The Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI), housed in the Department of Anthropology, was initially the idea of two faculty members (Nancy Abelmann and William Kelleher) who thought that it was silly that in so many anthropology (and other) courses students reinvented the wheel as they did research on the U of I (our natural or inevitable field site for methods and other courses). In a digital era, why not preserve student research and deepen the analysis of the University? These thoughts fueled a year-long interdisciplinary seminar through the Center for Advanced Study that resulted in what EUI is today. EUI has become an interdisciplinary pedagogy for teaching research methods and a collection of nearly 1000 student projects in the U of I’s digital repository, IDEALS. Today, some 10-20 courses from across the campus are affiliated with EUI each semester. Each semester, EUI hosts a student conference at which students present their research findings in short presentations or posters.
At its inception, the co-founders did not yet know how meaningful EUI would be to understanding diversity on campus. Serendipitously, it was in 2003-04 as EUI was coming into its own as a teaching initiative that the U of I was hosting a year-long series of events in jubilee commemoration of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. A small team of EUI faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates was commissioned to write an ethnographic report of the U of I’s commemoration; in the report, EUI reflected on the challenges of creating a meaningful campus conversation on race and diversity. Subsequently, EUI had occasion to join several units on campus in a Ford Foundation sponsored project, Documenting the Difference that Diversity Makes. For that campus effort, EUI looked into its own archives to see how students were asking, observing, and reflecting on issues of diversity at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
From the outset, EUI student researchers have been interested in the tension between university ideals and realities. Indeed, when we ask ourselves, what is a university and what does it mean to know a university ethnographically, we are reminded that a university is perhaps best imagined as an ongoing contest over what a university should ideally be and do. Persistent in EUI’s history has been students’ interest in the ideals and realities of racial diversity on campus, equity, and access at the U of I. We have learned that EUI pedagogy encourages research that is invaluable for understanding how race is lived at the University. Each semester there is a new cohort of EUI researchers from various EUI courses who have engaged in research related to racism and diversity efforts on campus. In our digital archives these projects can be located under “Diversity on Campus/ Equity and Access” (see https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/769). Among our recent award-winning student conference presentations and posters have been a number on issues of diversity, including: “Black Student Organizations and Publications, Then and Now" (Meegan Jumfuoh); "Being White in a Multicultural Society: Understanding Whiteness in an Intergroup Dialogue" (Jeffrey Yeung);"Educating our Youth on Queer Topics: Is UIUC Truly a Community Leader?" (Kari Britton); "Underlying Reasons Behind Racially Divided Residence Halls" (Sonny Song); "Access Your Letters: How Greek Life Contributes to Disabilities Awareness at the University" (Tony Greif);"University Admissions: What Do They Unveil About a School's Disability Program and About the Times?" (Joshua Glaser);"Just an 'Exotic-Sounding Name'? Debating the Ku Klux Klan in UIUC History" (Stephan Lane); and (archive and video of presentation) "What is a Non-Traditional Student at Illinois State University?" (Andrew Chamberlain).
EUI today is deeply committed to fostering a campus that interrogates itself—that calls itself accountable to its higher principles. This is necessarily a constant work-in-progress. EUI hopes that through its courses and activities, faculty and students can together debate the commitments, ideals, and actions of the university at large, and of the U of I in all its particulars. EUI thus aspires to fostering a collaborative community and archives of critical inquiry and intervention. Issues of diversity continue to be at the heart of this endeavor.