Ethnicity and Race Studies

Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race: 423 Hamilton; 212-854-0507

Program Director: Prof. Neferti Tadiar, 425 Hamilton; 212-854-2564; 

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Prof. Catherine Fennell, 957 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-7752;

Founded in 1999, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) is an interdisciplinary intellectual space whose mission is to advance the most innovative teaching, research, and public discussion about race and ethnicity. To promote its mission, the Center organizes conferences, seminars, exhibits, film screenings, and lectures that bring together faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students with diverse interests and backgrounds. Moreover, CSER partners with departments, centers, and institutes at Columbia, as well as with colleagues and organizations on and off campus, in order to reach new audiences and facilitate an exchange of knowledge.

Programs of Study

The ethnicity and race studies major encompasses a variety of fields and interdisciplinary approaches to the critical study of ethnicity and race. What makes CSER unique is its attention to the comparative study of racial and ethnic categories in the production of social identities, power relations, and forms of knowledge in a multiplicity of contexts including the arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. In addition to the major, CSER also offers a concentration in ethnicity and race studies.

In both the major and concentration, students have the opportunity to select from the following areas of specialization:

  • Asian American studies
  • Comparative ethnic studies
  • Latino/a studies
  • Native American/Indigenous studies
  • Individualized courses of study

Faculty and students find this field exciting and important because it opens up new ways of thinking about two fundamental aspects of human social existence: race and ethnicity. Although various traditional disciplines such as history, sociology, anthropology, and literature, among others, offer valuable knowledge on race and ethnicity, ethnicity and race studies provides a flexible interdisciplinary and comparative space to bring the insights of various conceptual frameworks and disciplines together in critical dialogue.

Overall, this program introduces students to the study of ethnicity and race, and the deep implications of the subject matter for thinking about human bodies, identity, culture, social hierarchy, and the formation of political communities. The major encourages students to consider the repercussions of racial and ethnic identifications to local and global politics, and how race and ethnicity relates to gender, sexuality, and social class, among other forms of hierarchical difference.

Students majoring in ethnicity and race studies may focus their work on specific groups, such as Asian Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans; or a comparative study of how race and ethnicity are formed and how conceptions of race and ethnicity transform and change over time and place. Students also have the option of designing an individualized course of study, which may encompass a wide variety of themes. Among the most studied are those involving the relationship between race, ethnicity and law; health; human rights; urban spaces; cultural production; visual culture; and the environment.

Due to its rigorous curriculum, which trains students in theory, history, and a wide range of modes of inquiry, the major enables students to follow multiple directions after graduation. According to our internal surveys, nearly half of CSER students continue to Ph.D. programs in history, anthropology, and ethnic studies, among other areas. A second significant number of students continue on to professions most notably related to law, public policy, medicine, human rights, community organizing, journalism, and the environment.

Study Abroad

Students are highly encouraged to participate in study abroad programs, as they represent an exciting opportunity to learn new languages and live in countries that are germane to their areas of study. In addition, traveling abroad can enrich every student's intellectual experience by providing an opportunity to learn about other perspectives on ethnicity and race.

In the past, students have participated in study abroad programs in Australia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and South Africa. To ensure that study abroad complements the major and integrates effectively with the requirements of the major, students are encouraged to consult with CSER's undergraduate adviser as early in their academic program as possible. The director of undergraduate studies can advise students on what may be exciting programs for their areas.

Departmental Honors

CSER majors may choose to write and/or produce an honors project. If a monograph, the honors thesis is expected to be 35-50 pages in length. Honors projects can also take other forms, such as video or websitesThese projects also require a written component, but of a shorter length than the traditional thesis. During their senior year, honors students perform research as part of CSER W3990 . Senior projects are due in early April.

In order to qualify for departmental honors, students must satisfy all the requirements for the major, maintain a GPA of at least 3.6 in the major, and complete a high quality honors project. In addition, each student is expected to meet periodically with his or her supervising project adviser and preceptor. Normally no more than 10% of graduating majors receive departmental honors in a given academic year.

