About Ethnic Studies

Students in the Department of Ethnic Studies learn from faculty who specialize in:

  • Race: Power, Freedom, Bodies, Poverty, Justice, Rights, and Dissent.
  • Ethnicity: Identity, History, Heritage, Food, Community, Pop Culture, and Storytelling.
  • Indigeneity: Native, Kanaka, Land, Ocean, Sovereignty, Empire, and Decolonial Practice.

Our department is now on a trajectory to becoming a recognized center for Oceanic Ethnic Studies—an intellectual and activist project for indigenous knowledge, new research, and social change based on the resilient values, cultures, and ecologies of Native Pacific peoples and places.


The department curriculum offers four interlinked themes within our three areas of specialization and focus:

ES Migrations

Migrations: Analyzing global flows of peoples in relation to culture, identity, economics, conflicts, and politics.

ES Social Justice

Social Justice: Bringing to the foreground the critical investigation of power and inequality in the pursuit of social change.

ES Oceanic Connections

Oceanic Connections: Tracing the large and small currents of Moana Nui (Pacific Ocean) that connect the peoples of Oceania.

ES Engagement

Engagement: Benefiting communities through collaborative, creative, and analytical research, service, and learning.


Our History · Our Way

Out of the tumultuous 1960s, the Department of Ethnic Studies emerged as an outgrowth of the national Civil Rights, Anti-Vietnam War, Ethnic Empowerment, and Students' Rights movements. In Hawaiʻi, ethnic studies served as a catalyst for faculty and student engagement in land struggles at Kalama Valley, Waiahole-Waikane, Kahoʻolawe, and Chinatown. Once established as a department, it became an institutional platform for learning, research, and community service about indigeneity, race, class, gender, and social justice connected to Hawaiʻi’s multiethnic peoples.