A new minor is in the works for students interested in the early history of the nation.
College freshman Varun Menon is leading an effort to establish a Native American studies minor. He is using his post on the Academic Affairs Committee of the Undergraduate Assembly to push for its creation.
Currently, the Center for Native American Studies is the primary resource for students and researchers interested in the study of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Center’s website provides a list of courses with Native American content, most of which are in the History and Anthropology Departments. For those like Menon, however, the currently decentralized course of study is not enough.
Menon became passionately interested in the field of Native American studies while taking a writing seminar that discussed the influence the natives had on the founding of United States national government.
“Benjamin Franklin was known for having very good relations with Native Americans. He was known for incorporating several of the democratic ideas and principles that tribes such as the Iroquois Confederacy exhibited into our democracy and Constitution,” Menon said.
“It’s a shame that the University never offered any field of study about the native people of this country,” he added.
Menon proposed the idea of establishing a Native American studies minor to the Undergraduate Assembly and the student group Natives at Penn in January, with the possibility of a major down the road. The idea, Menon said, was “received with a lot of enthusiasm.”
This is coming at a time where Native American studies at Penn is gaining new momentum. This year, Penn hired professor Margaret Bruchac, only the third tenured-track Native American professor to be hired by the University.
Bruchac, who is also working on the minor, says there’s more effort in recruiting Native Americans at Penn now.
“Over the years, it’s clear that Penn has increased its efforts to bring in knowledgeable Native American educators and tribal leaders [to Penn and] … Penn has been actively recruiting Native American postdoctoral fellows and faculty for several years,” Bruchac said in an email.
College sophomore Joyce Kim, UA Secretary and liaison to the Academic Affairs Committee, had been working with the Greenfield Intercultural Center to create an intercultural studies minor. However, once she heard about Menon’s proposal and saw the enthusiasm for it, Kim decided to join Menon on a task force working toward the development of the Native American studies minor.
According to Bruchac, the resources are already there.
“Penn could develop a Native American studies minor quite effectively by bringing together interested faculty and by developing a program using many courses that are already on the books,” she said.
Both Bruchac and Menon realize that student interest will be a major deciding factor in whether or not their efforts are successful.
In beginning the process, Menon said, “what professor Bruchac wanted us to do is create a petition … to show that there is support for this and that the courses and minor and potentially major can stand by themselves.”
Bruchac added that the most important thing students can do is sign up for courses with Native American content.
“I see a very bright future for Native American studies at Penn,” Robert Preucel, the former Director of CNAS, said in an email.
He also wrote that he is “very excited” about the possibility of a minor and emphasized the importance of the study. “To be an informed citizen of the United States means that one needs to know about the founding of our nation and the history of the ongoing relationships between Indian country and the federal government.”
“Native American history is thus the history of all Americans,” he added.