Major Spotlight: Race And Ethnicity Studies
In the second post in this series, Bwog spotlights the Race and Ethnicity Studies major, an interdisciplinary field of study perfect for indecisive students looking to center issues of ethnicity and race in their education.
Offered through the Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) at Columbia College, this major is the same regardless of whether you attend Columbia or Barnard. It requires a minimum of 27 points, broken down as follows:
- 3 Core Courses
- Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies (4 points) OR Critical Approaches to the Study of Ethnicity and Race (3 points): The former is a lecture-style class that meets twice a week while the latter is a 2-hour weekly seminar. I took the latterFdepar because they haven’t offered Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies in recent semesters. It seems to be coming back though!
- Colonialization/Decolonization (4 points) OR Race and Racisms (4 points): I haven’t filled this requirement so I can’t offer much insight into how these two classes differ from personal experience (ask me next semester). According to the CSER website, Colonization/Decolonization is a seminar that “explores the centrality of colonialism in the making of the modern world” while Race and Racisms ” approach[es] race and racism from a variety of disciplinary and intellectual perspectives.” Colonization/Decolonization is open to CSER majors/concentrators only (exceptions with instructor permission), while Race and Racisms has no such restriction. Colonization/Decolonization is also available as a study abroad program in Mexico City (CSER provides grants to a limited number of students to fund the experience) though it’s been put on hold this summer. It also counts as a Global Core requirement!
- Modes of Inquiry (4 points) — This is a research methods class (part-workshop, part-seminar) that teaches students how to conduct research in the social sciences or the humanities. By the end of the class, you’ll have an 8-10 page research proposal; it’s recommended that majors take this their senior fall in preparation for their thesis project (more on that in a bit).
- 4 Electives in your chosen field
- Each major has to choose one of the following fields of study:
- Latinx Studies
- Asian American Studies
- Native American Studies/Indigenous Studies
- Comparative Ethnic Studies (my chosen field)
- An individualized course of study determined alongside the Director of Undergraduate Studies
- CSER offers a number of electives every semester (more on that in the next section), usually in the form of a weekly seminar. Some of these are tied to a specific subfield (ex. Intro to Latinx Studies, Native Food Sovereignty) while others are more comparative. The latter can count toward the Comparative Ethnic Studies subfield or to more specific subfields. For example, a course on Latino and Asian American Memoir could count toward the Latinx Studies, Asian American Studies or Comparative Ethnic Studies specializations.
- You can also petition CSER to include classes from other departments as long as you can prove it covers material relevant to your subfields. Meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies if that’s something you’re interested in pursuing; she’s amazing and she’ll help you figure out any paperwork you might need.
- You don’t have to officially declare your chosen field when you declare your major so feel free to change your mind—I was originally focusing in Latinx Studies but realized I was way more interested in the comparative experiences of different groups of people and given the classes I’d previously taken, was able to make the switch without having to report to anyone or go through the advising office.
- Note that, due to Columbia’s institutional history, African American and African Diaspora Studies are part of a separate department. Black and African American voices are still featured in a number of courses offered by CSER but that’s where most of your interests lie, check out their brand new (!!!) department.
- A Senior Thesis OR additional elective
- As of 2018, a senior thesis is no longer required to graduate as a Race & Ethnicity Studies major so if the thought of conducting a research project of that scope fills you with fear, you can now declare the CSER major without worrying about anything. You can instead choose to take a fifth class in your specialization—just remember that one of those 5 must be a writing-intensive seminar at the 3000-level or above. Those who elect to complete a senior thesis are eligible for honors in the major.
For those considering a concentration, the requirements are basically the same. You just don’t have to take Modes of Inquiry or complete a thesis/fifth elective; it’s a small and super flexible concentration that will allow you to expand your perspective beyond those traditionally taught in the Core (and many other gen-ed classes, in my experience).
CSER also recommends that students take some language classes pertinent to their course of study at any level, a linguistics course (or anything that looks at language with a critical eye) or sigh up an outside language class/study abroad program with a focus on language. These aren’t needed to graduate, but I’d also recommend it. Given that issues of culture and race are at the fore in these classes, we necessarily engage with languages other than English all the time and even a passing familiarity can be so helpful in having a fuller understanding of concepts at play.
Overview of the Classes:
The biggest thing to remember about CSER is that you can take classes in any order, so don’t worry about taking one of the required classes if you’re not sure if the major is right for you. Pick the elective that seems most interesting to you and take it for a test drive first.
Required Classes: I was introduced to CSER through a class I took for my English major, so I’ve only taken one required class Critical Approaches to Ethnicity and Race. To be honest, it was probably my least favorite class I’ve taken for the major so far, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the professor/content and more to do with my own personal biases. I prefer a seminar setting and Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies wasn’t being offered this year so it seemed like the right fit, but it was very sociology/social science-heavy which isn’t my preference given my general humanities background. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a ton and finally seeing the data behind a lot of concepts that have been presented to me—everything from the drivers of Asian American academic achievement to the struggles Black college graduates face in hiring—has given me a solid foundation from which to pursue future work.
Electives: The electives for this class can be truly anything you want. Most offered by CSER are weekly seminars, so that might not be ideal for people who want to avoid copious amounts of reading. In that case, I’d recommend turning outside the Thus far I’ve taken Caribbean Diaspora Literature (through the English department), Latino and Asian American Memoir, Visionary Medicine: Race, Health, and Speculative Fiction and I’m currently taking Black and Brown History of Rock and Roll. The three courses I’ve completed have been some of my most rewarding academic experiences during my time at Columbia. The three professors, all women of color, were all kind, engaging and absolute powerhouses in their respective fields. All of them led me to breakthroughs regarding my own relationship to my racial identity as well as provided cornerstones for my current research interests. I have yet to have a negative experience regarding electives. The flexibility the major provides, as well as the relatively small number of credits required, means that you shouldn’t settle for a terrible class. Also, if you get a chance to take a class with any of these wonderful professors (Professor Negron-Muntaner, Professor Handal, or Professor Dasgupta), do it.
Thesis: I’m still a child (aka a junior) so I haven’t yet written a thesis yet. Check back at this time next semester.
CSER has a listserv that you should definitely sign up for! It mostly serves to update majors about cool events the Center is putting on and the occasional center get-together, but there’s also important updates and opportunities that hit our inboxes as well. Stop by the 4th floor and ask to be put on it if you’re at all interested in what the center does, whether or not you’re 100% on wanting to declare the major.
Applying to the Major:
No need! I’d just recommend meeting with the Director of Undergraduate Studies—the absolutely wonderful Deborah Paredez—to talk about your planned course of study and if you have any questions about whether certain classes will count toward the major. This is especially important if you’re designing your own field of study, so sign up for her office hours as soon as possible.
Last Minute Tips:
- CSER does a lot with very little (among other things it’s not a department and also doesn’t have much funding). This can limit the number/types of courses that it can offer. Students in certain specializations are more affected by this; from what I’ve heard from my peers, the Indigenous Studies track has particularly struggled in course offerings in the past. The demand for these courses is there so at this point, it’s just up to Columbia to provide the things that students have been asking from the university for decades.
- If you’re planning on double-counting courses, make sure you meet with your advisor and the DUS of the relevant departments to make sure what you’re doing follows the rules for your college and departmental rules as well!
- The whole point of an interdisciplinary major is to draw from a number of schools of thought while exploring your interest so don’t be afraid to look outside CSER for classes if nothing being offered that semester strikes your fancy.
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