The department aims to expand course offerings and offer a more “inclusive” vision of Russian and Slavic studies.
The faculty of the College’s department of Russian languages and literatures have agreed to change the department’s name to the East European, Eurasian and Russian studies department. The faculty unanimously agreed to the change during their first meeting of the fall term on Sept. 15. The new name follows a petition from more than 100 students and alumni calling for the change.
Department chair Lynn Patyk said that when the faculty of the department met on Sept. 15, the discussion over the name change lasted a “half-hour at most.” In a Sept. 17 letter to students who signed the petition, Patyk wrote that the change marks “long-standing changes” in the fields of Russian and Slavic studies.
“The name change is not merely cosmetic; it reflects our intention to immediately redouble existing efforts toward expanding our curriculum to include courses on Eastern and Central Europe, non-Russian regions and ethnic groups in the Russian Federation, as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia,” she wrote in the letter .
Patyk said that the faculty voiced a number of opinions and ideas, but quickly decided to change the name. There was no vote necessary because the decision was “pretty unanimous,” she said.
Patyk said that in an effort to align the department’s offerings with its broader name, each faculty member will be required to add one new course. She also said that some existing courses may be dropped in favor of new offerings which adhere to the department’s new vision.
Eric Hryniewicz ’23, who helped write the petition, said that the department already has course offerings that cover topics outside of Russia. He said that he thinks the name change will allow students to more easily find courses that they are interested in.
“If you are not somebody that would be interested in taking things related to Russia, you might still be interested in taking something related to Central Asia, Ukraine or Poland or the Balkans,” he said. “You wouldn’t think to look in the Russian department for a non-Russian class.”
Russian professor Ainsley Morse said that the current war in Ukraine was not the main reason for the change in the name, but recognized its importance.
“For most of [the faculty] this is a change that has been in the works for a long time,” she said. “So in that sense I wouldn’t say that this is a hasty response to the war in any way, but the war puts a very fine point on some of the questions that a lot of us have been asking for a very long time.”
Zhenia Dubrova ’24, who helped write the petition, added that the war in Ukraine exposed some of the shortcomings in the study of Eastern Europe.
“I think what the recent political developments in the world such as the war in Ukraine demonstrate is that in Russian academia there are a lot of misconceptions about the power dynamic in the region of Eastern Europe,” she said.
Morse said that many faculty hope to expand language offerings in the department beyond Russian.
“One of our long-term dreams is to figure out if it would be possible to teach additional languages in the department,” she said. “But that is a long-term dream.”
Morse said that the new name will also emphasize the department’s diverse areas of study.
“The interests that students bring to the department extend beyond languages and literature,” she said.[This] includes all kinds of aspects of culture, political science, history, sociology [and] anthropology.”
Dubrova said that she thinks the change in the department will align the College with other peer institutions.
“A lot of our peer institutions have Slavic studies departments and Eastern European studies,” she said. “Dartmouth is one of the few colleges that has only a Russian department.”
Patyk said that decisions by the faculty are just the “first step” in a long name change process that will take at least a year to finalize. She said that process includes submitting the department’s proposal to various committees within the College and having the entire faculty vote on it at the end of the year.
“We can’t just make this change, snap our fingers and it’s done,” she said. “That’s not it at all, we are a part of Dartmouth College.”