On Friday, the Asian American Cultural Center hosted the first annual Yale Intercultural Colloquium, which featured student work on a range of topics within ethnic studies.
Drawing a crowd of roughly 50 members of the Yale community, the colloquium included 11 presentations on senior theses, term papers and independent research. The event was sponsored by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, Association of Native Americans at Yale, the Asian American Studies Task Force and the newly founded Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration. Following a keynote address by Alicia Camacho, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration, students spoke on their research ranging from black student activism at Yale to the history of Chinese women’s labor struggles.
“My favorite part of the event is just seeing undergraduates stand up there and talk about their research which they have put so many hours into and proving that they are the next generation of ethnic studies,” said Hayun Cho ’17, a member of the Asian American Studies Task Force. “They are showing that this is where it all starts, that spaces and scholars like these go on to do so much, and it is empowering to see these people share their scholarship.”
Titania Nguyen ’18, who also sits on the Asian American Studies Task Force, said the colloquium was valuable for a number of reasons, one of the most compelling being that ethnic studies is often not given the same weight as other academic subjects like European or American history. People cannot overlook all of the work that scholars in ethnic studies are doing, she said, and Friday’s presentations only scraped the surface of the depth of scholarship available in the field.
Nguyen said her favorite part of the afternoon was how packed the venue was, adding that the turnout showed that many people genuinely care about this field of scholarship. Still, others lamented the turnout. MECHa co-moderator Viviana Arroyo ’18 said even though the sponsoring groups had publicized the gathering, it still did not attract as much interest as would have a similar symposium in the sciences, for example.
“I think that a lot of times, especially at a place like Yale, ethnic studies is not something that is really recognized as a legitimate field of study, or interesting enough to get people to show their research,” Arroyo said. “At least starting the conversation and having a place where students can present that kind of research is very important.”
Student attendees interviewed agreed that the colloquium drew much-needed attention to a field that is often not recognized as a legitimate area of scholarship. Daad Sharfi ’17 said that as an ER&M major, she was inspired to see the amount of work currently being done at an academic level by students across a variety of disciplines, from African American studies to political science. It is exciting to see how much more of the field there is to be unraveled and what can be accomplished in the future, she said.
While the conference may have been the first to bring together diverse fields of academia within ethnic studies, it is not entirely the first event of its kind. For the past few years, the AACC has held an Asian American studies senior thesis colloquium. What is remarkable about ethnic studies is that it emphasizes solidarity and scholars of different fields coming together, she said.
“The students are really encouraging each other to keep going and to hear the power of a lot of this work,” Camacho said. “But I think as underrepresented scholars, students of color working in ethnic studies, which also feels like it is still in its critical developmental stages here at Yale, it is very significant to know what you can do and what student contributions are allowing these fields to flourish here.”
There are currently 32 professors affiliated with the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program.