What it means to be an ethnic studies student

Israa Eldeiry

Ethnic studies courses provide a wealth of knowledge in a critical, honest and translucent manner, or at least that is the way ethnic studies junior Nataleah Joy sees them.

Regardless of one’s interdisciplinary field of study, ethnic studies courses may be beneficial in improving one’s profound understanding and interaction with the society.  By incorporating social justice into the educational field, ethnic studies exemplifies a bridge between the academy and community

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Nataleah Joy, a junior ethnic studies major student, talks about how her major shaped her personality and changed her perspective about diversity and social issues.
Nataleah Joy, a junior ethnic studies major student, talks about how her major shaped her personality and changed her perspective about diversity and social issues. (Photo by Caio Pereira).

“The world is so much more complicated than it appears on the surface and ethnic studies really opened up my mind to the way everything works,” Joy said. 

Joy is taking on a business minor as well, in hopes of working with non-profits that advocate for social justice and need employees with accounting skills.

Many ethnic studies students go on to get jobs in the criminal justice, law and social justice fields, using what they learned to help change and implement better policies in our systems, Joy said.

Joy has been an ethnic studies major at Colorado State University since her freshman year when the course ETST 256: Border Crossings: People, Politics and Culture was recommended to her. She learned how things functioned behind the scenes and the problems within issues that people generally overlook through topics of global economics, outsourcing and other societal issues.

This eye-opening experience sparked Joy’s interest to pursue her college career as an ethnic studies major. The Ethnic Studies Department critically studies the intertwining forms of power underlying in socially constructed categories of class, race, disability national status, gender, and sexuality, according to their website.

“It gives you a fresh perspective not taught in other departments,” Joy said. Ethnic studies has challenged her and forced her to reevaluate everything she had known before. “I feel like I live in a bubble. Engaging in everything I learn in ethnic studies is helping me break that bubble.”

Joy said courses in ethnic studies challenge the mind by giving their students information completely different than what is generally found in course curriculum. They learn about the fundamental dynamics behind discrimination, inequalities, oppression and how they can work to improve those conditions for individuals in the society. Most of the classes are based on discussions where students seek to understand the issues in the community using approaches and information that are not taught in history books. 

“I realize how harsh the world is every time I go to class, and I learn about things in our society I wish didn’t exist, but I hope to one day to be able to use what I learn and help change the world,” said Joy. 

Ethnic studies is about diversity and understanding the underlying factors behind oppression within societies.

“One unique and important thing is the way it promotes diversity because you are getting the voice of minorities,” said ethnic studies professor Benjamin Schrader.

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Delving into ethnic studies helped Schrader expand the way in which he viewed different cultures and the powers within his own dominant white culture. Schrader said ethnic studies analysis can be used to understand the reality of many issues in our world today.

In 2014, there were less than 1 percent of liberal arts students majoring in ethnic studies. With just 32 students in the department, it is no wonder why many students may not be familiar with what is taught in these courses.

Joy said many students do not know what ethnic studies is and what can be done with the major.

“It is great major to pair with something else because social justice can be implemented in many disciplinary fields,” Joy said. 

Although Joy said it is a brutally honest and straightforward field, she said she recommends that everyone takes an ethnic studies course at some point in their college careers. 

“This major has really helped me mold into the person I am today,” Joy said.

Collegian Reporter Israa Eldeiry can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @israaeldeiry.