Critical Ethnic Studies

Explore the formation of identity, society, power, and liberation inside of 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 movement, Critical Ethnic Studies has been an integral part of CCA’s curriculum since 1970. Committed to equity, intersectionality, and social impact, Critical Ethnic Studies courses inform your research and creative processes. All undergraduates are required to take one seminar and studio in areas outside their chosen program. Designed to be hands-on and highly interdisciplinary, they highlight the contributions of African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latinx peoples to dominant American culture and subcultures. Our courses are dedicated to social justice and equity from local, national, and international perspectives.

You’ll apply your knowledge of the interconnections between global communities, cultural formations, power, privilege, and imperialism to your understanding of contemporary art and design practices.

student pinning up their work in the "border phenomena" class

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

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 mainstream art and culture by decentering Eurocentric 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, 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 a rootworker, diviner, assistant professor in the First Year program, and chair of Critical Ethnic Studies at CCA. She received her MFA in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation from 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 feminism, and digital diasporas. Her body of work consists of experimental films and writing that explore liberation, dreams, and performances of the sacred.

Selected exhibitions include The Hague, Dok Leipzig, CinePalium Fest, DMZ International Documentary Film Festival, SFMOMA, SomArts, Oakland Underground Film Festival, International Black Women’s Film Festival, San Francisco Black Film Festival, and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.

Pachecho Hamilton lives in Oakland and is a member of the artist collective The Black Woman Is God and the filmmaking collective Filmmakers Unite (FU). She is co-founder of CCA Decolonial School and board member of the Edwidge Danticat Society. Her writing 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.


Recent investigations

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.

A Taste of Resistance

The intersections of food, form, and political action are at the heart of this studio course. You’ll learn to use food as a lens to decolonize constructions of class, gender, and race, drawing from readings by interdisciplinary scholars and your own hands-on projects. From material investigations and creative writing to urban farming and cooking, you’ll explore food’s potential as an artmaking material.

Primeval Intersections

Taught by a composer and performer, this is an intensive performance workshop. You’ll have the freedom to use your body as a medium for artistic, political, spiritual, and social expression. Time-based composition, experimental theater techniques, and psychological principles will inform your approach to collective performance practices and new venues of expression for your personal work.


Get in touch with questions

Start a conversation

Are you passionate about Bollywood cinema? 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 multiculturalism and cultural diversity. Get in touch to learn about what’s coming up and how you can enrich all aspects of your CCA experience.

Shylah Hamilton

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 success 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.

BFA in Community Arts

Focused on public art and social impact projects, the BFA in Community Arts teaches you to build bridges between underrepresented groups, nonprofits, and the wider community. You’ll apply your knowledge of critical theory, art history, and hands-on studio skills to real-world challenges.

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