Native American classes are sought to meet demand

In response to growing student demand for more classes in Native American studies, the American Studies Department is negotiating a junior hire in an attempt to provide students with permanent Native American course offerings.

Due to a large number of department leaves this semester, the popular survey course “The Native American Experience in North America” was cancelled, leaving only one course with a focus on Native American topics, American Studies chair John Mack Faragher said. But the pending hire, which will be a joint hire in the History and American Studies departments, would ensure that the survey course is a permanent offering at Yale, he said.

“We understand the need for a Native American scholar, and we are attempting to address it,” Faragher said. “American studies has made an offer to a young scholar in Native American studies, which reflects our commitment to including the Native American experience among courses that are offered in American studies.”

Angela Pulley Hudson GRD ’07, who is teaching “Introduction to Native American/American Indian Studies” this semester, said she was surprised at the large number of students who attended the seminar’s first meeting last Tuesday. The seminar, which is capped at 18 students, attracted 56, forcing Hudson to reject a large number of qualified students who had applied to enroll in the course, she said.

“One of the reasons this course has spawned so much interest is because it fills a gap,” Hudson said.

While Hudson said she was aware that there was a “core group” of students — primarily of Native American descent — who were interested in studying Native American topics, a “very diverse” group of students attended her seminar, indicating a growing interest in Native American studies among the student body as a whole.

The addition of a Native American scholar to Yale’s faculty this fall would accommodate this interest, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.

“We have had people teaching in this area off and on,” Salovey said. “It certainly is an important part of American history. I would love for us to be in a position to offer some well-taught courses in Native American studies.”

Since he began teaching at Yale in 1993, Faragher said there has been “consistent interest” in Native American courses among the student body. Faragher, who has taught the survey course in Native American history five times since his arrival at Yale, said the course typically enrolls 75 to 120 students.

With the 2001 departure of American studies and religious studies professor Jace Weaver — Yale’s first Native American scholar, who specialized in Native American religion and culture — for a tenured post at the University of Georgia, the University lost its only expert in the field and was unable to find a replacement, Faragher said.

“Our course options have been limited because of a want of Native American scholars,” he said.

Growing interest in Native American studies among Ph.D. students enrolled in Yale’s history and American studies programs has also helped stimulate interest in the Native American experience among undergraduates, Faragher said. In late 2003, graduate students formed the Yale Group for the Study of Native Americans to bring together Yale’s Native American studies scholars at an annual colloquium series, he said.

Sarah Graham ’07, a prospective American studies major who shopped Hudson’s seminar but was not admitted, said she thinks students would benefit from a broader array of Native American studies courses.

“An institution like Yale should use its resources, or find the resources, to create a program in Native American studies,” Graham said. “I think students at Yale would appreciate a wider variety of course offerings.”

Students attend “Introduction to Native American/American Indian Studies,” currently the only class in the American Studies Department focusing on Native American topics.
Sophie Perl
Students attend “Introduction to Native American/American Indian Studies,” currently the only class in the American Studies Department focusing on Native American topics.

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