Carly Wanna

A little over a week after 13 professors chose to withdraw their support from the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program in protest, one thing is clear: they are not alone.

Amid questions about the status of ER&M, several recent petitions – including one signed by scholars of interdisciplinary programs across the nation and another from Brown University faculty members – called for increased support for the unit.

In a letter addressed to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, 32 Brown scholars expressed solidarity with the 13 Yale professors whose withdrawals left the program with no tenured faculty members. The Brown professors–who held appointments in a variety of fields including American studies, urban studies, African studies and ethnic studies – submitted the letter to Gendler on Friday.

Earlier in the week, more than 500 scholars from a variety of fields, many of which center on ethnic studies, called for Gendler, University President Peter Salovey and Dean of the Humanities Amy Hungerford to “do everything possible to restore and institutionalize the program.” Other collective statements have circulated online, including an online petition calling for the departmentalization of ER&M that has been signed by more than 1,500 Yale students, alumni and community supporters as of Monday night. Furthermore, individual faculty members across the country have begun to pen letters to the University in support of ER&M.

Brown chair of American Studies Matthew Guterl, who signed onto both the Brown letter and the nationwide petition with 500 signatures, said Yale’s ER&M program has “outsized significance” nationally.

“The faculty who work in it – including those who have resigned – are globally important to ethnic studies, with sterling reputations as teachers and writers producing re-orienting works of scholarship,” Guterl wrote in an email to the News. “To watch the program die slowly, killed off by a thousand cuts or by negligence, would have been extremely painful – for students at Yale and for all of us in the field. Their mass resignation was a wake-up call, with stakes that are just simply bigger than Yale.”

The petitions pressured administrators to provide increased autonomy for the program’s faculty, including hiring ability and greater control in the tenuring process. Still, while the petition “Alumni Students and Community Supporters in Solidarity with Yale ER&M” states its vision for the departmentalization of the program, other letters as well as the press release announcing the 13 professors’ withdrawal did not. The letter signed by over 500 scholars – many of whom hold appointments at peer institutions such as Dartmouth College and Columbia University – called for “greater support in terms of resources, interdisciplinary autonomy and its own authority to recruit, hire and promote faculty.” Brown’s letter made similar calls for increased resource allocation, program autonomy and the fulfillment of former promises from University administrators to support the program.

Prompted by student and alumni protesters at this past Saturday’s gala dinner for the Asian American Student Alliance 50th anniversary conference, Salovey said that ER&M would likely remain a program but assume full control over its hiring slots.

According to a memo Gendler is planning to send to members of the Brown faculty who signed the petition, the University has been reviewing the structure of academic organization within ER&M. She said she shares the view that the program “needs appropriate recognition of its status as a distinct and vital area of study, with commensurate appointing rights.” In the memo, which Gendler sent to the News, she thanked Brown’s faculty for their concern for the program.

“We are grateful that you have taken the time to write to us about the status of the Ethnicity, Race and Migration (ER&M) program at Yale,” Gendler wrote in the memo. “Over the last weeks, we have received an outpouring of support for the program, with students and scholars from across the country reaching out to underscore the leadership role that Yale has played in this important field of study. We were already aware of the extraordinary stature of our colleagues in this area and we have been moved by the numerous testaments to their excellence that we have received from students and colleagues.”

Gendler added that the FAS scheduled an external review of the American studies department – which both overlaps and is distinct from neighboring units such as ER&M – more than a year ago. The review committee visit took place in February, and the report is expected in April. She said the reviewers’ report would be one factor in informing the University’s decision about ER&M’s future structure.

Calls by scholars across the country echo those of professors and students on campus, including the Coalition for Ethnic Studies at Yale – a group dedicated to the departmentalization of ER&M. Emily Almendarez ’20, an organizer for the coalition, said she signed onto the petition due to the University’s consistent neglect for the program.

“I, alongside many others within our coalition, have been in direct communication with alumni,” Almendarez said. “While I will not feign to be able to speak on their behalf, said collaboration is necessary when thinking about how this is not a contemporary issue but rather a continuation of the same problem.”

The ER&M major was established in 1997.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu