ER&M flexes independence with three new hires
The program, which gained hiring power in 2019 after years of advocacy, will bring on two new junior faculty members in Native studies and one in Latinx studies.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
Ethnicity, Race and Migration is taking advantage of its new independence.
Almost three years after thirteen affiliated professors temporarily withdrew from the fast-growing program, citing a lack of institutional support, ER&M is building its ranks — this time on its own terms. Faculty committees have completed searches for three new ladder positions, ER&M chair Ana Ramos-Zayas told the News. Hi’ilei Hobart and Tarren Andrews will specialize in Native studies, and Leigh-Anna Hidalgo will teach Latinx studies. All three are at the beginning of their careers and will become junior faculty members.
The hires represent both ER&M’s newfound independence and a heightened interest in ethnic studies nationwide. The new hires also mark a significant expansion of Yale’s Indigenous Studies opportunities, as previously the University had only one American Indian professor tenured in the Faculty of Arts and Science.
“It made all the difference in the world,” Ramos-Zayas said of the program’s independent hiring power. “We are the only ones who really know who deserves to be in the field, in these positions, in assessing a candidate’s possibilities at Yale.”
Faculty in the department, as well as members of the University’s Native American and Indigenous community, praised the new hires and the increased opportunities for student engagement with Indigenous studies.
The three new hires represent the fruits of long-time advocacy for greater ER&M autonomy. The program, which for decades was housed within American Studies, gained five formal faculty positions in May 2019 following weeks of student protests and national attention.
ER&M has two dozen affiliated professors and lecturers, scattered across a variety of academic units, including history, sociology and American Studies. But only four are currently supported by the programs’ funding lines for tenured faculty. The remainder tenured faculty either have lines split with other departments or are situated entirely outside of ER&M but serve in advisory roles.
The department was allocated two tenure-track positions last fall, one each in Latinx and Indigenous studies. But the talent pool for Indigenous studies was particularly strong last year, history and American Studies professor Ned Blackhawk and Ramos-Zayas told the News, and faculty were enthusiastic about two top-tier candidates, both of whom had competitive offers. This led the program to successfully petition the University for an extra faculty line, bringing its total lines to seven.
“I’d like to think that the outstanding capabilities of each of these applicants is a testament to the program’s capacity to evaluate and recruit people, because it’s actually an incredibly competitive year,” said Blackhawk, who chaired the committee for both Indigenous studies positions.
Had the program not been granted hiring power, Blackhawk added, attracting such top talent would have been much more difficult. Indigenous studies is currently a major growth field in American universities, he added, and several peer institutions, including Princeton and UC Berkeley, are also actively recruiting for their programs.
The hiring process also brought a sense of unity amongst the program’s faculty, Ramos-Zayas said, and deliberations on each candidate naturally prompted a wider discussion about the program’s vision and values. The ultimate decisions were also made with unanimous approval from committee members, Ramos-Zayas said.
“It really brought us together as a group, incredibly, because we were all in agreement about every single one of them,” Ramos-Zayas said. “We’re so thrilled by these three people that we chose, so vibrant and energetic. They’re really going to make a splash at Yale.”
ER&M’s new structure is also particularly conducive to mentorship of junior colleagues. Previously, new faculty members affiliated with the program would be mentored by colleagues scattered in other units and, in many cases, by scholars without expertise in ethnic studies. Now, senior faculty members within ER&M will guide Andrews, Hobart and Hidalgo through their scholarship and the tenure process, Ramos-Zayas said.
ER&M is also in the process of finalizing a possible fourth hire split between ER&M and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Ramos-Zayas told the News.
“The program has developed a robust and thriving major where students are exposed to a range of methodological approaches to issues of ethnicity, race, and migration,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler wrote to the News. “The new faculty will increase this range even further.”
The News spoke to Hobart and Andrews about their academic interests, personal backgrounds and motivations for coming to Yale. Hidalgo did not respond to requests for comment.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Hobart spent two years at the University of Texas at Austin specializing in food studies and Indigenous relationships with land and the environment. She has taught classes on Indigenous art and activism as well as Native and Indigenous food sovereignty.
Hobart described her new position as a “dream job” and said she hopes to engage with the Yale Farm and the Native American Cultural Center when she arrives on campus in the fall.
“Yale is one of those rare East Coast-institutions that actually has a relatively robust NAIS [Native American and Indigenous Studies] community, and being able to provide mentorship to Indigenous and Pacific Islander students is really special to me,” Hobart said. “Being present in these places that were not built for us, but built upon our dispossession, is really powerful to effect change.”
Andrews, currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, researches settler colonialism in the early medieval North Atlantic. She specifically focuses on how settler colonial structures intact today originated before Indigenous-European contact.
Andrews will spend her first year at Yale as a postdoctoral researcher and then will transition into a junior faculty role.
“’I’m really excited about teaching an origins of settler colonialism class, as well as a canonical introduction to critical indigenous studies and indigenous feminism,” Andrews told the News. “I also do a lot of work in Indigenous new media and Indigenous storytelling, so I’m looking forward to offering classes in both of those areas as well.”
Andrews grew up on a reservation in northwest Montana and has lived around Indigenous communities throughout her life. Though she is excited about coming to Yale, she was initially concerned about the smaller Indigenous community in New Haven.
“I was initially a little apprehensive about [coming to Yale],” Andrews said. “But I think that the fact that they did hire two [indigenous studies faculty] from this search suggests that the administration has really invested in these initiatives. And there’s a really vibrant undergraduate community that I think brings a lot to the table. So I am excited about it.”
Joining a community
The new hires are particularly momentous for the Native American and Indigenous community. According to the Office of Institutional Resources, only 12 faculty across all of Yale’s schools identified as either ‘American Indian or Alaskan Native’ or ‘Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander’ in 2020, making up less than 0.001 percent of total faculty. Just one person from each group is tenured in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Blackhawk was the first tenured American Indian professor at Yale and is the only Native American faculty member in the FAS. He is also the only professor who explicitly specializes in Native American studies, though he pointed out that several faculty in other units, including English professor Alanna Hickey and Divinity School professor Tisa Wenger, teach and write on Indigenous topics. But the addition of Andrews and Hobart will allow the department to offer more entry-level lectures as well as more advanced courses, particularly in contemporary Indigenous studies.
Both Hobart and Andrews expressed excitement about joining the robust community of Indigenous and Native Americans already at Yale. Evan Roberts ‘23, a peer liaison for Yale’s Native American Cultural Center and an ER&M major, met some of the candidates during the University’s faculty selection process.
“I am eager to see the Indigenous studies field grow here and to take classes in more areas of Indigenous studies my senior year,” Roberts said.
The Native American Cultural Center, located at 26 High St., aims to support Indigenous students and programming throughout the school year. Matthew Makomenaw, the Center’s director, praised the program’s expansion.
“Increasing the representation of Indigenous people, culture and language in the curriculum and classes on campus is a wonderful step in providing more awareness and belonging for the Indigenous community on campus,” Makomenaw said. “The addition of more faculty with a background in Indigenous studies not only benefits the number of classes offered but also increases the presence of Indigenous Studies faculty available to mentor students and attend events on campus.”
The ER&M major was established in 1998.