Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program celebrates largest graduating class

May 14, 2018

The Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program (ER&M) is celebrating its largest-ever cohort of graduating seniors this year. The 31 majors, who will receive their diplomas at Yale’s 317th Commencement on May 21, represent a significant increase in the number of the graduates in the major. The previous record— set by the class of 2017— was sixteen.

It has been an absolute thrill and pleasure to see ER&M grow so exponentially since I arrived at Yale in 2013,” said Dixa Ramírez, ER&M director of undergraduate studies and assistant professor of American studies. “I mean this not only in terms of its number of majors, which has more than tripled since then, but also in terms of its institutional place at the university, especially since the founding of the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM).”

ER&M majors are also some of the most passionate and — this is crucial — intellectually engaged and rigorous students on campus,” Ramirez continued. “If you want to see examples of how intellectual work can engage with and influence the world beyond, including its history, literature, music, art, and politics, ER&M would be a good place to look.”

ER&M majors are some of the most passionate and — this is crucial — intellectually engaged and rigorous students on campus.

Dixa Ramírez

The interdisciplinary nature of the ER&M program, in which students design their own concentrations, allows majors to pursue research that reflects their diverse intellectual curiosities and projects that examine important global issues from multi-disciplinary angles. Ten of this year’s ER&M seniors pursued double majors, combining their ER&M studies with those in art, African American studies, architecture, economics, environmental studies, global affairs, history, or sociology.

As in previous years, the ER&M class of 2018 conducted exciting research projects and wrote passionately about issues of race, ethnicity, and migration in local, national, and international contexts,” said Quan Tran, ER&M senior essay coordinator and lecturer in American studies and ethnicity, race, and migration.

Their inquiries expand and complicate our understanding of migrant communities in New Haven, California, and Mexico; of blackness in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica; of student activism at Yale and beyond; of indigenous struggles, resistance, and innovations in Peru, Canada, and the U.S.; of settler colonialism in Hawaii and Singapore; of asylum seekers in Philadelphia and Quebec; of ethnic community and historical preservation efforts in Chicago and South Africa; and much more,” said Tran.

During their tenure at Yale, ER&M students also engaged in a variety of extracurricular and co-curricular pursuits, ranging from production and performance roles in theater and the arts to editorial and writing positions in campus publications and leadership in cultural centers, cultural organizations, and their residential colleges.

The 2018 students also experienced transformative historical moments in Yale, U.S., and international histories that closely align with the themes they have wrestled with in ER&M courses, said Tran..

From the 2015 student protest at Yale and the 2017 renaming of Calhoun College, to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, to the election of President Trump, and to the escalations of international wars and forced migrations,” observed Tran, “these events have undoubtedly shaped the students’ collective memories and experiences as undergraduates at Yale, but also their future directions and visions.”

Indeed, ER&M majors go on to pursue a variety of careers post-Yale and the Class of 2018 is no different. Here are profiles of just a few of the  ER&M students graduating this May:

Viviana Arroyo, Benjamin Franklin College 

Viviana ArroyoViviana Arroyo

Arroyo is an ER&M and history double-major from Phoenix, AZ. Her senior essay, “Hell Yes, We Protest. Hell No, We Won’t Go: Mexican American Organizing in the Valley of the Sun,” addresses advocacy in Arizona post-1971. Arroyo’s on-campus activities include two terms as president of MEChA de Yale, co-chairing the 2017 Latinx Ivy League Conference, and working at the Haas Arts Library and the Franklin Murray Dining Halls. The founder and director of the Conexiones Mentorship Program for local high school students, Arroyo also volunteered for New Haven Reads.

Studying ER&M has helped me make sense of the world in a way I hadn’t been able to before,” said Arroyo. “Every class has been eye-opening and has helped me make sense of so many things. It has [also] given me an incredible foundation for any career I choose in the future.” While her long-term career plans include law school, Arroyo’s immediate next step is to return to Arizona where she will teach 9th and 10th grade English through Teach for America while pursuing a master’s degree in secondary education from Arizona State University.

Favorite ER&M class: ER&M 200 “Introduction to Ethnicity Race, and Migration.”

Aurora Fonseca, Ezra Stiles College

Fonseca, who is from Athens, GA, wrote a senior essay titled, “’Es Tico…y Punto’: The Construction of National Identity and Race in Costa Rica.” A devoted member of her residential college community, Fonseca is completing her second year as the president of the Ezra Stiles College Student Activities Committee and has served as a college aide and an intramural team captain. A member of the Yale Climbing team, Fonseca has also been a member of the Yale Aerial and Circus Arts Collective. She also worked at the Yale Film Study Center.

Studying ethnicity, race, and migration has given me a more global, less fragmented view of the world and the structures of power that surrounds us,” she explained. “As a bicultural product of migration, it has also given me the tools to explore my own identity and positionality within these processes.” After Yale, Fonseca will work as a resident intern at the University of Georgia’s satellite campus in Costa Rica, where she will lead educational activities and pursue independent research on local farms for agriculture education programming.

Favorite ER&M classes: “ER&M 293: History and Culture of Cuba,” and “ER&M 300: Antiracism and Racial Justice.”

