Critical Ethnic Studies

Explore the formation of identity, society, power, and resistance in the United States and around the world through interdisciplinary seminars and studios.


Cultural diversity in creative practices

Critical Ethnic Studies 50th anniversary logo designed by Steve Jones.

Critical Ethnic Studies celebrates its 50th anniversary. Design by Steve Jones.

In-depth explorations outside your major

Born from the ethnic studies student movements of the 1960s, Critical Ethnic Studies has been an integral part of CCA’s curriculum since 1970. Critical Ethnic Studies is committed to expanding research and creative processes by exposing the histories and art and design practices of the globally silenced. All courses are designed to be hands-on and interdisciplinary.

Critical Ethnic Studies is committed to equity, intersectionality, and social impact. Courses draw from the classical ethnic studies disciplines of African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latinx studies. Additionally, they question modernity through topics such as colonialism, imperialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery, decolonization, reparations, relationality, white supremacy, heteronormativity, as well as other subjects that decenter the nation-state as a unit of inquiry.

All undergraduates are required to take one seminar and studio outside of their chosen program. You will apply your knowledge of the interconnections among local and global communities, cultural formations, power, privilege, and imperialism to your understanding of contemporary art and design practices.

A rock with handwritten words in gold marker reading "All of us have some place to call home" is held by two sets of hands.

Gain analytical and critical perspectives

As you learn about racial and ethnic inequalities and resistance, you’ll use critical thinking and studio skills to develop languages, tools, and strategies that position marginalized and Indigenous voices at the center of discourse. Everything from gender and race to sexuality and socioeconomic inequality will inform your research projects and viewpoints. Our investigations into the processes and constructions of radical knowledge production empower you to interrogate the intersections of oppressive conditions, such as white supremacy, imperialisms, and colonialism, as well as intricate community and identity formations.

Diversity studies faculty artwork is featured on a wall.

Faculty art in HOME: Making Space for Radical Love and Struggle exhibition.

Are you eligible to waive Critical Ethnic Studies requirements?

While Critical Ethnic Studies is a non-degree program, courses are threaded throughout your core and program curricula. The required seminar (3 units) and studio course (3 units) may be satisfied by transfer credits from another four-year accredited institution with programs in ethnic or American studies. The chair of Critical Ethnic Studies must pre-approve all transfer credits.

Program goals

Decenter Eurocentric canons

We critique the theoretical frameworks of modernity by decentering Eurocentric art and design canons. As a result, we achieve an increased understanding, appreciation, and respect for the wide range of the arts, cultures, histories, traditions, and modes of communication of global communities.

Analyze all contexts of cultural production

We explore, analyze, and study the social, political, and economic contexts of cultural production and artistic expressions, as well as realize an expanded consciousness of the true potential of the United States if equity were fully manifested.

Examine the experiences of underrepresented groups

Our students learn to perform a rigorous and disciplined examination of the past and present experiences of historically oppressed and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups in the United States and those who have been silenced around the globe.

Expose institutionalized oppression

Critical Ethnic Studies seminars and studios identify, acknowledge, and critique the effects of institutionalized oppression and dominant groups privileged in relationship to the arts world.

Make an impact in the community

Our hands-on studio courses give students the chance to engage with local and global communities. They learn to accurately interpret their social and cultural experiences by creating alongside diverse voices.

Connect with artists and scholars focused on equity

When students are exposed to artists and scholars who position equity as a core value, they’re empowered to approach themes of ethnic identity, gender, race, class, and more in their own studio work and community practices.

Expand our approaches to teaching

Critical Ethnic Studies works to expand and influence the content and pedagogical approaches to teaching throughout CCA’s curriculum.

Portrait of Shylah Pacheco Hamilton.

Shylah Pacheco Hamilton, Chair of Critical Ethnic Studies

Meet the chair

Shylah Pacheco Hamilton is an associate professor in the First Year Program, and chair of Critical Ethnic Studies at California College of the Arts. She received her MFA in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Women, Gender, Spirituality, and Social Justice from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her academic research and creative practices meet at the crossroads of experimental video, decolonial feminisms, and African-descended digital diasporas. Her body of work consists of film, writing, divination, and rootwork.

