Courtesy of Logan Howard

Years of activism pertaining to a cited lack of University support for the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program culminated in 13 senior professors withdrawing from the program, a national movement of solidarity, Yale providing five formal faculty positions for the program and, ultimately, the return of all thirteen professors. 

Professor of American Studies and current chair of ER&M Alicia Camacho, professor of history and American Studies Ned Blackhawk, professor of American Studies and English Michael Denning, professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and American Studies Inderpal Grewal, associate professor of American Studies and religious studies Zareena Grewal, associate professor of American studies Daniel HoSang, professor of American Studies, history and African American studies Matthew Jacobson, professor of sociology Grace Kao, professor of American Studies Lisa Lowe, professor of history and American Studies Mary Lui, visiting professor of American Studies Gary Okihiro, professor of history and American Studies Stephen Pittiand professor of American Studies, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Ana Ramos-Zayas withdrew from the program.

“For two decades we have been assigned to an irregular and precarious status within the University’s administrative structure, and in recent years, we have seen Yale leaders turn away from the promises they have made to our program and the students we serve,” Camacho said in a March 29, 2019 press release describing the withdrawals. “The administration has maintained a system that fails to recognize our work and prevents us from participating in the tenure and promotion process.”

The move, which left the program without any tenured faculty, was nonetheless supported by ER&M majors interviewed by the News, who felt that — although their futures in the major were now unclear — the move was a necessary one, in order to better call attention to a cited lack of hiring ability and recognition for academic work completed in the field.

University President Peter Salovey, who, by April 2, had yet to announce any concrete initiatives in response to the concerns, told the News that he was regretful of the decision. Although, in a separate conversation with students and alumni days later, he added that “[he is] very supportive of the professors who have been involved and with the issues that they raised.”

This conversation took place on April 6 during a demonstration supporting ethnic studies and protesting Salovey’s remarks at an Asian American Student Alliance gala dinner. The protest was a joint effort between student and alumni, planned through the Coalition for Ethnic Studies at Yale and a manner for the Asian American student community to demonstrate its solidarity with ER&M.

Further solidarity efforts were evidenced by several petitions, including one for the Yale community, one for professors across the nation and other fields, and one from Brown University faculty. 

Courtesy of Willow Sylvester

“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,” Brown chair of American Studies Matthew Guterl, who signed onto both the Brown letter and the nationwide petition, 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.”

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler responded to Brown’s petition by noting the nationwide outpouring of support that program received, as well an agreement that the program needs to be acknowledged as a necessary area of study with all of the privileges that come with that distinction.

The conversations surrounding ER&M also came right as Yale announced the creation of the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, and, in interviews with the News, students and faculty expressed their frustration with the fact that, even though current programs such as ER&M are not receiving requested support, Yale is undergoing such a major project.

In an interview with the News, American Studies African American Studies and history professor Matthew Jacobson, one of the faculty who withdrew from the ER&M program, said the University administration has “made their priorities clear” with “broken promises, lack of support and underappreciation” for ER&M.

The university responded by arguing the importance of a school, such as a global affairs one, for students, as well as writing in an email to the News that key faculty, not donors, determine what major projects Yale will undergo.

On May 2, 2019, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Faculty Resource Committee voted to grant the program five formal faculty positions. As a result of the University’s commitment to increased support, the program’s chair, Alicia Schmidt Camacho, announced that she and the other 12 professors who withdrew their labor from the program would return.

“On behalf of my colleagues, I thank the Yale administration for affirming ER&M’s importance as a program that requires resources and standing on par with other academic units,” Camacho wrote in the statement. “I take great joy in imagining the future of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program at Yale and our new capacity to partner with institutions and colleagues beyond this University. I am grateful that our faculty remains committed to teaching and mentoring students interested in what has become one of our university’s most dynamic and fastest growing undergraduate majors.”

The ER&M major was established in 1998.

Madison Hahamy |