Executive Committee

  • Sayantani DasGupta (CSER, Professional Studies)
    Catherine Fennel (Anthropology) 
  • John Gamber (English and Comparative Literature) 
  • Karl Jacoby (History)
  • Natasha Lightfoot (History)
  • Claudio Lomnitz (Anthropology) 
  • Frances Negrón-Muntaner (English and Comparative Literature) 
  • Mae Ngai (History)
  • Ana Maria Ochoa (Ethnomusicology) 
  • Gary Okihiro (School of International and Public Affairs) 
  • Deborah Paredez (CSER and Professional Practice)
  • Audra Simpson (Anthropology)
  • Neferti Tadiar (Barnard, Women's Studies)
  • Gray Tuttle (East Asian Languages and Cultures) 

Affiliated Faculty

  • Rachel Adams (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Carlos Alonso (Latin American and Iberian Cultures)
  • Christina Burnett (Law School)
  • Nadia Abu El-Haj (Anthropology, Barnard)
  • Kevin Fellezs (Music)
  • Kaiama L. Glover (French, Barnard)
  • Steven Gregory (Anthropology)
  • Kim Hall (English, Barnard)
  • Marianne Hirsch (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Maja Horn (Spanish and Latin American Cultures, Barnard)
  • Jean Howard (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Elizabeth Hutchinson (Art History, Barnard)
  • Clara Irazabal Zurita (Architecture, Planning and Preservation)
  • Ira Katznelson (Political Science)
  • George Lewis (Music)
  • Natasha Lightfoot (History)
  • Jose Moya (History, Barnard)
  • Celia Naylor (History, Barnard)
  • Greg Pflugfelder (East Asian Languages and Cultures)
  • Pablo Piccato (History)
  • Caterina Pizzigoni (History)
  • Elizabeth A. Povinelli (Anthropology)
  • Bruce Robbins (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Samuel Roberts (History)
  • Joseph Slaughter (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Dennis Tenen (English and Comparative Literature)

Major in Ethnicity and Race Studies

The major in ethnicity and race studies consists of a minimum of 27 points. Students take three core courses and write a senior research project. Following the core courses, students take a minimum of four elective courses, one of which must be a seminar:

Core Courses
CSER W1040
or CSER UN1010 Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies
CSER UN3919 Modes of Inquiry
CSER W3928
Students must complete at least four courses, in consultation with their major adviser, in one of the following areas of specialization:
Asian American studies
Comparative ethnic studies
Latino/a studies
Native American/Indigenous studies
Individualized courses of study
Senior Research Project
CSER W3990
The final requirement for the major is completion of a senior essay, to be written in the spring of the senior year. All CSER seniors are expected to present their paper at the annual undergraduate symposium in April. Students may fulfill this requirement in one of the following two ways:
1. By matriculating in the Senior Thesis course and writing the thesis under the supervision of the course faculty.
2. By taking an additional 4-point seminar where a major paper is required and further developing the paper into a thesis length work (minimum of 30 pages) under the supervision of a CSER faculty member.
Language Courses
One of the following is highly recommended, although not required for the major:
One course beyond the intermediate-level in language pertinent to the student's focus
An introductory course in a language other than that used to fulfill the degree requirements, but that is pertinent to the student's focus
A linguistics or other course that critically engages language
An outside language and study abroad programs that include an emphasis on language acquisition

Concentration in Ethnicity and Race Studies

The requirements for this program were modified on September 19, 2014. Students who declared this program before this date should contact the director of undergraduate studies for the department in order to confirm their correct course of study.

The concentration in ethnicity and race studies requires a minimum of 19 points. Students take two core courses and four elective courses, one of which must be a seminar:

Core Courses
CSER W1040
or CSER UN1010 Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies
CSER W3928
Students must complete at least four courses, in consultation with their major adviser, in one of the following areas of specialization:
Asian American studies
Comparative ethnic studies
Latino/a studies
Native American/Indigenous studies
Individualized courses of study

Fall 2016

Ethnicity and Race Studies

CSER UN1010 Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement, Discussion Section Required
Students MUST register for a Discussion Section.

Introduction to the field of comparative ethnic studies.

Fall 2017: CSER UN1010
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 1010 001/27819 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
Room TBA
Frances Negron-Muntaner 4 200/200

CSER W1601 Introduction to Latino/a Studies. 3 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Social Analysis (SOC I)., BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Cultures in Comparison (CUL)., CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement, SIPA: United States
Enrollment limited to 101.Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

This course provides an introductory, interdisciplinary discussion of the major issues surrounding this nation's Latino population. The focus is on social scientific perspectives utilized by scholars in the field of Latino Studies. Major demographic, social, economic, and political trends are discussed. Key topics covered in the course include: the evolution of Latino identity and ethnicity; the main Latino sub-populations in the United States; the formation of Latino communities in the United States; Latino immigration; issues of race and ethnicity within the Latino population; socioeconomic status and labor force participation of Latinos; Latino social movements; and the participation of Latinos in U.S. civil society.

