Challenging Students to See New Perspectives on Old Ideas

April 03, 2015
John Dudley '95

What does it mean to be masculine? What does an American war hero look like? Jeffrey Yamashita, this year's QEP Fellow, has been working with students to answer these and similar questions.

YamashitaYamashita is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkley. This fall at Hampden-Sydney, he taught "History of Race and Ethnicity in the U.S." and the freshman seminar "Athletics and Masculinities." This spring he is teaching an interdisciplinary course "Masculinities in Context" and "The Other U.S. War Hero," which was also the subject of a multi-day symposium.

Yamashita is committed to the liberal arts and challenges his students to push their personal boundaries, to think critically about their world, and to see how communities are affected by prejudices and stereotypes.

In class and at the symposium this semester, Yamashita's students have been discussing the stereotype of the American war hero and how that reflects particular ideals for certain populations within the United States and how that advances ideals of patriotism and loyalty.

He says, "[We think] about the American war hero as white, male, Christian, heterosexual, middle class and how that has been changing during the last century. We've been thinking about how race, gender, sexuality, religion, economic class all complicate this idea of the national folk hero. Thinking about this means we really dig deeper into what it means to be American."

Yamashita says many of his Hampden-Sydney students are very interested in the American Revolution and he hopes his students can move away from the romantic view of that period and be more critical of that time while still honoring the ideals of freedom and democracy. When students push back with a traditional viewpoint of the Founding Fathers, Yamashita reminds them, "They weren't traditionalists. They weren't conservative. When they signed the Declaration of Independence, it was an act of treason. They were radicals. They had to challenge the status quo in order to create something new and democratic and fair and equitable. If you really want to honor [Thomas Jefferson and George Washington], let's do what they were doing and really challenge ourselves."

Yamashita was born and raised in Hawaii but attended the small, liberal arts college Macalester in Minnesota. That was a big change for him, but he appreciates how it contributed to his personal development. "I tell my students, you grow the most-intellectually, spiritually-when you are in uncomfortable situations."

The QEP Fellow is an integral part of The Quality Enhancement Plan, which was developed for the College's decennial reaccreditation process. The focus of the Plan is to "prepare good men and great leaders for a culturally diverse world," so each year the College brings in a new scholar to engage our students in issues of cultural identity. The QEP also provides funding for on-campus cultural programming, as well as student housing based on foreign language development or international cultural interests.

As the QEP Fellow, Yamashita lives on campus and says he likes to eat with the students in the Commons, engaging them in deep conversations. He wants to get to know them and push them to get the most out of their Hampden-Sydney experience. He hopes they will become the innovators and critical thinkers he knows they can be.

He says, "Being here for the past six or seven months, I have become very invested in this College. I want the best for this College. I don't want to be ranked in the top 110 in the nation. I want to be in the top 30. How do we do that? We have to stop thinking in the past, but use the past to inform the present and the future. We need to innovate. We need to be the radicals that Jefferson and Washington were in 1776."