Selected exhibition venues include The Hague, Dok Leipzig, CinePalium Fest, DMZ International Documentary Film Festival, SFMOMA, SOMArts, Oakland Underground Film Festival, International Black Women’s Film Festival, The San Francisco Black Film Festival, and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. Hamilton lives in Oakland and is a member of the artist collective The Black Woman Is God and the filmmaking collective Filmmakers Unite (FU).

Her writings can be found in e-flux Architecture, Frontiers Journal of Women Studies, La Tolteca Magazine, Communication Arts, Iyanifa Woman of Wisdom: Insights from the Priestesses of the Ifa Orisha Tradition, Their Stories, and Plight for the Divine Feminine and ColorTheory.

Hamilton is co-founder of Decolonial School and board member of the Edwidge Danticat Society.


Recent investigations

A printed version of CCA's Land Acknowledgment.

Collective Practices + Resistance

This course introduces you to the historical and theoretical foundations of collective practices and resistance across disciplines and is designed for those interested in understanding the complex dynamics that drive societal change, with a strong focus on Bay Area art/activist movements and legacies. You’ll investigate the historical, social, political, and aesthetic forces, including class, status, power, and mobility that create resilience in nature, culture, and society through art and design.

Through assigned texts, site visits, and writing assignments, you’ll develop the critical thinking skills and knowledge necessary to explore arguments and practices that shape current debates regarding ethics of cultural production and engagement, including those practices that imagine new social relationships among artists, designers, writers, architects, urban planners, curators, and community organizers.

CONJURE! African Sacred Art

This course examines how sacred art practices can serve as a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds. You’ll be introduced to the philosophies and aesthetics of the sacred art practices in the African Diaspora through lectures, readings, films, and more. Studio classes meet regularly with artists/healers to discover how respectful participation in ritual work can be used to deepen our own studio practices.

Radical Redesign

This studio will identify areas or opportunities to radically remake within existing design processes. We will investigate how existing systems that serve as universal modes of problem-solving might be biased and exclusionary. We’ll ask: How might we identify our blindspots to seek greater inclusion? How might race, gender, and culture influence standard design processes? And how might we learn from each other’s lived experiences to expand the design process?

Through readings and guest speakers, we will investigate those who have historically been excluded from design. You’ll examine design processes and engage in workshops and hands-on, collaborative projects to understand new design approaches and propose alternate methods of what designing with, instead of for, might look like.

Making Sense: Decolonizing Creativity through the Senses

We are taught from a young age that our senses consist of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Why are the other senses—of smell, taste, and touch —restricted in Western spaces like museums? In this course, we will examine how the senses are culturally constructed and have been tied to race, class, ability, culture, and gender. How might we apply a decolonial framework to bridge physical experiences with a sense of place, loss, desire, self, belonging, accessibility, or resistance? You’ll get to answer these and other conceptual questions, conduct hands-on research, and create multisensory works combining sound, sight, flavor, scent, and texture.


Get in touch with questions

Start a conversation

Are you passionate about contemporary Asian issues? Interested in using food as a political strategy? Each semester, the Critical Ethnic Studies program offers numerous seminars and studio courses that expose you to transformative knowledge about the intersections of power, inequity, and the social implications of cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity within art and design practice.

Shylah Hamilton (she/her)

Chair of Critical Ethnic Studies

[email protected]

First Year Core

Every undergraduate student participates in the First Year Experience, an opportunity to explore a wide range of materials and tools. Faculty from different disciplines guide projects, group critiques, and theoretical discussions to help set you up for succes in your major. You’ll learn to move easily between conceptual and studio work.

Critical Studies

Critical Studies introduces critical thinking skills essential to college-level work in the humanities and sciences. You’ll develop critical capacities through close readings and responses to cultural texts and phenomena. Coursework draws from multiple disciplines and reflects diverse perspectives on major themes or topics in contemporary life.

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