The University officially approved a proposal to create the College of East Asian Studies (CEAS) on Nov. 19. The new interdisciplinary college will combine the current East Asian Studies program, the department of Asian Languages and Literatures, and the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies.
The new CEAS major will be a three-year program that students apply to at the end of their first year. Major requirements for the College will only differ from the current East Asian Studies major in that students will be required to complete three years of a foreign language instead of two.
Chair of the East Asian Studies Program Stephen Angle presented the proposal to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) at the beginning of the school year. Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Academic Affairs Chair Grant Tanenbaum ’15 sat on the committee and believes the College will strengthen East Asian Studies at the University.
“What was most exciting is that it looked like this solved a problem,” Tanenbaum said. “These very related disciplines that were separated and made things more complicated for students who were often taking courses in all of these areas…. [I]t was exciting to see a proposal that addressed those short-comings.”
The planning for the College and proposal began several years ago. Angle hopes that the new structure will bring fresh enthusiasm to the study.
“Right now is a crucial moment of transition for East Asian Studies at Wesleyan, in two different senses,” Angle said. “A bunch of long-time faculty members are retiring, and our long-time support from the Freeman Foundation is basically ending.”
The Freeman Foundation, which aims to strengthen ties between the United States and the countries of the Pacific Rim, has given extensively to the Center for East Asian Studies for decades. Houghton and Doreen Freeman, the foundation’s benefactors, passed away in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
“We are at a point where East Asian Studies could wither away unless we get some new momentum,” Angle said. “We saw this as an opportunity to reboot with what is turning out to be the enthusiastic support of the administration.”
As per the original proposal, the department of Asian Languages and Literatures will cease to exist; the professors and classes will now be housed in CEAS. In addition, Korean will be moved out of the Less Commonly Taught Languages Program and into the College.
CEAS will officially begin instruction at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. Current juniors will remain in the East Asian Studies program, while sophomores who declare the major at the end of the year will automatically become students of CEAS. Freshmen will have the opportunity to apply for the college at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, although it will not yet officially exist.
Christopher Nanda ’16 plans to declare the East Asian Studies major in the spring and believes that the three-year nature of the CEAS program will not discourage students from the major.
“East Asian studies isn’t a major that a lot of people go and discover in college,” Nanda said. “It’s less likely that people will just decide to take Chinese or Japanese on a whim and decide they love it. Compared to other majors, I think a lot of people have an idea that they want to pursue it as a course of study. As long as there is an awareness that CEAS is an option, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Angle noted that he hopes to use the new structure and additional year of study to offer several distinct opportunities.
“We expect to be able to offer some new options for first-year Chinese, [such as] an intensive course for students who have grown up speaking Chinese but don’t know how to write it,” Angle said. “Currently, they fit awkwardly in the normal first-year Chinese class. By offering a course dedicated to heritage learners, they can progress more quickly.”
These classes would allow heritage learners to learn enough characters in one semester to skip a full year of study and enter into the second semester of the intermediate course.
Angle is hopeful that these programs will allow more students to achieve a higher language proficiency. He stated that the College hopes to create new opportunities for students who reach this stage in their language study.
“We’ve got some really cool ideas for advanced classes in Chinese and Japanese,” Angle said. “We have students who are past fourth-year Chinese, ready to actually take a class in Chinese in history or literature or philosophy, but we haven’t been able to offer anything like that. With the new faculty resources and financial resources that are coming with this college, we hope and expect that we’re going to be able to start offering half-credit lab sections.”
These lab sections would be additional class discussions held exclusively in the language of origin of the material and would allow students to study untranslated texts.
“The real payoff for all of us is to be able to read stuff that we couldn’t otherwise because it’s only available in Chinese, and [to] debate it in Chinese,” Angle said. “From my perspective, it’s great for faculty and for students. Being able to operate at that level of sophistication is both intrinsically just a blast, but it’s also practically speaking really good because it’s hard to compete in a job market with people for whom it’s their native language.”
Nanda believes that both of these changes will create interesting classes and opportunities for upperclassmen.
“I think the lab is a really interesting idea, and offering the higher level of language is great,” Nanda said. “If you opt out of the first or second year, and you end up maxing out the current program, I think there’s a danger of your language ability stagnating. Anything that would get a group of language speakers together and practicing in a lab setting or an even higher classroom setting I think is really good.”
The new College will also include a five-credit minor that requires a second-year language proficiency. A critical distinction between the minor and the major is that native speakers of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean will not have to learn an additional language to complete the minor, while they do in order to major in CEAS.
Angle explained that the minor is designed to extend the CEAS community to a broader group of students.
“We want to have both the cohort of the intensive major, but also this really broad group that are attracted to the different sorts of lectures that we do, and cultural events, and social events, and so on,” Angle said. “That very much should include folks from East Asia. So partly, by making the minor accessible in this way—they’re still going to have to take five classes—but we won’t make them learn another language.”
Although many decisions about the structure are still to be made, Angle is hopeful that it will allow both students and faculty new opportunities.
“It is not just about classes, but about cocurricular activities, extracurricular activities, things that reach out across the campus,” Angle said. “Faculty at big, research universities have courses with graduate students that would potentially be in Japanese or Chinese, but I don’t know that anybody at an undergraduate institution is doing anything like what we’re talking about. I think that, for our students and for our faculty, it’s going to be an exciting opportunity.”