ER&M and Me

Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE

The Herald asked five writers to share their personal experiences with ER&M at Yale. Each of their experiences shows us the value and the impact of Ethnic Studies — a field that counters the Western Canon, that gives us the tools to critique our institutions, and that holds all of Yale accountable.

I came to college knowing that I’d probably major in English, but two years later, I still haven’t declared. I think the reason it’s taken me to so long is because when I’ve studied English or literature, I’ve always felt like there’s something missing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of picking up a book and not putting it down, not even blinking, for fear that I will be missing words that could entirely change how I see the world. And yet, in many of the English classes I’ve taken throughout my life, including at Yale, it has been difficult to place myself in the words of white male writers like William Pope, whose poems critiquing Britain’s 18th century wealthy class could never capture the life I lead everyday as a woman of color. The English major doesn’t cover the people and places I want to learn about. It can’t give me the tools to help brown and black faces like mine after I graduate. But Ethnic Studies has filled that gap, giving me a space to learn about myself, the histories that I come from, and the long line of activists — women, immigrants, Civil Rights leaders, third world students — that have made it possible for my parents to immigrate to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, and for me to study at a place like Yale. ER&M classes have introduced me to the thinkers and scholars like Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and Aimé Césaire, who have written my parents and me into history, where English classes have ignored us. It has made me challenge and interrogate institutions like Yale University — their histories, their policies, their very lack of care for issues like this. I thought Yale would be a place where students of color didn’t have to push to be seen, struggle to be heard, and to fight to have their education valued, but everyday I am more disappointed with the way Yale administrators choose silence over facing the demands of ER&M faculty and students. I’ve learned that Ethnic Studies is not a field we should take for granted. It is a department students fought for. And we will continue to fight for it.

—Gianna Baez, TC ’21

The ER&M major has allowed me to pursue my passion in intersectional human rights studies to my heart’s content. From Intro to Critical Refugee Studies to Environmental Justice in South Asia, the flexibility of the interdisciplinary nature of ER&M allowed me to craft an education that I believe is truly pragmatic and important. Furthermore, without the initial guidance from professors Daniel Martinez HoSang, Quan Tran, and Alicia Schmidt Camacho, I would not have been inspired to push for a Tibet studies course–a course that was formed largely from my desire to play a part in decolonizing the Yale curriculum. The ER&M major has helped me perceive the world in a new light and motivates me to be a better citizen each day; ER&M is more than a major — it is a way of life.

—Kelsang Dolma, PC ’19

When I came to Yale two years ago, I didn’t know anything about ER&M. I didn’t know there was any major that consisted of more than learning about the political theories written by different white men, or that there was an academic community that produced the kind of radical scholarship that I wanted to be a part of. I expected that I would be able to take classes related to identity and race, like Race, Class, and Gender in the American City or Third World Studies. But I also found a community at 35 Broadway, where professors contribute to New Haven and go beyond their duties to support students. ER&M has given me the space to be critical of the past and present, but it has also provided me space to imagine a world that is inclusive of all forms of knowledge production.

ER&M has created so many of my most powerful moments at Yale. I heard my classmates read revolutionary pieces of work about topics ranging from U.S. colonization in Puerto Rico to Yale’s transformation of the New Haven landscape in Professor Leah Mirakhor’s Writer/Rioter class. I learned more about my own family’s relationship to the history of adoption in Korea from Mary Lui in Asian American History and about the long struggle for Third World Studies beginning in the 1960s from Gary Okihiro. The circle of students in this major, all of whom are passionate about fostering care for eachother and care for the work that we do together, have impacted me inside and outside of the classroom. I see this passion in class discussions, but it has become most clear to me in this moment: everyone joining together in the Center for Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration to protect our major in crisis. ER&M has made me believe that it is possible to connect academic work to revolutionary praxis, completely invigorating my purpose at Yale.

I want Yale to be a campus that tells students and faculty of color that they have a place in this university, one which views global affairs as true global cooperation, and one which is truly “improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship” — as its mission statement claims. Yale must keep its promise to ER&M.

—Carolyn Sacco, ES ’21

I came to Yale intending to focus solely on my path towards medicine through a rigid study of the sciences. It was the second semester of my junior year when, almost on a whim, I took Introduction to Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, as a way to fulfill one of my humanities distributional requirements. I arrived on the first day of class not knowing that I would eventually fall in love with the course, and with ER&M itself. Whatever tip of the iceberg I had seen while studying health policy, ER&M let me dive deep under the surface. I now understand how decades of racialized laws led to inequitable economic and housing conditions for minorities, creating disparities between the healthcare systems of white communities and communities of color, including the community I grew up in as the child of Vietnamese refugees. For instance, red-lined districts — neighborhoods into which minorities have been segregated — often have poorer healthcare systems, lacking technological resources and experienced clinicians. In addition, implicit bias allows for discrimination in healthcare to continue unchecked as well. As an aspiring doctor hoping to work in communities of color, ER&M has given me the tools to recognize these racial disparities in healthcare. Because of Ethnic Studies, I feel better equipped to address not only the ailments of my future patients, but also the context behind these ailments. In retrospect, I can’t imagine how I would understand the world around me if I hadn’t taken ER&M classes. The major has fundamentally challenged what I thought I knew — about power structures, about socioeconomic disparities, and about my own experiences.

—Sarah Ngo, DC ’20

I did Directed Studies my first year because I wanted to be a writer and I felt gate-kept from conversations about “good books.” I lacked the self-awareness to realize I was only having those conversations among other white people, about white books. In the Spring, I started dating a white ER&M major. Sometimes before bed, I would read the Leviathan or John Locke or whatever in front of them, just to show off. I think they suspected I was being brainwashed before I did and prodded me towards skepticism. In my classes, I started realizing there was a creepy amount of self-reflexivity. We were reading John Locke because he was in the canon, and he was in the canon because we, and others, were studying him. It started feeling so useless that I stopped doing my readings, stopped going to class, even. I spent more time with my partner and had my first fumbling — and serious — conversations about race. They held me, kindly but unyieldingly, to a high standard. In the fall of my sophomore year, I took three Ethnic Studies classes. It was a steep learning curve, and I had professors and peers who helped me learn not to fuck up — or to fuck up in ways that helped me grow and didn’t hurt other people. Eventually I declared my major as ER&M, and Ethnic Studies became the thing that allowed me, a white person without an understanding of white supremacy before college, to clearly see the violence at work behind Yale’s decision to elevate the white canon. Ethnic Studies classes have made me feel the most, learn the most, grow the most. The point is not that Ethnic Studies classes are simply better than those in other departments. The point is that without Ethnic Studies, the academy will have nothing with which to hold itself accountable. Without ER&M, Yale will be morally bankrupt.

—Kellyn Kusyk, SM ’20

ER&M and Me was originally published in The Yale Herald on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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