Haylee Makana Kushi, Timothy Dwight College

Haylee Makana KushiHaylee Makana Kushi

Kushi is from Hilo, Hawai’i. Her senior essay, “Kamaʻāina Settlers, SoCal Hapas, and International Hula Girls: Asian Appropriation of Kānaka Maoli Identity,” examines Asian appropriation of a Hawaiian cultural identity through language and in performance. At Yale, Kushi has been an active participant in the Native American Cultural Center community and in the Association of Native Americans at Yale (ANAAY), for which she served as treasurer and then president. ANAAY has been actively involved in advocacy at Yale, in New Haven, and beyond. In 2017, the organization held its first community powwow in 10 years. Haylee also served as an advisory board member of the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, a staff member at the Native American Cultural Center, and as a writer for a variety of on-campus publications.

Reflecting on her experience in ER&M, she remarked, “ER&M has transformed my understanding of the world because I moved from seeing race as merely cultural and phenotypical difference to identities that shift over time and space, as created by histories of colonialism and resilience, as proxies for constructing hierarchized difference, as manifestations of power and privilege.” Next year, Kushi will continue her intellectual pursuit as a doctoral student in the American studies department at Brown University.

Favorite ER&M class: “ER&M 296: Pacific Islander Studies”

Viviana Andazola Marquez, Saybrook College

Viviana Andazola MarqueViviana Andazola Marquez

Marquez, who is from Thornton, CO, wrote a senior essay that explores and analyzes the national campaign for the release of her father, Melecio Andazola Morales, from immigration detention. Titled “#FreeMelecio: Resisting the Immigration Enforcement Mechanism Under Trump,” the essay addresses the campaign in real time, highlighting lessons and new directions for immigration advocacy. Beyond her academic pursuits, Marquez worked alongside peers to establish “A Leg Even,” the first student-led organization dedicated to facilitating the academic and pre-professional success of low-income, first-year students. She also served as editor-in-chief of the on-campus satirical publication, The Rumpus.

Marquez said she was drawn to the ER&M program in her senior year because she felt it was doing “incredibly important work in terms of evaluating the construction of history, power and the marginalized.” After graduation, she plans to pursue a position in immigration advocacy or access to higher education for marginalized communities. After spending some time working, she plans to go to law school, where she aims to become an immigration and/or civil rights lawyer. 

Favorite ER&M class: “ER&M 296: Introduction to Third World Studies”

Gregory Ng Yong He, Morse College

Gregory Ng Yong HeGregory Ng Yong He

Ng Yong He, who hails from Singapore, wrote “Becoming Temperate: The Tropical-Colonial Restaurant, Malay Indigeneity, and the Chinese Settler State in Singapore,” a senior essay that builds on the theoretical framework of settler colonialism to examine colonial architecture and colonial-themed restaurants in contemporary Singapore. While at Yale, Ng Yong He, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, served as a staff coordinator at the Asian American Cultural Center. He also participated in the Asian American Studies Task Force and was a board member of the Yale Drama Coalition.

Assessing the tools that has gained from ER&M, Ng Yong He said, “ER&M brings together history, political science, sociology, anthropology, and literary and cultural studies to provide a holistic framework that explains why we are where we are today. It also engenders hope. It retains and carries forth the wisdom and the freedom projects of influential figures and underrepresented communities who have imagined different and better modes of existence.” After graduation, he plans to return to Singapore for the summer before moving to New York to pursue opportunities in community outreach for the arts. His longer-term plans include graduate school in Southeast Asian or Ethnic Studies.

Favorite ER&M class: “ER&M 300: Antiracism & Racial Justice”

Nina Mesfin, Silliman College

Nina MesfinNina Mesfin

Mesfin is a Chicago native whose senior essay, “(Re)Defining the Sacred: Preservation and Reclamation in Chicago’s Ethnic and Racial Enclaves,” centers around efforts to preserve historic and ethnic churches in her hometown. At Yale, her activities include roles as a staff writer and managing editor of DOWN Magazine, a weekly online publication by and for students of color at Yale University, and participation in the Eritrean & Ethiopian Student Alliance at Yale. She has also served as a volunteer, director of programming, and board member of the Yale Children’s Theater.

Reflecting on her experience in ER&M, she said, “The Ethnicity, Race, and Migration program has pushed me to interrogate my own positionality within the world. I have learned how to draw connections between seemingly disparate concepts and communities while interrogating those that seem most apparent.” After Yale, Mesfin – who is a Phi Beta Kappa member and a Mellon Mays Fellow –  will pursue an M.Phil. in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge on the Paul Mellon Fellowship.

Favorite ER&M Class: “ER&M 238: Introduction to Third World Studies”

About the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration

The Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, which confers a Bachelor of Arts degree, enables students to engage in interdisciplinary and comparative study of forces that have created a multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial world by emphasizing familiarity with the intellectual traditions and debates surrounding the concepts of indigeneity, ethnicity, nationality, and race; grounding in both the history of migration and its contemporary manifestations; and direct engagement with and knowledge of the culture, structures, and peoples formed by these migrations. The program, which is affiliated with the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in fall 2018.