Welcoming vulnerability into our lives

How Ethnic Studies can help usher in space for the unknown.

Leaning+into+the+uncertain.

Selah Tennberg, The Horizon

Leaning into the uncertain.

Kaylee Dangc, Guest Writer

See below for full interview with Dr. Whitnah and Dr. Yadav.

Honestly, I don’t know a lot. I know I don’t know a lot, and this knowledge pushes me to want to know more. I know that many of us are in the same position. I argue that to lack knowledge does not mean you are incapable of gaining information and expertise in an unfamiliar area. 

The fear of the unknown that clouds our eyes is riddled with excuses pertaining to a lack of control. All we know how to do in life — at first — is want. We want food, we want attention, we want control and this is natural. We fear what we cannot control, what we cannot know. This is because the life we live is God’s story, not our own. Our individual lives, our interactions with others, and our desire to grow are significant aspects of God’s story, but we live in this world for Him and for others, not for ourselves. 

Consider how some of the most politicized and popularized social issues we have today are not only the most discussed topics, but are also the topics that require the most vulnerable, loving and open-minded setting. It is a setting that often requires us to relinquish control of what we already know, requiring us to hear the narratives around us. The stories and histories of our minority voices and our LGBTQIA+ voices need to collectively be recognized as a history we cannot change, but can love. I believe there is a desperate need to understand both ourselves and others in order to find comfort in those most vulnerable moments. 

Our embodied experiences are important, and to be equated with our calling to love and intentionality.

A class that I find challenges students to enter a place of vulnerability and honest conversation is the “Intro to Ethnic Studies” course co-taught by Dr. Whitnah, a sociology professor, and Dr. Yadav, a religious studies professor.

Ethnic Studies is a minor offered at Westmont that covers the historical implications of race and ethnicity up to the modern day through all racial groups. This course values every embodied experience, from that of our indigenous communities to understanding the complexity of whiteness.

Dr. Yadav says this class can “help students understand the mechanics of racial and ethnic identities and their historical, social-scientific, ethical and theological relationships with one another.” The beauty of this class lies in the revival of the minor.

With a grateful heart, Dr. Whitnah recounts countless conversations spurring this decision. She goes on to say, “It is important to acknowledge the students’ desire to have this course.” She goes on to say how this field, as a whole, “was birthed out of social movements that were calling attention to the inadequacy of university curricula in attending to the voices and live experiences of people on the margins.” 

This course provides a vivid reminder of our calling as Christians. Many people can dismiss or laugh at the idea of an Ethnic Studies course, major or minor as they deem it “too liberal” or that it supports the supposedly detrimental teachings of Critical Race Theory (CRT). This is not the identity of the field of Ethnic Studies. 

As a clarifying statement, CRT is not a theory that seeks to ingrain into young white American minds that they are dangerous, racist, oppressive or overall bad people. Critical Race Theory, a term coined by legal scholar and author Kimberle Crenshaw, “is not a noun, but a verb. It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice. It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that regulates people of color to the bottom tiers.” 

The field of Ethnic Studies teaches Crenshaw’s words and helps students situate themselves in their own lives to recognize the intersectionality of sexuality, gender identity, politics, economics and race. It is this intersectionality that needs to be taught, heard and understood in order to genuinely listen to the narrative of God’s people — not just in the Bible, but now, and with the people right next to you.

Can we choose to be vulnerable enough to actually hear their stories without pushing our own thoughts and ideals to make their story more “correct” in our eyes? Are we willing to allow Ethnic Studies to be a part of our lives, even if vulnerability strikes an uncomfortable sense of fear? As Dr. Yadav says, “A life worthy of our humanity and its capacity for love therefore requires a studied effort at mutual understanding — it requires Ethnic Studies.” 

This life we live is not our own story, but the collective narrative of God’s people. We simply cannot ignore their stories because we have a desire to control a “perfect” world with the “most correct” political standing. If this is what we think success looks like, we are going to fight a messy battle. 

Dr. Yadav said it best: “Success in life is success in our love for one another, because what we all realize — or what we will all come to realize when it comes time for us to die — is that we want nothing more than to love and be loved. But love is not sentimental; it is complicated and difficult because human groups and their members are complicated and the obstacles to love and belonging are difficult.” 

