Introduction 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!!

Apr 2015

Incredible, life changing class. Professor Maldonado-Torres is the most incredible professor I've ever had. He is really invested in the class, knows his stuff, and is invested in the students. Don't be put off by the first class where he talks logistics of the course the whole time. It gets 10000000xs better from there. His lectures are engaging and sometimes funny. The course is extremely relevant and the professor connects current day events to the texts we are reading. He's super helpful and responsive and is always willing to chat or hear your ideas. I really think this class with Maldonado-Torres is a must.

Sep 2013

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could take ethnic studies? NONE! He/she would be awoken to the racist white power structures that are put into place to control him/her because of the color of his/her fur. That woodchuck would reject all capitalist modes of production that oppresses its peoples and it would cry at the beauty of its empowerment. My brother/sister, Woodchuck, would then return to his/her roots by underwater basket weaving and being critical of the white devil. Take this class if: -You hate whitey and/or "white power structures". <wink> -You have lots of extra money to waste on useless classes. -You absolutely adore Marx. -You hate whitey and would like to yell at him/her for a semester. -You need a global core class that requires a minimal time investment.

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.

Mar 2013

I'll be honest with you -- I wasn't a fan. This was my least favorite course of all the classes that I have taken at Columbia so far. I find the material far from intellectually vigorous -- politically charged readings beneath a veneer of high-falutin language is given out weekly. But rather than analysis from a purely analytical standpoint, breaking down arguments are discouraged as we are encouraged to accommodate the unique, oppressed viewpoint of the author. To some degree, this is an interesting standpoint. But it leaves those with genuinely different opinions extremely little to do as the semester progresses as the class is set up in such a way that only certain kinds of opinions are voiced in during lecture. It is not that Okihiro shoots down comments so much as that the way the course is set up and taught in and our of recitation is not particularly accommodating to this kind of discussion. Talking to other members of the class, many agreed that they found themselves giving arguments in their papers and exams that they absolutely did not agree in or believe were valid, but which they gauged might get the best response from their TA -- an idea to how this class works. This class is a difficult class to stomach -- not because of the workload (its low), but simply because of the way it is conducted. If you are a student who needs to be convinced by his work, steer clear. Only take this if you want a class which requires as little commitment as possible.

Dec 2012

Honestly, this class was largely a disappointment. Coursework is taught purely from Okihiro's point of view, with selected readings serving solely to reinforce his points. Okihiro actively derides critical intellectual concepts such as scientific classification, the academic system, etc. While I understand that indeed, the point of the class is to examine systems for ethnic qualities, little "proof" was actually presented. Instead, the course relies on the highly subjective complaints of select individuals, dismissing any opportunity to question the validity of their claims by declaring that this would in itself "suppress their ability to speak." A course which claims to foster free speech, but instead, serves as a stage for constant subjective complaint against "the establishment" quickly looses any semblance of genuine intellectual quality.

Jan 2012

This is the quintessential global core class. It speaks directly to the white-thought-heavy core curriculum that Columbia forces students to take, making you wonder if the education you receive here is actually racially/ethnically skewed. Still, it provides wonderful balance to the white authors/playwrights/philosophers we study in the core that have frequently been touted as the height of civilization. Prof. Okihiro is clearly an intelligent man, and an eminent scholar in the field. Although his ramblings make it hard to follow him at times, his passion for the subject is evident, and he gets his point across 9 times out of 10. He's funny, and drops heavy hints as to what will appear on the midterm/final, so be sure to attend lectures. The lecture is huge (about 100-200 people), so this might make it intimidating to share your opinion in class, but a lot of people still do, and it is refreshing to hear what some people have to say on the topic at hand. Okihiro welcomes students' participation, and it is actually one of the things you'll be graded upon, so you should speak up both in lectures and in discussion sections. Your TA will be the one grading you on attendance/participation—I think he/she grades your midterm/final as well—so be sure to attend recitations. It's not hard to get a grade in the A range if you faithfully attend lectures/recitations, do the readings, and participate occasionally in class.

May 2010

Professor Okihiro is my favorite teacher at Columbia by far. He is the reason why I switched from being a Political Science major to a Comparative Ethnic Studies major. Albeit, he can be a little disorganized he is one of the few professors who truly cares about his students and gets them passionate about the subject matter. Sometimes he will go off on a tangent, but he always comes right back. There is no way you can not love him. I feel it is the most intellectually stimulating class I have taken at Columbia. His readings are absolutely eye opening and fantastic. The discussions that we had in the class were really engaging and really made me question everything around me for the first time. He is always open to meet with students, we even had an extra session at night this semester to just sit around and talk about "anything we wanted". He even came with snacks.

Jan 2010

If you're looking for something groundbreaking and awesome, you've found it. Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies is a fantastic course, covering the manifestations and articulations of power and power structures. In the U.S., such power structures historically have been based around some form of ethnicity (race, gender, class, sexuality, citizenship status, etc.), and this course covers them all. The first half of the semester deals with important historical terms, definitions, and movements (colonization, miscegenation, Black Power, etc.). The VERY EASY midterm (Prof. Okihiro gives you the short list of terms you'll need to know) makes sure you understand these. The second half of the semester focuses on specific articulations and manifestations of these terms, as well as on pedagogical movements in ethnic studies (feminism, experience, Latino/a Studies, Critical White Studies, etc.). We were supposed to have a final similar to the midterm, but instead we had a (somewhat creative) final paper that most students found fun and rewarding. Prof. Okihiro is a really cool person--the epitome of a wise, liberal intellectual who loves to challenge his students to think in new ways. That being said, he really wants everyone to do well, and the class is pretty easy as a result. I don't normally review TAs, but Alvan may be the best one ever. He has a Bachelor's from Stanford in human biology, a doctorate in medicine from Harvard, a master's thesis from Oxford on the history of malaria control in colonial Kenya--and now he's a Columbia English & Comparative Literature PhD candidate, as well as a kick-ass TA. He quickly learned everyone's name, took an interest in each student's response papers, and was a very fair (if not lenient) grader. In short, take this class, no matter what major you are. It's not difficult at all, fulfills the Global Core requirement, and is one of the most eye-opening courses you'll ever come across.

Dec 2005

Beverlee Bruce is the worst professor on two legs...there is just no other way to describe her. She gave us 5 different syllabi throughout the course of the class because she just couldn't get herself together. I am warning anyone reading this review that you WILL regret taking any class with Bruce. Because of her I am considering changing my major. She is disorganized, ridiculous, rude, unclear....and the list could go on and on.