“So what exactly do you do?”
My reply, as usual, is highly eloquent: “I … study Americans?” As expected, this draws a somewhat unwarranted — and unwanted — snort of derisive laughter.
The scene is one of countless going-away parties. The questioner, one more from an endless line of concerned friends and family.
People I talked to just didn’t understand. Why could I not just be a good child and follow in my siblings’ footsteps towards geology? More importantly, why would I, an Englishman, want to study Americans?
I’d give the easy answer. Many international students initially chose American studies at their home institutions because the major includes a year abroad, of which I am slowly nearing the halfway mark.
Yet, while the year abroad is certainly appealing, in a way it overshadows the true value of American studies: Under the banner of one subject, a student may study a wide variety of topics.
Simply put, few other majors at UC Santa Cruz offer so broad a selection as the recently threatened department.
And now that the community studies department has been suspended for two academic years, American studies is the only remaining department to offer students at UCSC a way to focus their attentions on American culture.
But the true tragedy is that by shutting the doors on the department, the university is also potentially shutting the door on future international students. In the grand scheme of things, this may seem like an insignificant loss. However, for a university that prides itself on its student diversity, the closure will be felt, because it will cause a substantial loss of an intriguing section of the student population.
The department’s curriculum is dynamic — if in some way a subject can be connected to the American experience, it can be part of the American studies major. The history and culture of jazz? American studies. The Western, both the fictional and historical varieties? American studies. In-depth explorations of authors such as Mark Twain? American studies.
Had there not been an American studies department when I first applied to UCSC, the school would never have been so high on my list. The one factor unique to UCSC as opposed to the other schools I looked into — UC Santa Barbara, my second choice, for example — was that it had the department.
It was hard enough to leave my life over 2,000 miles away, without the added stress of developing my own major at another university which did not offer an American studies program. For this simple reason, I chose UCSC over other campuses, and have since discovered other international students studying here who did the same.
I have had such incredible experiences in this strange little city — learning to surf (badly), living in a redwood forest, and simply experiencing a different culture from the ground level. It pains me that, come next year, others will be deprived of this due to the campus’s selective cutting of expenses.
That American studies is to be dealt a death blow as other departments are allowed to continue to exist is simply maddening. The move is indicative of UCSC’s pattern of shedding that which makes it unique, in favor of the more traditional majors.
A university is supposed to provide opportunities, but the suspension of American studies does the opposite. Without the major, future students will lose the ability to study an almost entirely interdisciplinary subject, and prospective abroad students will lose a draw to discover Santa Cruz.
By cutting American studies, the university has cut one of its best draws to international students. As such, the loss of this subject not only prevents homegrown students from learning about their own culture but also from interacting with those from other countries. It seems ironic, but it is through American studies — and these interactions — that students may just learn that there is more to the world than America.