When American Ethnic Studies Professor Enrique "Rick" Bonus applied for tenure, he was asked to write statements about his research, teaching and community service. But separating these three aspects of his work was difficult, he says, "because they are all interrelated in what I do as a scholar."
In his research and teaching, Bonus borrows from other disciplines, combining history with contemporary culture, literature with sociology. And he doesn't teach about ethnic groups individually. "In my work, as well as in every course that I teach, I make sure I don't focus on just one group, as if they're not in contact with other groups," he explains.
"Broadly defined, what I do is study power in American society. I use the experiences of all different groups in relationship to power and how power works or doesn't work."
The only tenured Filipino American at UW, Bonus is a role model to his students. "Many students aspire to become like Rick Bonus," writes a Seattle community member supporting his nomination for the Distinguished Teaching Award. The Pacific Islander Student Commission, which Bonus advises, adds their support, saying, "Our commission is inspired by [his tenure] because not many professors of color attain such a status, especially within the Pacific Islander community."
Bonus admits to some mixed feelings about being a minority faculty member at UW, where he is director of undergraduate studies in the department. "From the point of view of being a Filipino American, being here is something to be proud of. My presence here represents some achievement of people in my community," he says. "On the other hand, it's not something to be completely celebratory about because, I think, on this campus we need a lot of work in recruiting more minority faculty."
Two years ago some of Bonus' students wanted to improve graduation and retention rates for Pacific Islander students. Under his tutelage, they formed the Pacific Islander Partnership in Education (PIPE). "One of the things the students identified was a lack of role models in schools, which are alien environments for a lot of them," Bonus explains. Student-mentors reached out to other students who were at risk of dropping out, providing study groups, encouragement and help navigating through the school system.
"With his teaching and leadership, a very special and significant constituency of students at UW is becoming visible, heard, and integral to educational efforts being made today," wrote Department Chair Stephen Sumida.
Known as a popular and effective teacher, Bonus "is not bombastic but, rather, uses the gentle nudge," commented another colleague.
Bonus says he draws energy from the dynamics of the classroom, where he enjoys what he's doing, and students can tell. "I do a lot of jokes in my class. Most of them don't fly," he laughs. "It's about schooling as a pleasurable experience - and pleasure doesn't mean you don't have to be serious. Pleasure is about enjoying what you're learning and making meaning out of what you're learning."
American ethnic studies is meaningful to students, Bonus says, because what they learn is relevant to their lives. "I really think they should be part of ongoing conversations in and out of the classroom," he says, adding that he tries to teach all sides of controversial issues and expects students not to agree, but to understand the arguments. "When they encounter someone outside the classroom who's on the opposite side of what they think, at least they'll know where that person is coming from and be a better person to converse with."