Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies

Jan 2018

I quite enjoyed prof. FNM's lectures, she was always extremely insightful and sensitive when discussing issues in class. However, the bulk of this class experience, for me, was ruined by my TA, Chelsey Saunders. Intro to CSER has a mandatory discussion section that meets once a week, but really besides the 2 lectures/week run by prof. FNM, the whole class experience depends on your TA. The TA grades all your weekly reflections, the midterm, the ethnography/interview project, and the final, on top of many other weekly assigned things. Chelsey was honestly a terrible TA. From the very first discussion section, she decided that we, students, would be teaching/running the weekly discussion sections instead of her. She, the TA, who is qualified to teach and studying at Teacher's College, wants us, the students, to be teaching the class that SHE's in charge of? She essentially pawned off her whole job to us! I also don't think this was very helpful us as students as a method of learning, either, since instead of having a qualified, knowledgeable teacher lead discussions we had a bunch of very simple, superficial discussions every week since all of us students leading the discussions were inexperienced and thus couldn't lead very deep discussions. She was also kind of very mean and a bit oppressive, in my opinion, and even once snapped at a student in the middle of his question to tell him "don't ask me that type of question!" She asked us for feedback on her "teaching" sometime in the middle of the semester, and asked if we wanted her to add anything to the discussion section, and some people suggested that it might be helpful for HER to compile a list of key words covered in the weekly readings to help clarify things for the midterm. So naturally, she pawned off that work on us, and assigned us each one term to define and give context for. Chelsey's feedback was also minimal, if any, on our weekly responses, midterm, projects, and final. The most I ever got was "good job!!!" or for the most part, just a percentage grade with no comments or feedback whatsoever, which really provided no help for me at all as a student. Full disclosure, I got in the A range in this class, so this isn't just me being salty because I didn't do well. I genuinely thought it was an interesting class and learned a lot from prof. FNM, but absolutely detested the weekly discussions. I feel like I could've learned a lot more had I had a different TA. I do recommend the class, but strongly suggest that if you end up with Chelsey as your TA, change the heck out of that section!!

Dec 2017

I didn't like the disorganized operation of this class. Lectures were somewhat hard to follow, it was difficult to understand the points being made or the relation of each point to the others. Assignments were vague and I was never sure exactly what was expected. Rubrics/guidelines were released less than a week before the due date of the midterm and final papers. Overall content was interesting and I learned a lot. Discussion section was engaging sometimes, other times it was boring. That would depend on your TA and your classmates though. Not hard to do well in this class if you can write good essays.

Apr 2013

This class is a joke. I am sorry, but it is complete crap. While I do understand and agree with some of the viewpoints of Okihiro, it ends up being essentially a class on bitching about white people and how they suck. Okihiro is a hypocrite (says he hates capitalism and is a socialist, yet comes into classes with very nice dress clothes) and a bitter old man, and while he is an eloquent lecturer, his lectures do reflect his attitude. I can understand where he is coming from, but at the same time, he should conduct himself to a higher standard. One class period was "Oppression Olympics" where there was a debate on which ethnic group suffered the greatest oppression. If someone expresses any sort of disagreement with Okihiro, he essentially dismisses his/her argument (without necessarily being nasty) but with either obvious sarcasm or just a bewildered look on his face. I had a great TA (Brian) but I had to hold my tongue at times, and when I did speak out (usually in disagreement with some of the authors) I ended up becoming the target from my peers. Again, if you express any sort of disagreement with the authors, you will not get a full check plus on your weekly responses (under the guise of not thinking critically enough) and those will end up hurting your grade if you are on the border between grades. I ended up with a B (80% on the midterm/B+ on the final but no exact % was given) and even though I had excellent participation and my responses were half checks and check+'s, I just couldn't get the that extra boost to get the B+. Overall, the class was interesting and had a ton of potential, yet in the end, it just reinforces a victims mentality and keeps on perpetuating ignorance.

Dec 2011

TAKE THIS CLASS. It changed not only my Columbia experience, but my life. Professor Okihiro is smart, clever, funny, snarky, and really well-versed in his material. I didn't know what Comparative Ethnic Studies was before I took this course as part of my Global Core requirement, but now, I can't help but look at all aspects of my life as affected by society's perceptions of race and ethnicity. Some students were clearly not getting a lot out of it and Facebook-ing the entire lecture. I'm sure you could do that and just cram for the tests, but I think that's a waste of your time. The course gives you the opportunity to really look into yourself and your place in society and figure out who the hell you are and what you're doing and why. The entire student body definitely got more excited about more controversial subjects such as Education, African-American Studies, and Critical White Studies.

