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Tufts in the 21st

Campus | September 6, 2014

New educational demands prompt establishment of Colonialism minor and proposed Film and Media major.

In an effort to keep up with the contemporary global context, new and innovative degree programs at Tufts are debuting this fall in response to student demand. Including a new Colonialism Studies minor and proposed Film and Media major, these concentrations seek to address the lived experiences of students preparing to enter a globalized and technology-driven world.

In the past, Tufts has been open to adapting and adding new programs of study to accommodate both the student body and the job market demand. Tufts’ additions of certain programs such as Environmental Studies in 1984, Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies in 2002, and Africana Studies in 2012 show its ability of adaptation without veering from its Liberal Arts paradigm.

The Colonialism Studies minor was established this fall as the final component of the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora. According to Colonialism Studies Director Kris Manjapra, this new program to address timely issues of colonialism through a comparative perspective has been in the works for over four years.

Meanwhile, Tufts is creating a full-fledged Film and Media major. “We have a solar system without a sun, because we have a lot of courses about film and media, but we’ve never had core courses,” explained Associate Director of the ExCollege Howard Woolf. The new major will preliminarily focus on film history, language, analysis, theory, and production while exposing students to multiple national and cultural traditions. Highly interdisciplinary in scope, it will also include other areas of media studies, such as television and interactive media such as computer games. Courses will be taught within a global context.

According to Woolf, discussions of a Film and Media major have been happening for about two and a half years. Communication and Media Studies (CMS) Director and Professor Julie Dobrow says that when asked during exit interviews, many seniors say they would have chosen to do a media or film major if it were offered at Tufts. So it isn’t that there hasn’t been demand; the Communications and Media Studies minor is currently Tufts’ largest minor program, graduating 65 to 85 seniors every year. Current Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences Nancy Bauer, who took the job in 2012, was a huge proponent of expanding the film and media program at Tufts.

“The film major will be a cool and important facet to Tufts as it handles and covers a medium of communication that is most prevalent, yet really not practiced in a liberal arts setting” sophomore and current film class teaching assistant Ben Taylor said. The working group planning the program consists of 20 to 25 faculty members from across disciplines such as Anthropology, Art History, Drama/Dance, and Russian, German, and Asian Studies.

Woolf stresses how much the different departments have been collaborating together: “Many times, faculty are very protective of their own department, but with this, it hasn’t been the case. It has been very collegial. They really kept their eyes on the prize.” The major is hoped to be up and running within a year and the faculty is currently in the process of hiring the first director of the program, who will fill the newly founded Sol Gittleman chair.

Similarly, the idea for a Colonialism Studies minor gained administrative attention after student petitions were released in December and April of last year calling for the creation of the new minor. The April petition was signed by 147 students, proclaiming, “We recognize that the history of colonialism and anti-colonialism is one that has dramatically shaped our world today, and as students and global citizens, we feel it is pertinent that we have the opportunity to shape our studies under this historical framework.”

Faculty and students alike expressed satisfaction with Tufts’ responsiveness to student interest. “We can create what we learn,” said sophomore Colonialism Studies minor Nicolas Serhan.  “At Tufts, we’re the drivers of our own educational vehicle.”

The Colonialism Studies minor follows a growing trend at Tufts of integrating self-reflection with academic work.  Classes in humanities, social sciences, and ethnic studies are increasingly operating under the philosophy that in order to understand the world, students must first understand themselves.  “I think this is a general shift taking place in academia,” said Manjapra.  “We are never just studying course material; we are putting aspects of the course material in conversation with aspects of our own lives.”

Senior Colonialism Studies minor Molly Schulman also stressed the importance of applying course material to one’s own life. “In my classes I’ve been very personally implicated in the subject matter that I’m applying myself to. It’s been extremely transformative for me because I’m not just reading a book and underlining the words for the test, I’m thinking. It puts the facts into a way more meaningful lens.”

The Colonialism Studies minor comes as a curious addition to the already existing International Relations (IR) concentration in Empires, Colonialism, and Globalization.  Kamran Rastegar, one of the founders of the Colonialism Studies Minor and a member of the IR Executive Committee, proposed that IR’s Empires, Colonialism, and Globalization concentration has not resonated with students,

“To make these connections in a way that relates different perspectives from around our world, the ability to discuss, contemplate, and contain in our minds contradictions, that is a kind of intelligence that I think our students need, especially in today’s world, for any type of work they will do.”

Just as the Colonialism Studies minor builds off the more traditional International Relations major, the proposed film studies major represents an alternative to the already-established International Literary and Visual Studies major. “Currently the ILVS major allows students to combine their interests in literature, film, or visual arts with the close study of several different cultures. The new film and media studies major will continue to be closely aligned with and compliment ILVS, albeit with more in depth emphasis on film production and media studies,” said Lecturer in Russian and Film Scarlet Marquette. “Tufts has always had a tradition of inclusiveness and interdisciplinary collaboration, and the new major will extend these aspects of the university’s identity all the more.”

As Tufts adapts to the active citizenship needs of the twenty-first century through its new Colonial Studies minor, the proposed Film major would similarly prepare students to work in the current era. Faculty and students alike agree that the program is being implemented at the right time, as we now live in such a media saturated world. The major gives students the chance to use their own artistic abilities in the production classes, as well as better understand how media can affect and manipulate us.

21st century technology revolutionizes the ways in which nations interact and people consume media, and these new degree programs represent an opportunity for Tufts to establish itself as an innovator in a changing education landscape. Tufts has already proven itself to be a progressive institution through the Experimental College, combined-degree programs, and major creation flexibility. Adding degree programs such as Colonialism Studies and Film and Media shows a willingness by the administration to listen to student demands and continue this legacy of unique programs.