Ushering in a new cultural studies minor program may not require much pomp and circumstance, but in the case of Eastern Michigan University’s Jewish Studies minor, the college decided to undrape the program with added chutzpa by way of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin.
Speaking to a crowd of 200 students, faculty, staff and other observers in the EMU Student Center Ballroom on Feb 23, Levin stressed his own experience as a Jew in America over historical facts and dates. Through an understanding of all of our experiences in America, Jew and non-Jew alike, Levin said, young people interested in the minor will be able to understand the diversity that exists even within the Jewish community as a whole – a focal point of the new minor program.
“The greatest strength that we have in this country is our diversity,” Levin told The Washtenaw Voice. “Any course that teaches other folks about any people, doesn’t make a difference who it is, these courses are helpful to building that strength.”
The new program will be multifaceted, said program director and EMU Professor Martin Shichtman, and will include not only the coursework that exists within the classes taught already, but new classes as well as a lecture series.
“We’ll be able to offer both serious and more lighthearted topics,” Shichtman said. “At this point we have everything planned out with things that already exist, like the Representing the Holocaust abroad course. We take students over to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic to view the (concentration) camps.”
Jeff Bernstein, an EMU professor said that having a prolific and influential Jewish-American like Levin was “fantastic.” Shichtman seconded that assertion in his introduction for Levin, calling the senator “a real mensch.”
“I thought his speech was moving,” Shicthman said. “He’s a very powerful person who was able to come here, not knowing much about the program, and just open up about his experiences.”
When asked, Levin couldn’t predict whether or not the new program would open the door for other religious infused cultural studies, but was hopeful nonetheless.
“I’m not aware of how many programs like this there are that exist at the university. If they do, this will be another great addition to them,” Levin said. “If not, then I certainly hope that other programs, maybe an Islamic Studies program will then exist too.”