Dr. Liping Bu is the Reid-Knox Professor and Chair of the History Department. We asked her to share with us her research, teaching, favorite foods, and thoughts on diversity and inclusion.
Research and Teaching
I am a scholar-educator of American history, specializing in American foreign relations, international education and cultural interactions. My secondary area is modern China and East Asia. I teach the histories of both geographical regions of America and East Asia, including a broad range of courses on American foreign relations, Cold War America, immigration and ethnicity, modern East Asia and China, to name a few. My research and scholarly publications dovetail very well with my teaching. I have published more than fifty journal articles and books on American international relations and cultural diplomacy, educational exchange and knowledge circulation, education and cultural identity, public health and modern nations. The wonderful thing about teaching at a liberal arts college is that professors get to work with students closely in broadening their own knowledge on many general topics. My own experience testifies that teaching and scholarly research mutually stimulate and enrich each other. I was often inspired, while teaching different classes, to take on new research topics that students have shown significant interest in. Simultaneously, my scholarly research enhances my teaching and updates the knowledge of subject matters with new insights and perspectives.
Understanding different cultures and societies in the world and the diverse racial and ethnic cultures in the United States is a constant theme in my teaching and research. History offers unique valuable opportunity to explore how things happened and why they happened in the historical context. American history is the stories of people of many different cultures who formed and built this nation. For a long time, however, the mainstream narrative ignored the contributions of people of racial and ethnic minorities. As many of our students come from small towns and have little exposure to cultural diversity, we need to make extra efforts to expand their personal experience and intellectual horizon to understand diverse cultures and to appreciate different perspectives. I find our students eager to learn and want to open up their world by engaging deeply in discussions of different cultures and peoples. In discussing foreign relations, they love to share their knowledge of other countries, particularly from their experience of internships and studies abroad. When stereotypes and wrong assumptions about other cultures and societies appear in the discussion, I turn them into educational opportunities for the entire class to delve deeper in a more analytical critique and intellectual reflection and examination. History helps illuminate how different societies and cultures developed in interactions with others over time, and how they enriched each other.
Food and Culture
Food is probably the best and easy way of getting to know a culture and the people. I love all kinds of food, and one of my pleasures in travel is to seek local food and get to know local culture and people. Foods of different cultures can help us understand so many things, such as local products (that’s why they use these particular ingredients to make the food so delicious), climate, lifestyle, festivals, philosophy of life, religion, and health concepts. Making food is often the basic human expression of love and care. Food is also an essential element of cultural identity of the people. The World Kitchen program at Alma is a fantastic venue to share the food of and to understand different cultures, as it features foods made by our own students and faculty/staff of different cultural backgrounds. I always enjoy and encourage my students to the World Kitchen events when we have an inclusive gathering over food and friendship.
Food is so essential to our cultural identity and daily existence that the best comes when we appreciate it, but it can also hurt when discriminative remarks are made about one’s food. In discussing American immigration history, students of recent immigrant families shared their experience at schools when they were young. An Asian student brought her lunchbox of spring rolls and dumplings rather than the mainstream peanut butter sandwich, and her peers made fun of her with unpleasant remarks when they saw the different food. Other minorities such as Latino and Arab kids faced the same challenge as well. These hurting moments often left indelible scars on the young who tended to grow with less confidence in their own traditional cultures. When students candidly shared their personal experiences in a welcoming and appreciative environment, it was effective for classmates to engage in critical examination of the society that each one of us played a part in.
Diversity and Inclusion at Alma
We have now many different groups active on campus with various events and programs to promote diversity and inclusion. That is a significant progress at Alma College. When I came in 1999, I was the only Asian American on the faculty. There were few minority students on campus. The faculty has always been the major driving force for campus diversity, starting with the Diversity Enhancement Team and then the Diversity Task Force, both of which I was part of. Now we have an Office of Diversity and Inclusion established on campus, with an increasing number of Asian and other minorities on the faculty; whereas the student body has also seen an increase of diversity over the years. We have seen events promoting a dynamic and vibrant community of diverse cultures, but less interactions of each other. International students also commented that American students did not take interest in other cultures. Understanding and appreciating the diverse cultures to achieve an inclusive society and community is a long educational process. We have a lot to do.
–Dr. Liping Bu