Jan 2011

I took this class to satisfy my global core requirement. Based on the previous reviews, I expected this class to be really interesting and easy. With that said, I thought this class was a complete joke. From the first day, the professor and TAs encouraged students to develop our own critical ideas about the society. In reality, however, they're telling us what to think and write. They will like your writing if you write exactly what they say in class. If you disagree with their views, they'll think that you're not critical enough. I never fully read any of the assigned articles but simply rephrased what the professor and TA said in class and got an A. The course is easy, but it's really annoying and frustrating to do the work if you're not that interested.

Dec 2010

Okihiro's great, but this class is NOT suited for a 175-person lecture. This is a class that requires critical engagement on the part of every student. Ethnic studies is, by nature, an uncomfortable subject for many because it requries the questioning of many of their basic assumptions about truth and identity. Hence, it is not something you can absorb passively - it requires discussion, speech, and dialogue. The readings will mean a different thing to everyone, as will the content of the lectures. Some people implicitly understand the concepts of ethnic studies while others misunderstand it completely or even feel threatened by it. Because of that, it is impossible to learn it passively. I initially started out not-liking this class. We were thrown immediately into a world full of jargon and post-structuralist writings that I had no experience with, but it seemed like we were expected to implicitly grasp the critical assumptions associated with the course. I only started to 'get it' about halfway through the class, mostly thanks to my great TA. I'm trying to say is that this course is desperately in need of restructuring - it shouldn't have to depend on the discussion sections to do the teaching. I really think that given the right setting, everyone has the potential to understand the project of ethnic studies. It's just a pity because I think that at least half of our class doesn't 'get it' - and I know this from informally talking to many other students. At the same time, to finally understand what this class is about is a tremendously exciting and liberating experience. The project of ethnic studies itself is extremely, extremely important for anyone even remotely interested in questions about race, identity, and power in society. For that reason alone I would recommend this course, even if the course is not structured ideally. Ethnic studies is many ways a counterbalance to all the ideas that we take for granted in our Western-centric society and institution. What people need to understand is that it's not anti-White or pro-minority. It's simply a class that teaches you how to question ideas that we take for granted as 'truths', and examines how these supposed truths lead to, and continue to influence, the formation of race in our society. It's sometimes difficult to comprehend, but once you achieve the 'critical consciousness' that ethnic studies seeks to instill, it's a great feeling. As I mentioned earlier, my TA, Dan, was fantastic. Not only did he challenge us and push us past our comfort zones consistently, but he made it enjoyable for us to do it. Dan demanded a lot from each of us, but this expectation meant that he saw us each as people with potential, which was really refreshing. He wouldn't tolerate BSing for answers and would actively question our answers and get us to pursue our thinking further than we were accustomed to. Outside of class, he was extremely friendly, helpful, and willing to engage us substantively about our concerns or questions. Truly a wonderful guy, and probably the reason that I enjoyed this class so much.

Nov 2010

I took this class having read all the CULPA reviews for Professor Okihiro and I have to say that while he has his funny moments and clearly knows his material he does NOT know how to teach for a large class. Apparently prior to this semester Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies had always been a relatively small class where discussion was not only possible but organic. My class however was probably between 150-175 students with around 7 TA's. We would have readings every week (somewhere from 50-100pgs off courseworks) and Professor Okihiro would go over them during class. It was funny though, because he has a way of talking that makes perfect sense when you hear it, but then when it comes time to ID one of the terms you're at a loss. What was most frustrating about this class however was when we all took the midterm. Each week you have a discussion section with your TA. The number of people in each discussion group ranged in size as we all just chose our discussion section based on the time slot we liked best. Being in one of the larger groups there really wasn't a lot of "discussion" going on; mainly my TA would ask a question and someone would answer. But when it came time for the midterm everyone was stressing out more then they should have been for this class. The main reason being that the terms we were required to know weren't ever clearly defined. When in lecture Okihiro would spend his time giving a history lesson which lead up to the "idea" or "term" that was mentioned in that week's readings and that we'd eventually have to know. He'd then relate the reading to his history lesson. When it came time to define a term he would either ask the class or again give a history lesson. After a lot of panic and stressing out we were all generally pretty relieved by the midterm.There were 5 terms and you had to choose 3 to ID plus write an essay. We all felt we did fairly well but apparently we did too well for Okihiro. When the TA's started grading our papers Okihiro said there were too many A's and B's and thus insisted the TA's go back and be "harsher" in their grading. For those whose jaws are currently sweeping the floor allow ME to DEFINE what THIS IS: Grading Down!!! Apparently in the hour and 15 minutes we were suppose to have written a dissertation worthy of being presented at Oxford. Okay so bottom line... This is a class that is INSANELY frustrating. You could put massive amounts of work and energy in to doing well and it won't matter because at the end of the day your TA (the one who knows you and has been grading your work) won't be allowed to decide your grade; Okihiro will, and to him you're just another face in crowd---and that's only if you sit in the first 5 rows!

