Unofficially begun as the result of a student grass-roots movement more than a decade ago, the ethnicity, race and migration major is currently enjoying unprecedented growth — growth that may eventually propel the major to stand-alone status.
After being housed as a concentration under the American Studies Program for nearly a decade, ER&M became an interdisciplinary major in 1997 and is now run under the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. But like the international studies major, students are only allowed to pursue ER&M as a second major.
Currently under a scheduled evaluation by the Committee on Majors, ER&M’s status and structure may change in the near future. While professors and students said they would like to preserve the major’s interdisciplinary and flexible nature, they also advocated expansion.
“Having seen ourselves survive five years and also grow during that period, we thought this was a good time to reassess,” ER&M Director of Undergraduate Studies Alicia Schmidt Camacho said. “Students and faculty have been talking a lot about wanting to expand, and I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question.”
Students in particular have called for a greater commitment to the international aspect of ER&M.
“We say we’re a global university, but we don’t have any alternatives for people who want to pursue a concentrated field of study in an area other than Europe or America,” ER&M major Shonu Gandhi ’03 said. “I think the ER&M major is really important and it needs to grow.”
The next step
Since its inception five years ago, the ER&M major has experienced growth in both faculty commitment and student interest. A major that could attract only four seniors a few years ago is now an academic home to nine seniors and 12 juniors.
“There has been steady growth of the program in terms of faculty participation, but the most exciting part has been the growth of majors,” Camacho said. “It’s a really heavy undertaking to do a double major at Yale, so we’ve been really fortunate to see a growth in student interest.”
As a result of this increased interest, ER&M chairman Michael Denning said the major is in the process of changing the introductory ER&M course from a seminar to a lecture. The introductory course and a senior colloquium are currently the only classes offered directly through the ER&M Program.
Denning said the major is also hoping to institute a core junior seminar in the near future. Although plans are still very preliminary, Denning said the course would focus on theory and methodology, not on specific issues or areas.
But students expressed varied opinions about a more structured curriculum.
“I definitely think the major should provide more structure in terms of a core curriculum,” Gandhi said. “I really love the major and the professors I’ve met through it, but I wish there were more classes that were required for it; something like a junior seminar where you could really delve deeper into the complicated issues we talk about.”
But ER&M major Acacia Clark ’04 said she enjoys the academic freedom and anything more could be restricting.
“I like the freedom because I don’t like having specific classes dictated to me,” Clark said. “While I liked the intro course, if there were other required courses I think I might’ve been annoyed.”
Student participation has been integral to both the creation and the growth of the major in the last 15 years, and students will play no less a role in taking the next step — petitioning for stand-alone status.
Camacho said ER&M has established itself as a program and has the strength to be a stand-alone major, and now the next step is to gauge whether students would be interested in pursuing it as their primary major.
Chiraag Bains ’03, who is majoring in history and ER&M, said he would probably select history if he had to choose between his majors.
“I think it’s valuable to have the major there because of the professors, the guidance and the resources,” Bains said. “But I can still focus on race relations within the history major. I don’t need the title ‘ethnic studies’ to do this.”
Camacho said the major is expecting a set of recommendations from the Committee on Majors by the end of the term.
A worldwide focus
Despite the major’s origins in the American Studies Program, Denning said ER&M has made significant strides in broadening itself and emphasizing a more international focus.
“One of the reasons this is a major is that issues of ethnicity, race and migration are not entirely U.S. issues,” Denning said. “It has opened up the possibility of thinking more globally and more comparatively. We wanted to create a venue for people who wanted to work on issues of race, ethnicity and migration in other parts of the world.”
Gandhi said she thinks Yale focuses too much on the Western canon and should make more of an effort to improve underrepresented areas of study.
“The major has made me realize how [Directed Studies] is a disgusting, ethnocentric program,” Gandhi said. “Basically, it’s a statement by the Yale administration that what old white men wrote hundreds of years ago is more important than anything else. I’d really like to pursue this kind of concentrated study, but not with European studies.”
Both students and faculty members in the major complained about a lack of representation in areas including Asian American, Latin American and Native American studies.
But YCIAS director Gustav Ranis said broadening the ER&M curriculum is certainly a priority.
“Ethnicity, race and migration are growing, important issues, so I definitely think this is an area worth teaching,” Ranis said.”It’s very much a part of our international mission.”