We need to be patient, vulnerable and intentional with those around us because this sense of belonging is so difficult. The history of slavery, the creation of America, POC movements and LGBTQIA+ voices intertwine within the field of Ethnic Studies. These are discussions we need to have and need to emphasize in our day-to-day lives. Who are we talking to, what is their story, and are we willing to be in that uncomfortable position of hearing stories we may have run away from?

I’m going to say this again: I don’t know a lot. I wish I knew more about my own heritage as a Iu-Mien. I wish I knew more about the depths of our history, the fine prints of our documents, and the countless stories from our indigenous tribes and the Black, Hispanic and LGBTQIA+ communities. These are stories we all need to understand — collectively, not individually. It is a lack of knowledge that develops an inner drive to better understand those around me. Do not let a lack of knowledge scare you or veer you away from a field in which you are not an expert. 

The field of Ethnic Studies makes people uncomfortable, but hearing the genuine stories of our friends, family and colleagues should not be a cause for fear. I believe this is our calling: to seek the truth in the narratives around us, reveal what is missing and shed light on what is hurting. 

Vulnerability is not a bad thing. It is scary, it is worrisome, but it is one of our greatest strengths as human beings. 

———

Kaylee: If students were not the ones advocating for this course, what would be your elevator speech to encourage students to take the course?

Dr. Yadav: We should not confuse cultural contact with cultural competence. Anyone half-awake in our society can see that the relationships between these groups break down fairly regularly, and most of us have as much understanding of what is going on in these breakdowns as I do about catalytic converters work and why they make that rattling sound when they’re not working. And just like with car problems, our ignorance about what is happening can make the problems worse and more costly to address. 

Dr. Whitnah: It is important to acknowledge the student’s desire to have this course. Ethnic Studies as a field was birthed out of social movements that were calling attention to the inadequacy of university curricula in attending to the voices and live experiences of people on the margins. And in our context, the revitalization of the Minor came about as a direct result of students… it can both provide an important set of diagnostic tools for interpreting social and political alienation and marginalization and offers an important posture toward the world that we need in our contemporary environment, especially–one that is historically grounded, analytically astute, and committed to ensuring that the voices and positions of people from various backgrounds are valued. 

Kaylee: What exactly can “Ethnic Studies” as a class, a major and/or a minor do or influence in one’s life?

Dr. Yadav: Taking Ethnic Studies can help students understand the mechanics of racial and ethinic identities and their historical, social-scientific, ethical, and theological relationships with one another. Those relationships turn out to be rather more complicated than our casual in-group political talk ordinarily assumes. Understanding the complications can equip us to understand both ourselves and our neighbors better, which serves not only our institutional learning outcomes for “diversity,” but our missions to love our neighbors as ourselves and pursue just and reconciled relationships, both as individuals and as groups. 

Dr. Whitnah: Ethnic Studies is both understanding how things have come to be as they are and it’s about an orientation to the world that is attuned to how our different racial positioning in particular shapes the ways in which we experience the world. So it provides a sort of lens on the world that can be applied to a host of situations – our workplaces, neighborhoods, political systems, churches. 

Kaylee: We live in a life where practicality is key to “success.” Many doubt the strength behind college careers that do not focus on business, management or economics. How can Ethnic Studies be implemented into that “successful” lifestyle? 

Dr. Yadav: Success in life is success in our love for one another, because what we all realize–or what we will all come to realize when it comes time for us to die, is the we want nothing more than to love and be loved. But love is not sentimental; it is complicated and difficult because human groups and their members are complicated and the obstacles to love and belonging are difficult. A life worthy of our humanity and its capacity for love therefore requires a studied effort at mutual understanding–it requires Ethnic Studies. 

Dr. Whitnah: It can’t. There’s a strong resonance between insights from Ethnic Studies and longstanding Christian commitments to resisting the temptation to view our success in life as being synonymous with our economic, professional, or other social ascribed statuses. Rather, true success would be found by living more fully into the reality that we are bound to one another, that when any of us are suffering that has implications for all of us, and that there is no part of our “body” that is not essential to our collective wellbeing. I think there are many ways to measure success. And as a follower of Jesus, it is clear to me that Christ’s self-sacrificial love requires Christians to play by a different set of rules. 

———

Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Don't miss out!
Subscribe To The Horizon Newsletter

Sign up to receive weekly highlights of our favorite articles from News, Sports, Arts & Entertainment and more! 

 

Invalid email address
You can unsubscribe at any time.