Stepping Out of the Silos

by Arianna Khan | 9/18/19 2:00am

We often think about migrants in the context of the many different identities that they may or may not hold: as parents and as children, as agricultural workers and as Congresswomen, as individuals with rare diseases and as criminals, as threats and as the threatened. But what about sexuality? Even though it is a crucial aspect of one’s identity, sexuality is something that we don’t typically think consider when we attempt to understand migrants and what constitutes their identity. Eng-Beng Lim, professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, says that we should. 

“Part of the reason why we’re interested in race, migration and sexuality as a constellation is to address how we might think about intersectional issues,” Lim said. “We must insist upon the diasporic, decolonial conditions that are often overlooked when we think about some of these issues relating to movements of people across borders.” 

This desire for a change in general mentality drove him to establish the Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration and Sexuality. According to a recruiting email sent out to campus this term, the consortium is an interdisciplinary research and teaching initiative that aims to understand the transnational migrant by focusing on intersectionality. The email also notes that the program hopes to place Dartmouth at the forefront of a developing trend in academia that emphasizes the interconnection between the various identities a person may hold and asserts that they should be considered together rather than as isolated factors. 

“It’s an opportunity to think about how these fields have been evolving and are a lot more coalitional and comparative now,” Lim said. “The consortium is reflecting research that demands that we think about comparative ethnic and queer studies as a unit rather than as separate entities.”

This year is the program’s first — a trial period during which students will engage in different activities in order to further develop the program and establish at a more permanent structure for the organization. Among the program’s planned activities are a speaker series, collaborative workshops and a culminating two-day national conference. 

According to Lim, the program developed initially out of an unmet demand for Asian studies on campus but has since grown much broader in scope to fill another need: the need for dialogue and recognition of the intersection between disciplines.

Lim is not the only one who feels this need; other professors in race, ethnic, gender and sexuality studies are also getting involved in the consortium’s work and research. One of them, history and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies professor Matthew Garcia, expressed his interest in this new, broader approach that the consortium takes with interdisciplinary programs.

“Oftentimes, interdisciplinary programs are stuck in different kinds of silos. They’re not methodological silos, but they’re to some extent geographical and identity silos.” Garcia said. “To create a consortium where we can break out of the silos that put us in very narrow constructions of who we are and what we do is really valuable.”

Garcia served as a thesis advisor to Teresa Alvarado-Patlán ’19, who majored in LALCS and is now serving as a postgraduate fellow with the consortium. Alvarado-Patlán said that Garcia’s support enabled her to explore interdisciplinary subjects including race, immigration and post 9/11 anti-immigrant sentiment and that this experience motivated her to stay at Dartmouth with the consortium for one more year.

“I really want Dartmouth to create a space for a new way of thinking about things,” Alvarado-Patlán said. “Research is so interdisciplinary, so [being] a graduate with that toolset and all those skills is going to be huge.”

lvarado-Patlán works largely on the consortium’s undergraduate-facing side. One of her long-term goals for the program is to create new paths of study — including a major, a domestic study program and a foreign study program — that emphasize the intersectional lenses through which we should consider the predicament of the transnational migrant. Currently, the consortium offers undergraduate fellowships and research positions for students interested in participating in the development of these new academic paths.

Though the program is in its early stages, its focus on migrants and intersectionality could not be more relevant to the political moment that the world is currently in. According to Garcia, that is no coincidence.

“We live in a world where migrants are assumed to be outsiders and interlopers and problems,” Garcia said. “And that is just not consistent with the ways in which our scholarship should view these individuals and their contributions to our society.”