CoAS Relaunches Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
By Tom Durso
October 5, 2021
Seeking to fulfill its commitment to a justice-oriented curriculum for all of Drexel University, the College of Arts and Sciences relaunched its Center for Interdisciplinary Studies to support collaboration across three key interdisciplinary programs.
With new directors in place, the College’s programs in Africana Studies, Jewish Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies will work across disciplines and areas of inquiry to foster greater inclusion and understanding across the University.
The center “has the potential to be transformative” for Drexel students, according to Amelia Hoover Green, PhD, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, and the liaison between the center and the Dean’s Office.
“It’s a place to learn about gender and sexuality, Africa and the African diaspora, and Jewish life and culture in diaspora,” says Hoover Green, “but it’s fundamentally about building knowledge that’s oriented toward justice, which requires an intersectional understanding — to use Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term — of power, privilege and oppression.”
The programs’ directors see the center as a conduit for partnering across disciplines in the service of a more just university. Through collaborative scholarship, teaching and community engagements, says Jennifer Yusin, PhD, associate professor of English and director of women’s and gender studies, students can increase their understanding of culture, society and politics, regardless of major.
“The revitalization of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies is an exciting moment,” Yusin says. “It’s a chance for all of us to form new and dynamic collaborations in the crucial work of developing and supporting equitable and vibrant learning and working environments in the College of Arts and Sciences and at Drexel more broadly.”
“I see the creation of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies as a sign that Drexel now wants to match words with action,” says Abioseh Porter, PhD, professor of English and interim director of Africana studies. “By bringing together, highlighting and giving a specific focus on the collaborative efforts of colleagues in Africana Studies, Jewish Studies, and Women and Gender Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences is clearly signaling that it recognizes and will support the potential benefits of, especially, the expansive possibilities and rigorous interdisciplinary dialogue and action that the co-curricular programming and advocacy these units will bring to the University.”
Henry Israeli, associate teaching professor of English and director of Jewish studies, points out that the three programs share similar goals, including enriching students’ education by giving them insight into the cultures and contributions of diverse groups.
“By highlighting intersectionality, we will encourage a more complex understanding of world events,” he says. “As a center, we also hope to continue growing to become a welcome home to other groups in the future.”
That notion of home building – of community – is important. One goal of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies is to build greater community among Drexel students from underrepresented groups. According to Hoover Green, studies show that a sense of belonging is critical for the retention of diverse students.
“There’s ample evidence that this will be great for our students,” she says, “and generative for our faculty.”
The programs are working to expand their reach to all students through new courses and programming. Jewish Studies, for example, will be hosting CoAS alumna Alina Palimaru, PhD, an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, for a discussion about de-radicalizing members of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Israeli further hopes to hold a wide range of events featuring authors and food journalists, among others.
“This is a very exciting time for us,” he says.
In addition to creating an administrative structure and expanding programming, the Center will have a physical home in MacAlister 5051B. This will include a reading room, which will house books related to the programs and provide a place for students and faculty to gather, reflect and explore.
Looking to the future, Hoover Green hopes the Center can begin integrating minors from its programs into STEM disciplines, especially pre-medicine, and perhaps programs in the LeBow College of Business.
“We’re looking forward to the 2021-2022 academic year as a moment in which we begin transforming,” says Yusin.