you prefer a teacher to be active in civil rights movement? 2 5 2 5 39 91

    Ultimate goal should be:a Unity through traditional

    culture. 2 5 Unity through a melting pot culture. 32 14

    Unity with cultural pluralism. 22 51 Other 2 5

    aMore than one goal indicated by some respondents.

    the Blacks/Negroes and 82% of the Chicanos/Mexican Americans affirming it (see Table 2).

    On a subsequent question, 65% of the deans indicated that if they had the chance to select a faculty member for such a course from among equally qualified applicants they would (or did) employ a member of a minority group over nonminority members. However this percentage is misleading since 14 deans failed to answer the question. Of the 29 who did respond, 97% answered positively. One further question regarding the importance of ethnicity as a criterion for selecting faculty asked if the deans would (or did) employ a qualified minority member over a somewhat better qualified nonminority member. In response, the greatest number of deans (49%) answered affirmatively while 44% answered negatively. The remaining 7% gave a noncommital answer. In answer to a related question, 51% of the deans

  • Ethnicity in Ethnic Studies 179

    indicated they would (or did) pay a higher salary to a teacher from a minority group than to an equally qualified nonminority member. An additional 7% responded that it depends on circumstances.

    This same general spirit of considering ethnicity as an important qualification for selection of a teacher was found among students, particularly minority students, and may explain in part the attitudes and actions of the administrators who are now more

    TABLE 2

    Ethnic Differences In Student Responses Expressed as Percentages


    All Black/ Chicano/ White Students Negro Mex. Am. Anglo n = t330a n = 128 n= 187 n = 379

    Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No

    Prefer minority teacher for ethnic studies,

    Prefer minority member over equally welI qualified white Anglo.

    Prefer qualified minority member over better qualified white Anglo.

    Prefer barely qualified minority member over qualified white Anglo.

    Prefer unqualified minority member over qualified white Anglo.

    Prefer civil rights activist as teacher. There is a need for ethnic studies. Do yo


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