Student members of the South Asian Society and faculty members of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies (YCIAS) South Asian Studies Council have worked together in recent weeks to increase awareness about South Asian studies course offerings in Yale College.
The YCIAS South Asian Studies Council hopes to establish South Asian Studies (SAS) as a major and perhaps eventually as a department, George Joseph, the council’s program coordinator, said. The South Asian Society’s South Asian Studies Action Council (SASAC) plans to lobby directors of undergraduate studies to plan South Asia-related courses for the coming year.
Joseph said many professors with expressed interests in South Asia plan leaves of absence next fall. As a result, fewer SAS courses will be available, he said.
“When there isn’t tenured faculty, as soon as faculty goes on leave, the course offerings collapse,” Joseph said.
The council cannot turn into a department overnight, Joseph said, but the first step to ensure South Asian course offerings is to establish South Asian Studies as a major.
Akshay Shah ’05, co-chair of the SASAC, said the group would like to see Yale hire more professors specializing in the region.
Shah said the SASAC has received several hundred responses to online and paper surveys through which it has tried to gauge interest in South Asian studies and solicit student input. The SASAC will bring the results of the surveys to DUS’s of departments such as Economics, History and Political Science, he said.
Joseph said student input has influenced course offerings in the past.
“Once they say they are interested in pursuing something, we can work with them. One thing you have to do is make sure their interest is sustained,” he said.
SASAC co-chair Elena Grewal ’06 said she was amazed when she came to Yale to see many courses and departments focused on the Western canon and only one class on the history of South Asia.
“My class was packed, and not just with South Asians. There is a huge amount of interest in learning about the area,” Grewal said. “I couldn’t believe that we had to cover so much history from 5000 B.C. to present day in just one class.”
Joseph said students petitioned for classes in South Asian studies in the late 1980s and the YCIAS designated the SAS council in 1991. The SASAC is YCIAS’s newest action group, he said. Joseph said the council must rely on faculty appointments in various departments to teach South Asian courses.
“There are only two appointments designated as South Asian studies appointments,” Joseph said.
Professor and SAS Council Chairman T N Srinivasan and Assistant Professor Mridu Rai serve under those appointments, Joseph said.
“We’re engaging in trying to raise the profile of South Asian interests on campus through various programs, performances and concerts to raise faculty and student awareness,” he said.
Grewal said she hopes Yale will continue to encourage global perspective among students.
“Yale claims to be a global university, but its course offerings do not live up to that standard, although things are certainly changing,” Grewal said.Ê”Without adequate course offerings and faculty, students cannot think critically about the region and its controversies.”
Center for International and Area Studies Director and Professor Gustav Ranis said the SAS Council plans to introduce Tamil, a language spoken in southern India and northern Sri Lanka, to the college’s course offerings next fall.