Ethnic Studies

Meet Ethnic Studies Alumnae

Sonjia Hyon
Class of 2000
Assistant Professor, American Studies

Sonjia Hyon

“The courses I took really trained me with critical thinking, writing, and reading skills. This matters not only in terms of my research, but my teaching.”

Awards and honors: Ethnic Studies Outstanding Scholar award; my senior thesis won the National Association of Ethnic Studies undergraduate paper award.

What are you doing now and what are the highlights of your achievements or experiences since graduation?
I recently defended my dissertation in American studies at the University of Minnesota, and am currently an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter College in New York.

How did your Ethnic Studies degree prepare you for your current position?
In so many ways! Ethnic studies, as I was taught by the amazing professors I had at Mills, is not really about looking and describing what race is, but examining the power structures that produce notions of difference. In this regard, I really appreciated how my training helped me focus on an intersectional analysis of difference, but also a framework that examined racial groups as relational productions. The courses I took really trained me with in critical thinking, writing, and reading skills. This matters not only in terms of my research, but my teaching. I still have old syllabi from courses by Dr. Chin, Dr. Oparah (then Sudbury), and Dr. Micco that I refer to for ideas. This seems directly related since I work in an academic institution, but I also worked in Asian American film and other arts non-profits and corporations where these critical skills of analysis were used. Again, since these are frameworks in which to understand the world, I use them in my daily life when I'm reading newspapers or watching films.

How did being a part of the Ethnic Studies community at Mills change you?
To sound a bit woo-woo flowy spiritual, but it allowed for an imagination of what was politically radical outside of bureaucratic state and institutional systems.

What life lessons would you like to offer to current Ethnic Studies majors and minors?
1. Enjoy your time at Mills. In my observations, higher ed seems to be moving towards training students to be professionals and businesspeople. This type of learning seems to promote ideas and types of learning that is narrowly market-driven and "real." What I appreciated most during my college education was that I was allowed to express a curiosity and amateur sensibility to my studies, this becomes harder and harder to find later in life even (and especially) in graduate school.
2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes especially when you're doing something that is difficult.

What are your future goals?
I'm on the academic job market for post-docs and tenure-track positions. It's a bleak forecast, but I've also embraced having a non-traditional career path. This can mean teaching adjunct, which I love and appreciate and taking on other types of project management and administrative positions.