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A Brief History of the Critical Ethnic Studies (CES) Initiative’s Beginnings at Carolina

If we cast our eyes up and down the east coast, and of course, to the west, we can find any number of intersectional critical ethnic studies driven programs, many of which have been in existence for at least twenty years. These programs help to ground University efforts to provide a diverse and intersectional intellectual home for faculty and students engaged in such research. These programs appear across a range of University spaces – from research one and Ivy League, to land grant institutions, large and small. In the spring of 2019, colleagues across the College of Arts and Sciences called for just such an intellectual initiative at UNC. That call created a Critical Ethnic Studies Collective at Carolina, an Initiative with funding for speakers, informal gatherings, and activities for graduate students.

Why Critical Ethnic Studies (CES)?

In the global community, the role of intersectional thought has been transformative for both institutions and individuals. Critical Ethnic Studies at Carolina can provide visionary leadership for Universities and Colleges in the region through focused intellectual work on institutional power, systems of privilege and inequity, and the regional and global cultures that engage and survive them. Bringing the powerful lens of Critical Ethnic Studies to the region, our work at Carolina began in 2015 with the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Faculty Diversity and its creation of a super course (“Intersectionality and Social Justice”) to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of social justice work and scholarship. We already have that momentum and this Initiative is meant to build upon that work.

CES at Carolina envisions a different kind of “south,” one in which students and faculty can engage, for example, issues of reparation and sovereignty, (im)migration and labor, gender difference and inclusion as categories with overlapping strands, rather than competing ideologies. Our natural institutional home is the Center for the Study of the American South and we are glad to be part of Southern Futures.

Our Goals for CES

Our CES Collective will use funds to convene faculty over lunch or dinner to discuss CES scholarship; to invite speakers to campus for talks and workshops with graduate students; to fund a working dissertation writing group for students engaged in interdisciplinary work in the field; to move toward the formulation of a plan for a graduate certificate program in CES and to establish a post-doc.

Our Course

Critical Ethic Studies: New Perspectives (AMST820, also COMM820 and WGST820), provides graduate students interested in theoretical interdisciplinary work with a sense of prevailing questions and critiques important to CES. CES takes on the more difficult questions of intersectional work, as it thinks through sovereignty and emancipation, identity and ontology, place, space and temporality. Each iteration of the course works itself through new perspectives in the field, challenging students to create new methodologies for their own work.