CHID 496L is not your typical college course. For one, it's offered by the University of Washington's Department of Comparative History of Ideas, a major created 28 years ago that has not yet managed to spread to any other universities. For another, the title of the course is "Bruce Lee Dedication." Its purpose: To come up with a fitting tribute to the former UW student and karate master (whose real name was Jun Fan and who never graduated), which will then serve as a catalyst for 21 students to combat the system of institutionalized racism they believe exists on campus.
"Bruce Lee Dedication" is the brainchild of CHID alumni Jamil Suleman, who is teaching the course on a volunteer basis. Suleman, who identifies himself simply as "nonwhite," says he was working in the community with students of color when he learned Lee attended UW. "I was kind of shocked that I didn't know," he says. He sees this as just another example of the university's lack of acknowledgment of the contribution of nonwhites to its institutional fabric.
To the students in the class, only three of whom are actually CHID majors, working toward campus-wide recognition of Lee is just a means to an end. None of the students claim to be die-hard Bruce Lee fans; they say they were more interested in discussing the lack of minority representation on campus. "Issues like this don't affect just one individual; it's symbolic of the emphasis that UW puts on whites as opposed to nonwhites," says Chloe Ameh, a prelaw senior of self-described African descent.
As Suleman says, "The worst thing that could happen is you just get a Bruce Lee statue doing a kung fu kick, but there's still this institutionalized racism. If you just wanted a Bruce Lee statue, you should have...called it 'Bruce Lee Statue Class.'"