By Tali Juliano
The Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies major has been an important topic of discussion on the Colorado College campus since I’ve been a student: from the campaign against the West in Time requirement, to the demands from the Black Student Union for more funding for REMS, to the anti-racism report discussions.
But one important concern that I haven’t seen raised by the campus community is that REMS has no physical space to reside on campus. The core REMS faculty are spread across campus and multiple other departments. Furthermore, the larger REMS community, comprised of student REMS majors, minors, and course takers, have no collective meeting place for collaboration or community building from which most other departments benefit. This lack of a physical home disrupts social and support systems among peers in REMS classes.
This lack of space is especially important for CC to interrogate, especially because this is a major that is critical of dominant systems of power. Ethnic Studies, Critical Race Studies, and Africana Studies departments across the country were born out of struggle in the United States. This began with the first Ethnic Studies program at San Francisco State University, which was formed after a five-month strike by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, according to Brown University professor Evelyn Hu-Dehart.
Other departments were subsequently created across the country but continue to be pushed to the margins of academia. They have faced a lack of funding and administrative support and are often flattened and generalized into broad “multicultural” departments. Therefore, as a discipline created to dismantle systemic racism of the Academy and larger society, it is imperative that REMS is given both the academic and physical space from which other well-established disciplines have benefited, thanks to the white male lens of academia.
Like other Ethnic Studies Programs that have encountered structural barriers, the REMS program at CC plays an impactful role in students’ education. As a testament to the program’s strength, REMS classes routinely have high enrollment numbers, showing that students are invested and interested in these topics. Both Professor Dwanna McKay and Professor Michael Sawyer have won CC’s Teacher of the Year Award, and multiple core faculty within the department do double the work as professors in some other departments. REMS professors also perform the additional labor of mentoring and acting as support systems for students of color on campus.
The strengths and weaknesses of having an interdisciplinary approach to Ethnic Studies complicate this issue further. This interdisciplinary approach is important to the major’s ability to create a well-rounded, intersectional view of racial structures, but the lack of collective space and a community spread across campus harms the crucial work and growth of the program.
This debate in Ethnic Studies about its place in academia should concern those who care about issues of equity and justice beyond REMS majors and faculty. A lack of prioritization of a space for the students and faculty of Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies demonstrates the delegitimization of REMS on campus and its continued marginalization. The question must be asked: what systems of knowledge are allowed to occupy space on CC’s campus? Which systems of knowledge predominate the physical space on campus?