I'm going to try and get back on track with my blog posts about my Nicaragua trip over the weekend.
In the meantime I wanted to share this interview I did recently for an undergraduate student about the origins of the Chamorro Studies program at UOG, the program I was proud to help create and even more proud to be a part of today.
How did the Chamoru Studies program come about?
The initial incarnation of the Chamorro Studies program was developed in the School of Education at UOG. The Government of Guam was mandating UOG to train people who were able to teach Chamorro language and culture in schools and the program was developed under Dr. Bernadita Dungca in order to accomplish that. The existing Chamorro Studies program in CLASS was formed initially as a minor program under the leadership of Peter Onedera, Anne Perez Hattori and Evelyn San Miguel Flores. The program didn’t have any dedicated faculty at that time as each of these three taught in another program. In 2011, President Robert Underwood called on a faculty task force which included Anne Hattori and Evelyn Flores as well as Sharlene Santos Bamba, James Viernes and myself in order to create a major program in CLASS, which would not focus solely on the education of future teachers but also help explore aspects of Chamorro lifeways from different angles such as the humanities, sciences and social sciences. The program was officially started in 2012, but due to the same program of no faculty being dedicated to Chamorro Studies in their hiring, little was done to push the program forward until the launch event we organized in Fall of 2013.
What challenges did you face in helping create this program?
The biggest challenge doesn’t have anything to do with Chamorro Studies itself, but rather the institutional realities of UOG. Ideally we would want faculty positions dedicated to Chamorro Studies to help support, sustain and grow it, but that has been difficult to obtain. In all universities there are serious competitions for resources and Chamorro Studies as a new program with no permanent faculty attached to it, has difficulty entering into those discussions. This is compounded by the fact that UOG is mandated by WASC to reduce its course offerings and majors and we were proposing to create a new program, right when a number of them were supposed to be cut. Initially Chamorro Studies was created as part of an umbrella program called “Pacific Asia Studies” which included East Asian Studies and Japanese Studies. This was done in order to get the program approved by both faculty and administrators at a time when we were supposed to be adding anything.
What improvements do you think the program needs?
The program needs above all more resources to hire more faculty. At present we have more than 40 majors and only 1 faculty member who is dedicated to the program and five others who are affiliated with it. That is a terrible ratio and for me personally it is exhausting trying to keep track of so many students. We have already begun forming strong relationships to community organizations and we are always looking forward to more. These bonds are important so that Chamorro Studies doesn’t become the way most people see university programs, as being detached from the community. I want Chamorro Studies to be different and to be responsive, as much as it can, to the needs of the Chamorro community. We have been talking about an online certificate program for more than a year. This will potentially be a huge boost to the program and UOG in general. We are limited however by the fact that we don’t have the faculty capacity to develop this yet. The affiliated faculty are all teaching in and committed to other programs and so it is tough for them to give up a large amount of time to Chamorro Studies when their full time job lies elsewhere at UOG.
What advice would you offer to a young person trying to create similar or contribute to programs such as Nihi!, Hurao, or the Chamorro Studies program?
I would say go for it. There are enough existing resources out there to help you get started and to help guide you along the way. Since World War II, Chamorros have basically let their culture rise and fall based on whatever came from elsewhere. If a program comes from the states, we latch on to it. If media comes from the states we consume it. We have seen the impacts of this mindset and now we are starting to try to change it, to take more seriously the programs that we promote here and how we should play a role in creating and shaping them, to ensure that they reflect our place in the world.