Jan 2010

I took Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies with Professor Okihiro and I absolutely loved the man and the course. He is definitely one of those teachers who truly encourages all sides to participate, but he will, no matter what your opinion is, interrogate you beliefs, presuppositions, and assertions. If you can't question yourself or feel okay being questioned, don't take this class. His scholarly work is also so thorough and elegant that it is like hearing a beautiful symphony especially in comparison with some of the other sloppier academic essays we read from a poorly edited Ethnic Studies book by Johnella Butler. If you notice: reviews of Professor Okihiro seem sort of polarized. I think most of this has to do with how passionate many people are about the topics discussed in many ethnic studies classes. Many people (sadly it is mostly white people, but also some colored people) don't believe that racialized minorities are actually oppressed in the country and refuse to believe that the "American Way" might have actual structural racism embedded into the system (Look Obama is president, but it's still easier for a white ex-convict to get a job than a black college graduate). Working your individual way up the economic ladder isn't changing the system. Either way you feel about this, I would encourage you to engage in the dialogue of the class with an open mind.

Dec 2007

Prof Okihiro did a good job of engaging the class and presenting this material in an organized and interesting manner. The readings he selected for the class are life-changing and fantastic. The lectures are enlightening since Okihiro discusses issues outside of the text, while also addressing any questions or confusion about the text that a student may have. He wants his students to shape the class to some extent, by asking questions or criticizing and commenting on the theories he presents. He loves when students challenge and debate him. This class is awesome and will change the way you view the world and how it works. Everyone at Columbia should take this class.

Jan 2006

A very intelligent woman with such great energy. She did not really expect us to do all the reading, but you could tell that she was kind of disappointed when the majority were unable to participate because they had not read. For those who read the majority of the books, her discussions are fast-paced and jam-packed with some REALLY interesting ideas. She is nice, she learns everyones' names, and she is not a real tough grader (you just need to get used to what she is looking for). She definately made this course worth-while! Oh, and a side note: it will be almost as exciting as a new episode of Sex and the City every time you walk in the room because she has such a unique and generally applaudable style!

Jan 2006

Professor Bruce is an interesting woman with amazing, very applicable life experiences, and some of the reading materials and discussions in the class were good. However, I have to agree with the other reviewer, she was painfully disorganized and there was no way we could know what she expected from us since she didn't know herself. It was her first time teaching the class (and her first at columbia?) so maybe it will improve next semester.

Jan 2005

This class is extremely disorganized. It has the potential to grow into something amazing, but, at this point, is kind of a let down. It is set up so Gary lectures once a week (when he shows up), and Elda (his TA) leads the discussion once a week. I felt like Elda ran the class and Gary was the TA. She graded everything. She knew our names. Gary's lectures are disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy listening to him sometimes. However, they assign you an entire book to read about a particular ethnic group's history (for example, Black Power), but then he does not even refer to it during his lecture. So basically, you read an entire book and are left one your own to think about it. His lecture consists of rambling. No notes or plans. Elda's discussions are much more organized and engaging. She comes with a plan, and I think that is very helpul in that you actually leave the room with a sense of having accomplished something. If you are not planning on doing the readings (and there is so much reading), then discussion will not be productive. However, if you do the readings, she is very interesting to listen to and to engage in discussion with. She is extremely knowledgeable of the subject matter. Definitely meet with her to discuss papers. If you have a lot of time to read and you can deal with a disorganized class, there is a lot of worthwhile stuff to learn in this class. I think it is going to improve (I hope so, anyway). Just be ready for some frustration.

Jan 2005

This class is not well organized yet (I was in the guinea pig class) but it still has its merits and the future looks good! We read some amazing books--the kind we all have wanted to read but may not have gotten around to it. (Examples: Wright's Native Son, Lee's Native Speaker, Lahiri's Namesake, etc.) We focused on these books and the way in which they, as pieces of literature, contribute to ther understanding of race/ethnicity. These classes were led by Elda Tsou (TA), whose great knowledge is clear, though she does move QUITE fast in her thinking/discussing. The other days are spent with Gary, who, in his charming though egotistical way, weaves from story to story in an attempt to give us the "background" of a specific ethnic study. Although he throws in the occasional date or location (he obviously knows his stuff), this section is quite unorganized and I question some of the accuracy (what did he leave out? etc.). He attempts to fill in for a text book that apparently does not exist, but it does not do. Although we all agreed that this was a good section (where we are all able to put in our comments and discuss pertinant issues), we often leave the class thinking: what did we really learn? or just what? That being said, every member of the class is a bit closer, we all understand more about race and its study, and we are better read. I think that this will soon be a real good class.