CCIS: A Brief History
By Janet Jakobsen, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
The Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIS) at Barnard is a Consortium among Africana Studies, American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), was founded in 2009 to foster the in-depth critical study of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and nation and to create a vibrant intellectual community across program and department boundaries at Barnard. The Consortium was organized in response to student demands for more race and ethnic studies at Barnard. The faculty response grew out of a seminar that was part of a Ford Foundation program called “Difficult Dialogues,” hosted at Barnard by BCRW. The seminar in 2007-08 focused on building Africana Studies at Barnard and in the following year, the seminar engaged with a group of students organizing on behalf of Ethnic Studies at Barnard. In response, the faculty formed a committee to engage with the students. The committee included Kim F. Hall, of Africana Studies, Jennie Kassanoff, of American Studies, Neferti Tadiar from Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Janet Jakobsen, who was serving as Director of BCRW at the time and as the coordinator of the “Difficult Dialogues” project. Our committee developed a reading group with the students and worked with them in order to articulate an institutional vision for critical ethnic studies at Barnard. We created an Interdisciplinary Concentration and Minor in Race and Ethnic Studies (ICORE/MORE). After a year of reading, the students led a crucial -- and crucially effective -- meeting with administrators about the importance of providing a critical curriculum focused on race and ethnicity for Barnard’s students. Two students graduated in our first ICORE/MORE cohort and now around 30 students are participating in the program at any given time.
The faculty committee built the CCIS consortium to create an intellectual and institutional structure in support of this pedagogical project. The next step in building intellectual life was a Mellon-funded faculty seminar on “Questioning Modern Identity: Empire Diaspora and Alternative Genealogical Coordinates” which extended the conversations of the “Difficult Dialogues” seminar in exciting directions. At that time we also committed to building the curriculum of each department so as to better reflect the intersections of our fields, and we committed to supporting each program in needed institutional development, such as moving from program to department status. Having accomplished the goal of departmentalization, we are now working to ensure that each department is fully staffed both administratively and with faculty members who can support the departments’ curricula.
The fundamental goal of CCIS, then, is to offer students and faculty the intellectual space to develop transformative frameworks for teaching and research in both local and global contexts. CCIS is organized on a model of intersectionality that recognizes both mutual constitution and relative autonomy among categories of social difference. These categories are formed in their relationship to each other. There is no gender that precedes or is not implicated in race, no ethnicity separate from national borders and belonging. Yet, because the categories are treated as separate (for example, in U.S. law) they do have relatively autonomous effects. Racism, for example, has effects that include and also extend beyond economic disparities and class positioning cannot accurately be conflated with race. Thus, CCIS is not a “super-department,” nor does it “consolidate” the efforts of the three programs. Rather, it allows these relatively small programs to undertake new projects that are more expansive and innovative than any of the programs could manage on its own. We have kept a loose structure of affiliation -- a consortium -- while building these new possibilities for both teaching and research.
Since its inception CCIS has provided a site for a series of innovative pedagogical experiments and has developed a record of the success in pedagogical development. In addition to the Interdisciplinary Concentration and Minor on Race and Ethnicity (ICORE/MORE), CCIS has produced a series of Critical Inquiry Labs that bring together faculty teaching in related areas to enable students to make connections across the curriculum. The Critical Inquiry Labs help students to make connections not only across disciplines, but also between and among theory and practice, area studies, historical periods, academy and activism: http://bcrw.barnard.edu/projects/critical-inquiry-labs/. The CCIS Critical Inquiry Labs include:
· Theorizing Diasporic Visuality on film theory and the practice of making films, taught by Tina Campt and May Joseph in Spring 2012;
· a First-Year Seminar on Hispaniola, making connections between the study of Haiti in French and of the Dominican Republic in Spanish and taught by Kaiama Glover and Maja Horn in Spring 2013;
· Gender, Empire and Nationalism connecting the study of the British Empire in the 19th century to that of the American Empire in the 20th and taught by Neferti Tadiar and Anu Rao, in Spring 2013;
· Theorizing Activism, organizing students in participant-observation of activist practice and taught by Janet Jakobsen and Elizabeth Bernstein in Fall 2013;
· Feminist Theory: Race, Gender, Bodies taught by Tina Campt and Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee in Spring 2014;
· Gender and Sexuality in South Africa, a transnational course taught by Yvette Christiansë and Jane Bennett, University of Cape Town in 2015;
· an advanced course on Hispaniola taught by Kaiama Glover and Maja Horn in Spring 2015; and
· “Blackness in French” a course connecting Black culture in Harlem and Paris taught by Kaiama Glover and Maboula Soumahoro in Spring 2017.
CCIS small course development grants have led to the production of new intersectional courses, such as “Practicing Intersectionality,” developed together by American Studies and WGSS faculty members Manu Karuka and Rebecca Jordan-Young. “Practicing Intersectionality,” is currently being taught by Manijeh Moradian to consistently full enrollments. The course serves as an introduction to ICORE/MORE. And in 2018, CCIS developed a student-run course, “Real Talk, Real Time,” to provide a forum for students to connect their interdisciplinary studies to the issues of the day. Working collaboratively, students research topics of current import and, on that basis, organize readings and speakers, thereby learning how public discussions engage both theory and practice. Yvette Christiansë has now successfully taught this course a number of times, and it has been a particularly important site for student discussions about the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter activism.
Now, a little more than a decade after its formation, CCIS is engaged in creating new minors and combined majors. The combined majors bring together each program with another in order to take another step in making interdisciplinary and intersectional study an institutionalized part of the Barnard curriculum. Any student who undertakes one of these new majors will be educated in methods of social and cultural analysis that recognize both the mutually constitutive and relatively autonomous action of social differences. The new minors bring this interdisciplinary and intersectional approach to specific areas of study: an Environmental Humanities Major and Concentration was just approved by the Committee on Instruction and we have begun a set of discussions for related projects in Feminist Intersectional Science and Technology Studies (FISTS), Diasporas, and Indigenous Studies. Innovative teaching, research and institution-building will undoubtedly remain the hallmarks of these collaborative efforts.