Declaring a Major in Comparative American Studies
I knew I wanted to be a Comparative American Studies (CAST) major before I arrived at Oberlin. The summer after senior year, I spent lots of time on the online course catalog, checking out the different offerings. I was initially drawn to Sociology, which my parents and many of my friends thought I would like, but after stumbling upon the CAST website, I was sold. The class offerings were exactly what I had always dreamed of studying - I was especially excited by the major's connection to issues of social justice. During my first semester, I took the introductory class. And from then on, I was sold.
Whenever I tell someone outside of Oberlin that I'm a CAST major, they have no idea what it is. I like to describe it as the study of how one's experience in the United States differs based on the many facets of their identity. CAST emphasizes the lived experiences of people whose voices aren't often amplified by the dominant media. We explore structures of oppression and domination in this country, as well as US colonialism and imperialism. But we also focus on activist movements, to learn how people are resisting these systems. This is a completely interdisciplinary major, meaning both that its classes draw on many disciplines simultaneously and that students are encouraged to study in a variety of departments.
In CAST, students have to pick between three concentrations: Globalization, Transnationalism, and Nation; Identity and Diversity; and Histories and Practices of Social Change. I've chosen Identity and Diversity, with a focus on formation of identity in response to the construction of an "other."
I've always been compelled by the experiences of people who are labeled "different." Growing up Jewish with two moms, I was definitely a bit different than most kids in my area, so I became interested in how American systems shape what we consider "normal." I wanted to come to Oberlin because it seemed like a place where people thought about these topics. And believe me, it absolutely is, especially in the CAST department!
I think a lot about how academia applies to the broader world, and how we can use what we learn in the classroom to make change through community organizing on the ground. Though some people worry that learning theories and terminology won't help us outside of Oberlin, I believe that this incredible academic foundation from CAST will greatly benefit my future experiences in Winter Term and study abroad, as well as beyond college.
For those who are worried about declaring a major, you're going to be okay! It is way less dramatic than it's made out to be. It seems like the best way to pick one is to take the classes that interest you - they'll probably correspond to a major. If you pick a subject that fascinates you, you can't go wrong.
I'm really happy with Comparative American Studies! I love how much of ourselves we get to bring to this major - we acknowledge that we don't leave our identities and past experiences at the door when we discuss readings and embark on research projects. I don't like to divorce my personal life from my academic and political efforts, so I appreciate that aspect of CAST very much. I feel so lucky that this program exists at Oberlin!