The integrative studies program is one of Ithaca College’s hidden gems –– emphasis on hidden. When asked about my major, I usually respond with “I’m in the integrative studies program; I created my major.” If I were to simply say, “I’m an integrative studies major,” as it shows in my Degree Works, most students reach for their nearest frame of reference and ask, “That’s in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, right?” (thinking about integrated marketing communications) or give me a blank stare. Only a handful affirm “That’s when you create your major, right?” Thus, I got used to offering that information from the start. More times than I think it should be, after I state this, their response is “I didn’t even know IC had that,” or “I wish I did that.”
Academics tend to take comfort in their disciplines. To an extent, it’s understandable. It’s easier to have discourse when people are operating from the same word-hoard. But what if discourse was not the goal? What if we wanted to have a dialogue? In the course, Scholarship of/by Women of Color –– which I am taking with Belisa Gonzalez, associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Culture Race and Ethnicity at the college –– we opened the semester with an article titled “Finding a Shared Meaning” in which the interviewee, Linda Teurfs, states, “In dialogue, we no longer come from a place of wanting to convince or inform. We come with the intention of understanding.” She goes on to say, “Dialogue is about seeing our personal issues as part of the larger community in which we take part.” Disciplines are effective in convincing not only students, but faculty alike that “the larger community” is other academics in one’s field, rather than the global community we live in. Much like the alternate definition of “discipline,” academic disciplines train us to obey set rules, to use set jargon, essentially to get in line. If not, one risks the punishment of their credibility being denied if they cross the fabricated barriers that define knowledge. An interdisciplinary approach helps us move from knowledge acquisition and assertion to collaborative meaning-making and understanding.
Our contemporary times call for authentic dialogues now more than ever as we face increasing polarization and many of us are daring to imagine something beyond white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism. Something that reaches beyond the essentializing culture that says “You are what I say you are. All that you are is readable from your physical appearance. I only see you as a source of labor (unless you are a rich, white, Christian, cisgender heterosexual man.)” Dialogue is a vital tool in liberation struggles, vital as in necessary and vital as in life-bringing. Dialogue will help us bring forth the life we’re trying to imagine. Dialogue “bring[s] in the implicit. [Through dialogue] we discover what’s trying to happen here between us, so we can break new ground, so we don’t keep seeing something the same old way.”
Many of the integrative studies majors, especially the classes of ’21 and ’22 study resistance, social justice and liberatory struggles in some capacity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those of us who are dedicated to liberation have rooted ourselves in an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Complex problems require complex solutions. Something that made itself clear to me when I took Integration: Connecting Across Disciplines as required for integrative studies majors, a course that is included in the Ithaca College Integrated Curriculum program that is being discontinued, is that disciplines are only as relevant as we make them. The very nature of learning is interdisciplinary. This is acknowledged in the college’s strategic plan, as goal two is to “structurally support and value collaboration, interdisciplinarity, curricular flexibility, and shared governance.” Within this context, it is my hope that the integrative studies program not only continues but is better resourced. The program does not have a budget nor a designated space on campus. It is overseen by one coordinator, rather than an interdisciplinary committee, which is ironic and a disservice not only to the program but also to the faculty that takes on the position without adequate compensation for the extra work it entails. There is much potential in this program and equally as many generalizable lessons.