Carly Wanna

In March 2019, 13 faculty members withdrew from Yale’s program in Ethnicity, Race and Migration, citing the University’s lack of support. After national protest and years of institutional change, the program has now completed its search for three new ladder faculty members. 

For its first two decades, Yale’s ER&M program had no hiring power. Its faculty members were drawn from other academic units and, according to a press release, “volunteered their labor to support [the program].” When long-term administrative disinterest spiraled into 2019’s mass faculty exodus, ER&M majors were left in limbo, with no guarantee that they would be able to keep their majors. Soon, though, the movement to support ER&M took the national stage. With protests and online petitions, students and professors across the country expressed support for the 13 faculty members. In May 2019, the University voted to grant the program five of its own faculty positions, and, in response to the long-awaited support, the 13 professors who had withdrawn from the program announced that they would return. This year, ER&M completed its search for three new faculty members, who will begin teaching in the fall.

“Over the past year, the University has been working with members of the program on the issue of appointment powers,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler told the News shortly after the faculty withdrawal. “We are all in agreement that the program needs dedicated resources and suitable autonomy to serve its students and its faculty effectively. I am confident that we will soon reach a resolution satisfying to all.”

The joint faculty withdrawal in March 2019 represented years of prolonged institutional inaction. Since 2002, faculty members affiliated with ER&M have met with University administrators dozens of times to discuss the program. According to a faculty press release, former University President Richard Levin and current University President Peter Salovey promised to address faculty grievances in 2011 and in both 2015 and 2016, respectively, but failed to follow through on these promises.

“We’re withdrawing our service to the program because we feel it has become both unsustainable and detrimental to both our faculty and students to operate in these conditions,” former ER&M chair and current Head of Ezra Stiles College Alicia Schmidt Camacho said. “It is not up to us whether the program continues or ends. It is up to the administration … they need to decide in what conditions it will go forward.”

On April 5, 2019, 32 Brown University scholars submitted a letter addressed to Gendler, expressing support for the 13 Yale professors whose withdrawals left the program with no tenured faculty members. Earlier the same week, more than 500 scholars from a variety of fields called for Gendler, Salovey and Dean of the Humanities Amy Hungerford to “do everything possible to restore and institutionalize the program.”

Other public statements circulated online, including an online petition calling for the University to reorganize ER&M as its own department rather than a program. The petition was signed by thousands of Yale students, alumni and community members.

“The faculty who work in [Yale’s ER&M program] — including those who have resigned — are globally important to ethnic studies, with sterling reputations as teachers and writers producing re-orienting works of scholarship,” Matthew Guterl, chair of American Studies at Brown, 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.”

On May 2, 2019, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Faculty Resource Committee voted to grant ER&M five formal faculty positions. 

In response to the long-awaited University policy change, the 13 professors who had withdrawn from the program announced that they would return.

“It made all the difference in the world,” ER&M chair Ana 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.”

During the 2021-2022 academic year, ER&M began its search to fill two positions, one each in Latinx and Indigenous studies. 

But, after concluding its search, the program petitioned the University to hire an additional faculty member in Indigenous studies — totaling three new appointments. Hi’ilei Hobart and Tarren Andrews will specialize in Indigenous studies, and Leigh-Anna Hidalgo will teach Latinx studies.

“We are just thrilled to have two new junior colleagues in the dynamic and expansive fields of Latinx and Native studies,” Ramos-Zayas wrote in an email to the News. “To us, this shows how the dedication and struggle of ER&M students and faculty over the last several years has paid off. Yale ER&M is on its way to gaining a national reputation as a leading scholarly and pedagogical hub for studies of ethnicity, race, migration, and all their complex intersections.”

According to Ramos-Zayas, ER&M is in the process of finalizing a possible fourth hire split between ER&M and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

The ER&M program was founded in 1998.

Evan Gorelick is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Woodbridge Hall, with a focus on the University's finances, budget and endowment. He also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production and Design Editor. Originally from Woodbridge, Connecticut, he is a junior in Timothy Dwight College double-majoring in English and economics.