CSER UN3490 Post 9/11 Immigration Policies. 4 points.

Enrollment limited to 22.

Since September 11, 2001, there has been an avalanche of immigration enforcement policies and initiatives proposed or implemented under the guise of national security. This course will analyze the domino effect of the Patriot Act, the Absconder Initiative, Special Registration, the Real I.D. Act, border security including the building of the 700-mile fence along the U.S./Mexico border, Secured Communities Act-that requires the cooperation of state and local authorities in immigration enforcement, the challenge to birthright citizenship, and now the congressional hearings on Islamic radicalization. Have these policies been effective in combating the war on terrorism and promoting national security? Who stands to benefit from these enforcement strategies? Do immigrant communities feel safer in the U.S.? How have states joined the federal bandwagon of immigration enforcement or created solutions to an inflexible, broken immigration system?

Fall 2017: CSER UN3490
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3490 001/71033 Th 10:10am - 12:00pm
Room TBA
Elizabeth OuYang 4 22/22

CSER UN3919 Modes of Inquiry. 4 points.

Lab Required

Corequisites: CSER W3921 Modes of Inquiry-Lab, which takes place on Mondays 2:10-3:10pm (meets five times a semester).

This class, a combination of a seminar and a workshop, will prepare students to conduct, write up, and present original research. It has several aims and goals. First, the course introduces students to a variety of ways of thinking about knowledge as well as to specific ways of knowing and making arguments key to humanistic and social science fields. Second, this seminar asks students to think critically about the approaches they employ in pursuing their research. The course will culminate in a semester project, not a fully executed research project, but rather an 8-10 page proposal for research that will articulate a question, provide basic background on the context that this question is situated in, sketch preliminary directions and plot out a detailed methodological plan for answering this question. Students will be strongly encouraged to think of this proposal as related to their thesis or senior project. Over the course of the semester, students will also produce several short exercises to experiment with research techniques and genres of writing.

Fall 2017: CSER UN3919
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3919 001/22937 W 10:10am - 12:00pm
420 Hamilton Hall
Sayantani DasGupta 4 13/15

CSER UN3921 Modes of Inquiry-Lab. 0 points.

Corequisites: CSER W3919 Modes of Inquiry.

This lab session meets 5 times a semester, for an hour.

Fall 2017: CSER UN3921
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3921 001/66329  
0 0/15

CSER UN3922 Asian American Cinema. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
Enrollment limited to 22.

This seminar focuses on the critical analysis of Asian representation and participation in Hollywood by taking a look at how mainstream American cinema continues to essentialize the Asian and how Asian American filmmakers have responded to Hollywood Orientalist stereotypes. We will analyze various issues confronting the Asian American, including yellowface, white patriarchy, male and female stereotypes, the “model minority” myth, depictions of “Chinatowns,” panethnicity, the changing political interpretations of the term "Asian American" throughout American history, gender and sexuality, and cultural hegemonies and privileging within the Asian community.

Fall 2017: CSER UN3922
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3922 001/28481 Th 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Room TBA
Eric Gamalinda 4 23/22

CSER UN3923 Latina/o and Asian American Memoir. 4 points.

In this class, we will explore Latino and Asian American memoir, focusing on themes of immigration and duality. How do we construct identity and homeland when we are ‘multiple’? How do we define ourselves and how do others define us? By reading some of the most challenging and exciting memoirs by Latino and Asian Americans, we will attempt to answer these questions and/or at least try to understand these transnational and multicultural experiences. This class combines the critical with the creative—students have to read and critic memoirs as well as write a final 10-page nonfiction creative writing piece. Students will also have the opportunity to speak to some Latino and Asian authors in class or via SKYPE. Students will be asked to prepare questions in advance for the author, whose work(s) we will have read and discussed. This usually arises interesting and thought-provoking conversations and debates. This 'Dialogue Series' within the class exposes students to a wide-range of voices and offers them a deeper understanding of the complexity of duality.

Fall 2017: CSER UN3923
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3923 001/16971 M 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Room TBA
Nathalie Handal 4 23/22

CSER UN3926 Latin Music and Identity. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement

Latin music has had a historically strained relationship with mainstream music tastes, exploding in occasional 'boom' periods, and receding into invisibility in others. What if this were true because it is a space for hybrid construction of identity that directly reflects a mixture of traditions across racial lines in Latin America? This course will investigate Latin music's transgression of binary views of race in Anglo-American society, even as it directly affects the development of pop music in America. From New Orleans jazz to Texas corridos, salsa, rock, and reggaeton, Latin music acts as both as a soundtrack and a structural blueprint for the 21st century's multicultural experiment. There will be a strong focus on studying Latin music's political economy, and investigating the story it tells about migration and globalization.

