Gary Okihiro

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Jan 2017

Wow I'm pretty surprised by the negative reviews of this professor. I took Third World Studies with him and I found both the readings (though heavy) and his lectures to be really powerful and thought-provoking. He definitely comes to class with I guess what some might call his "opinions" but every professor has opinions and political standpoints, and Prof Okihiro is definitely open - and very encouraging - of having conversations about his lectures and the readings. All these comments about how he hates white people pretty much reflect how upset white people felt about taking a class that analyzed the power of our subject position and centered scholars and theorists of color. Professor Okihiro is incredibly sweet, incredibly smart, and very articulate about the different power structures at play both in the US and globally. As a Barnard gender studies major, I felt like I learned a ton of really useful and important stuff in this class. Also the class itself was very small and fostered great discussions.

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.

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!

Aug 2010

This class, Professor Okihiro, and TA Dr. Alvan were so enjoyable. They really want you to develop as critical thinkers and give you specific tools to help you understand, engage with, and unpack the readings in this class and all of your classes in general. I learned so much in this class and it was the first time I was challenged academically in a while. I wish I could have majored in Ethnic Studies. Take this class as early as you can so you don't miss out as I did.

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

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.

Nov 2009

In regards to the review below, I feel like I need to clarify a few things. If you firmly believe that Asians in America are NOT a marginalized, oppressed group of people and that institutionalized racism does not exist, then there's not really much room for you in an ethnic studies class. I'm not saying that you shouldn't take the course, because I definitely had some of those assumptions that were completely shattered by the end of the semester, but if you refuse to keep an open mind then the readings and lectures, no matter how clear and cogently argued, are not going to change your mind. Chalking the impetus for this class to "martyrdom complexes" is a pretty obvious example of that. The class is clearly structured and outlined, and Professor Okihiro openly encourages debate and critical analysis of the texts that we read. That said, you have to back your shit up. For example, if you want to argue that Asians in America DO statistically earn more than any other race including whites, you can't ignore the fact that that statistic is based upon MEAN income and not MEDIAN income. (Median income being widely accepted as a more accurate statistic in terms of determining general trends in income.) No, the citing of statistics is not inherently "conservative," but the manipulation of those statistics can be. This class (and ethnic studies in general) is about understanding those nuances. Anyway, I want to say a few words about Professor Okihiro himself. The man was born at a time when Japanese were still legally denied US citizenship and actually grew up on a pineapple plantation in Hawaii. Don't write him off because he might come off as sort of goofy or quiet, he's lived a lot of this history and is arguably the preeminent critical scholar in the field. His theory of social formations is extremely new and gamechanging and it's an incredible privilege to take classes centering around that theory, particularly when so many other institutions haven't yet caught on. He can also come across as sort of intimidating and aloof, but when it comes down to it, if you have genuine concerns about your work or the field, he's an incredible resource and is always willing to help.

Nov 2009

Content: Professor Okihiro has strong opinions, and his lectures consist of conveying those opinions while occasionally citing some interesting facts and/or historical events. He will rarely demarcate where his opinions begin and facts end. If you plan to sleep through a humanities class and want a decent grade, this class will probably work out okay for you; if you actually care about content keep reading. If you sincerely believe that Asians in America and Asian-Americans have been and are currently an abused and repressed minority by an overbearing white evil, then you will love this class. If you like rational discussion based on observable facts and the real world, look elsewhere. If you like open class-based discussion that gives weight to logical arguments, or in fact, any arguments at all that are not seconding the Professor's stated opinion, look elsewhere. In my experience you will be surrounded by Asians or Asian Americans with heritage representing the global diaspora in this course, yet they will for the most part fail to realize that their criticisms of society and America in general are colored by preconceived notions or martyrdom complexes which encouraged their taking this course in the first place. Hopefully you will not be one of them. Or are you?

