Barnard’s Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures department may soon offer a minor.
Though AMEC is affiliated with Columbia’s department of East Asian Language and Cultures and department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, which both offer concentrations, AMEC currently only offers a major.
The proposal—submitted by AMEC Chair and professor Rachel Fell McDermott prior to the start of the semester to Barnard’s Committee on Instruction, which approves minor requests—could afford more Barnard students the opportunity to study in the AMEC department without needing to commit to a full major.
“It's been heartening to speak to students that say, ‘Yes, I want a minor,’” McDermott said.
The department is composed of three major tracks in East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern studies. As area studies majors, students specialize within their given tracks to focus on different aspects of the regions related to their languages of choice.
McDermott said that in the past, the department had been hesitant to offer a minor because it was concerned that the rigorous language requirement—three years of study for languages in the East Asian track, and two to four courses in an approved language for the South Asian and Middle Eastern tracks—would deter students.
“We believe that if you want to be a minor, you have to learn the language,” McDermott said.
The proposed minor would include the same language proficiency requirement but would reduce the number of disciplinary courses and electives required. McDermott said that the proposed minor could include 10 courses—six in language, and four in Asian Civilization and area studies.
In comparison, the AMEC major currently consists of a range of 10 to 16 courses depending on how far along a student is with their language requirement.
For the COI to accept a proposal for a major or minor, the proposal must include a rationale demonstrating the intellectual value for students and faculty, as well as address practical concerns like the number and progression of courses.
Associate Provost and Chair of the COI Patricia Denison said that minors can have more than the minimum of five courses, but the cumulative course load is an added consideration for the COI to discuss.
“If someone were to put a proposal together that was edging and edging and edging up to the number of credits that might be similar to a major, you can see how that might be one instance where the committee would go back and say, ‘Can you perhaps rethink the individual courses and the number of courses or the range of courses that would count towards the minor?’” she said.
McDermott said the proposed minor would still get to the heart of the department’s emphasis on comprehensive area studies and would allow students to focus in on areas of interest within their tracks, including art, politics, and urban studies.
“I sometimes think of it as a kaleidoscope: You turn it one way, and you're looking for literature. You turn it another way, and you're looking for anthropology, but the focus is always the region,” McDermott said.
For Lila Livingston, BC ’18, the interdisciplinary nature of the East Asian track made it appealing to her, but she said she was disheartened after finding out that none of her coursework would count toward an AMEC minor.
At a Barnard Student Government Association town hall in April, Livingston voiced her concerns about the lack of an AMEC minor and has since been working with SGA’s Representative for Academic Affairs, Hannah Brody, BC ’17, to advocate for the creation of an AMEC minor.
Brody said that Columbia’s concentrations could serve as an example for how the minor could exist at Barnard.
“I know it’s definitely been a reference point for students at Barnard, to realize … that [if] another respectable institution is doing this, we can make this happen too,” she said.
But Livingston, who has since declared as an environmental policy major, said that even if a minor became available to her, she no longer has the room in her schedule to finish it out.
“I had to let go of that minor so that I could focus on my major,” she said. “I think that it’s beneficial that I’m not doing this for me. ... It will feel better that I’m doing this for other people.”
Bella Zionts, BC ’19, who is currently taking an advanced Chinese course, said that the availability of a minor would influence her involvement with the AMEC department.
“I’ve always really been interested in languages, and I took Mandarin in high school, so I just continued here,” Zionts said. “I think I would [minor in AMEC], as long as I have enough time, if it became available this year or next year.”
Livingston said that the regions studied in the AMEC department are important in today’s social and political climate and that the study of them should be opened up to more students by way of a minor.
“They’re not just areas of study—it’s learning about other people’s lived experience and their life, and that’s an important thing for students,” she said. “We should be preparing our students for both linguistic and social competency in a globalized world.”