Fall 2017: CSER UN3926
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3926 001/11156 T 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Room TBA
Edward Morales 4 43/22

CSER UN3928 Colonization/Decolonization. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement
Enrollment limited to 22.

Prerequisites: Open to CSER majors/concentrators only. Others may be allowed to register with the instructor's permission.

This course explores the centrality of colonialism in the making of the modern world, emphasizing cross-cultural and social contact, exchange, and relations of power; dynamics of conquest and resistance; and discourses of civilization, empire, freedom, nationalism, and human rights, from 1500 to 2000. Topics include pre-modern empires; European exploration, contact, and conquest in the new world; Atlantic-world slavery and emancipation; and European and Japanese colonialism in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The course ends with a section on decolonization and post-colonialism in the period after World War II. Intensive reading and discussion of primary documents.

Spring 2017: CSER UN3928
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3928 001/11217 Th 2:10pm - 4:00pm
420 Hamilton Hall
Karl Jacoby 4 21/22
Fall 2017: CSER UN3928
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 3928 001/17636 T 2:10pm - 4:00pm
420 Hamilton Hall
Natasha Lightfoot 4 0/22

CSER W3935 Historical Anthropology of the US-Mexico Border. 4 points.

Not offered during 2017-18 academic year.

Beginning in the 1980s, border crossing became an academic rage in the humanities and the social sciences. This was a consequence of globalization, an historical process that reconfigured the boundaries between economy, society, and culture; and it was also a primary theme of post-modernist aesthetics, which celebrated playful borrowing of multiple and diverse historical references. Within that frame, interest in the US-Mexican border shifted dramatically. Since that border is the longest and most intensively crossed boundary between a rich and a poor country, it became a paradigmatic point of reference. Places like Tijuana or El Paso, with their rather seedy reputation, had until then been of interest principally to local residents, but they now became exemplars of post-modern “hybridity,” and were meant to inspire the kind of transnational scholarship that is required in today’s world. Indeed, the border itself became a metaphor, a movable imaginary boundary that marks ethnic and racial distinction in American and Mexican cities. This course is an introduction to the historical formation of the US-Mexican border.

Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology

EEEB GU4321 Human Nature: DNA, Race & Identity. 4 points.

The course focuses on human identity, beginning with the individual and progressing to communal and global viewpoints using a framework of perspectives from biology, genetics, medicine, psychiatry, religion and the law.

Spring 2017: EEEB GU4321
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
EEEB 4321 001/66234 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
316 Hamilton Hall
Robert Pollack, Marya Pollack 4 15/20
Fall 2017: EEEB GU4321
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
EEEB 4321 001/63566 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Room TBA
Robert Pollack, Marya Pollack 4 20/20

Spring 2017

Ethnicity and Race Studies

CSER GU4482 Indigenous People's Rights: From Local Identities to the Global Indigenous Movement. 4 points.

Indigenous Peoples, numbering more that 370 million in some 90 countries and about 5000 groups and representing a great part of the world’s human diversity and cultural heritage, continue to raise major controversies and to face threats to their physical and cultural existence. The main task of this course is to explore the complex historic circumstances and political actions that gave rise to the international Indigenous movement through the human rights agenda and thus also produced a global Indigenous identity on all continents, two intertwined and deeply significant phenomena over the past fifty years.  We will analyze the achievements, challenges and potential of the dynamic interface between the Indigenous Peoples’ movement-one of the strongest social movements of our times- and the international community, especially the United Nations system. Centered on the themes laid out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), the course will examine how Indigenous Peoples have been contesting and reshaping norms, institutions and global debates in the past 50 years, re-shaping and gradually decolonizing international institutions and how they have contributed to some of the most important contemporary debates, including human rights, development,  law, and specifically the concepts of self-determination, governance, group rights, inter-culturality and pluriculturality, gender, land, territories and natural resources, cultural rights, intellectual property, health, education, the environment and climate justice. The syllabus will draw on a variety of academic literature, case studies and documentation of Indigenous organizations, the UN and other intergovernmental organizations as well as States from different parts of the world. Students will also have the opportunity to meet with Indigenous leaders and representatives of international organizations and States and will be encouraged to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Select short films will be shown and discussed in class.

Spring 2017: CSER GU4482
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CSER 4482 001/64100 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
516 Hamilton Hall
Elsa Stamatopoulou 4 27/50