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 2005

ItÂ’s sad that a class that has so much potential to be something great left me so disappointed. As mentioned before, this class was beyond disorganized. There was no focus, no goal, and no direction. This was made painfully clear to Gary and Elda (the TA) as a class of 40 students soon dwindled to about 20-25 regular attendees. And I canÂ’t say I blame the students because even though I stuck through to the end, I really regretted wasting tuition money on the class. Tuesdays were GaryÂ’s lectures which rarely touched upon any of the texts we were assigned to read. Often rambling, always interesting but with his vast knowledge on the subject, we were definitely shafted. The students were eager to learn about ethnic groups they were not familiar with and their histories and struggles, but in the end, we only lightly grazed on the surface of it all. Elda led Thursday discussions which focused on the literature we were assigned to read. The way the class went, we spent so much more time on the literature than anything else. All great books but insane amounts of reading especially when Gary stated that these works were only there to supplement the texts we were supposed to read for his lectures. In the end, we basically had an AP English class. Elda knows what sheÂ’s talking about but is so focused on what she HER points and what SHE has to say that everything else is pretty much brushed aside. These two are really not accessible outside of class. And the problem is they both run out of class as soon as class ends with a line of students wanting to talk to either one of them. Elda has no office hours. She sends emails at the last minute, quite literally; assignment clarifications sent out the night before class when they are due. She will tell you to e-mail her to set up a time to meet and then sheÂ’ll e-mail you to see her in class and the run around begins. That is if you are lucky enough to get a response. And donÂ’t think about being high tech and e-mailing your assignments. And you may wait over a month to get assignments back from Elda. Gary has office hours and when you see him during office hours, you feel as though heÂ’s not really paying attention to you and wants to get you out ASAP. The best example of their lack of organization and clarity was when they announced an extension of the midterm in class the day it was due. Apparently a good deal of students asked for extensions because they In the end, youÂ’re left with a REALLY vague notion of any other ethnic group other than your own and completely frustrated with the lack of anything in the class. If you want to take a comp lit type class, this may be for you. Otherwise, this is a good class to sit in on but IÂ’d seriously think twice before forking over your tuition for it.

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.

Jan 2004

He's a really nice and laid back guy. His knowledge of Asian American history is tremendous. He basically only teaches one day a week while the other day, the TA leads a discussion. The class can get quite touchy feely as people talk about themselves and try to pass if off as if every other person of Asian American descent had the same experience. Much of the material we read is not discussed. There are also weekly videos to be watched and those are not discussed at all which is a shame since many of the videos triggered a lot of thought and questions for the students who watched them.

Feb 2002

great class ! amusing guy. plays music during lecture days and just student generated talking on discussion days. no exams ! so you really don't need to pay that much attention ! lots of guest speakers ! good stuff ! two papers, discussion, weekly responses to readings and weekly films is not too tough ! the class is interesting, the readings are pretty okay too !

Jan 2002

two 10 page papers, one a research paper. Tons of reading, but the TA for my class never got it together and put some of it online as promised. Posting to an e bulletin board....ah the agonies of being a 21st century student.

Dec 2001

This was a very bizzare class. Once a week Professor Okihiro lectured, and the other day was a discussion led by the TA. Interesting ideas covered, but the class was very disorganized. Often I would get emails from the TA saying that the weeks readings would not be available. The class was interesting however, and required very little work, including no exams to study for. Worth taking, just dont expect this to be on of your best classes ever.

Jul 2001

Although I expected more of a historical grounding to this couse, the more cultural and diverse material certainly did not disappoint. From gender to sexuality to the migration of Asians to the United States, Professor Okihiro provided a good base to continue Asian American Studies. Classes are laid-back; one class during the week is lecture style while the next class is spent in dicussion. However, Professor Okihiro does not simply leave his lecture to his own speaking. Instead, he encourages participation to create some sort of mini-discussion during his lectures. This part of the course certainly makes it worthwhile. Given the positive reasons to take the course, there are also drawbacks to it. One down side is that the TA will read your papers. This practice speaks to the professor's general approach toward the course. While he encourages everyone to approach him, and his is easily accessible and very much approachable, his preparation for the course seemss lacking. He can, at times, ramble and appear as if he makes minimal preparations for the course. And, since there are so many guest lecturers and the TA also leads dicussions, you don't get to hear him all that much. Finally, if you really want more complex ideas on ethnic studies related concepts, you won't find it here. Overall, this course is great but only as an introductory level class.