SIS students hoping to concentrate studies on South Asia frustrated
University offers few courses, directs students elsewhere
When Fatima Tariq, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of International Service, approached her academic counselor with questions about pursuing a regional focus of South Asia in SIS, she left the office disappointed.
“In fall 2016, I decided to pursue South Asia” as her focus in SIS, Tariq said. “In spring 2017, I began to realize it wasn’t happening. I looked into it, emailed professors, I did everything I could.”
Tariq is not alone. Several students told The Eagle that they have faced problems completing a South Asia focus within SIS, due to a lack of available classes and roadblocks from administrators. The struggle to complete their planned degree has those students questioning the University’s commitment to offering classes on the Asian region.
“If the courses in Asia at AU are kind of diminishing, that's something that we have to really take a look at,” said Jin. Y Park, the director of the Asian Studies program and a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. “It’s kind of shocking because as you know, the 21st century is the century for Asia, and all other universities, they’re trying to kind of expand Asian courses now.”
Course offerings slim to none for South Asia focus
The International Studies program at AU requires nine credit hours for a regional focus and 18 for a thematic focus. Students have seven options to choose from when pursuing a regional focus, which are Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Eurasia, Middle East and North Africa, Western Hemisphere (Latin America and the Caribbean), East Asia and the Pacific, and South and Central Asia, according to the SIS website. Students must take three courses regarding their selected region, with at least one being a 300-level course.
The SIS website of degree requirements lists four potential classes under the South and Central Asia focus: HIST-232 The Soviet Union, RELG-473 Hinduism, SISU-387 Contemporary India, and lastly, SISU-360 Topics in Identity, Race, Gender and Culture.
This semester, one section each of HIST-232, RELG-473 and SISU-360 is being offered, and no sections for SISU-387 are being offered, according to the course catalog in the AU portal. Rosemary Shinko, the assistant dean for undergraduate education for SIS, did not respond to an email request as well as a phone call for an interview about the course offerings for the South Asia region or student complaints.
SIS could also not provide data on the number of students who focus on each region. Marianne Norman, the director of undergraduate advising for SIS, said in an email that “students do not have to declare their regional focus with us, so there is no way for us to pull that data.” SIS does, however, collect data on how many students study abroad in each region, Norman said.
Rhea Kapadia, a senior in SIS, faced a similar problem as Tariq. When planning her sophomore year classes, she had trouble finding classes that qualify for her South Asia regional focus. Kapadia tried again in the fall of 2017, and again did not see any registration options for potential classes. Finally, Kapadia tried looking this semester, and only found one class, HIST-232.
“That’s when I switched to Middle East and North Africa, and I took all three of my regional classes, so I could graduate on time,” Kapadia said.
After speaking to her counselor, Kapadia said she was directed to Georgetown and George Washington University to take classes. However, GW didn’t offer a wide range and most of the classes were about Central Asia, she said.
“I had an internship and I’m an RA [resident assistant], and I have two other jobs. I don’t have time to go to GW,” Kapadia said. “I don’t think I should have to go to another school to get what I need here.”
Pooja Tilvawala, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and SIS, earned her nine credits in the South Asia region from a eight-credit class abroad in London and a one-credit religion course.
“I always knew I wanted to do South Asia, it’s my heritage,” Tilvawala said. “My sophomore year, I prepared a letter for the dean. But since I was abroad, it got pushed back.”
Professors, students say AU should commit to studying South Asia
Shubha Pathak, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, currently teaches RELG-473 Hinduism. She is the only professor teaching these classes this semester.
Though she teaches every spring, Pathak has noticed that fewer SIS students enroll in her class. She said that a potential reason for this might be AU’s migration to a website compliant with the American Disabilities Act, causing many webpages to become unavailable.
“What this meant was that if we cross-listed courses, for example, my courses this semester were cross-listed as both Asian Studies and religion courses,” Pathak said. “And if those courses didn't show up in the schedule, then I think it was hard for people to find them.”
Pathak said that another problem is the disconnect between SIS and other schools, and the higher difficulty of pursuing classes outside of SIS.
Park, the Asian Studies program director in the College of Arts and Sciences, echoed this disconnect. Many courses in the Asian Studies program are relevant to the South Asia regional focus in SIS, she said. However, Park said students have a hard time getting these courses approved for their major.
“I think SIS should open up a little more and allow their students to take courses in other schools,” Park said. “I think if you want to serve the country, outside the United States, you have to know their culture, right? Otherwise, how will you serve your country as a diplomat? It’s very important to take these kinds of courses.”
When asked about adding classes about Islam to the South Asia focus, Pathak said that there’s a misconception surrounding South Asia being homogenous and the appearance of South Asia at AU as a whole.
“South Asia is not just India,” Pathak said. “I mean, there's so much diversity. I think if we had more representation on our faculty and in our courses of South Asia, I think people would sort of see how much actual stuff that could be taught and that would appeal to a wide audience.”
Tariq said she was also directed to take classes on South Asia at Georgetown or George Washington University. Tariq said one way to remedy the underrepresentation is to reach out to the professors at these universities and ask them to teach a class.
“The thing is, if they want us to go to GW, why can’t AU just hire professors from GW?” Tariq said. “It’s literally five stops on the Metro, it’s not a big deal.”
Pathak said Asia is emerging as especially relevant in the 21st century, and that expanding the presence at AU would add more academic diversity to the school. But before the creation of her 200-level general education course, Stories of South Asia, AU did not offer general education courses focusing exclusively on South Asia, Pathak said.
“I would advocate hiring more professors who study South Asia. I would advocate offering more courses about South Asia. I mean, one of the reasons I actually created my gen-ed course was in response to SIS,” Pathak said. “They said we need an intro, we need like a 200-level course for our regional studies focus. ‘Yes, I can make it,’ I said. And we added it to the gen-ed curriculum.”
After looking at the course options and speaking to her counselor multiple times to urge for expansion of the South Asia regional focus, Tariq ultimately changed her focus to the Middle East and North Africa.
“As a world-leading university, it has implications in terms of the leaders you’re producing,” Tariq said. “You’re teaching them a lot about international relations, but if IR itself is partial, then is it really international or is it multinational?”
This story was originally published in the April print edition of The Eagle.