The PhD program in critical ethnic studies offers an innovative path to provide students with broad training to enable them to research and analyze the intersectional and relational workings of race, ethnicity, culture, indigeneity, gender, class, sexuality, religion, dis/ability and legal status in local, regional and global contexts. It provides flexibility for students to pursue their individual research interests, while ensuring that they are grounded in both the foundational and cutting-edge theories in ethnic studies.

The department is dedicated to interrogating the relational nature of race and its attendant categories, particularly gender and sexuality, using frameworks that account for the increasingly global ways that these categories are constructed, resisted and inhabited. However, we believe that rigorous critical as well as relational analyses can only grow out of deep groundings in the particular areas of Africana, Asian American, Chicanx/Latinx, and Native American/Indigenous studies. Methodologically and theoretically, our faculty members possess training and expertise in interdisciplinary fields, including ethnic studies; women, gender and sexuality studies; environmental studies; critical sports studies; critical and intersectional criminology; cultural studies; literary and film studies; border studies; and American studies; as well as traditional disciplines, including anthropology, history, education, religious studies and sociology.


Doctoral students are expected to demonstrate an ability to independently carry out original field research, acquire original data, make appropriate analyses and prepare reports of publishable caliber. Students must demonstrate proficiency in a broad subject of learning and the ability to critically evaluate work in ethnic studies. The PhD program is comprised of three basic components: coursework, a comprehensive examination and the dissertation.

A master's degree in ethnic studies or a cognate field (e.g., American studies, English, history, sociology, women's and gender studies, or other related disciplines and interdisciplinary fields) from an accredited university is required for admission into the PhD program.

Transfer of Credit

Students will be permitted to transfer a maximum of 9 credit hours. The Associate Chair of Graduate Studies (ACGS) will examine the academic transcripts of admitted students to determine transfer credits where appropriate. Students must submit a syllabus for each course to be considered for transfer, and follow the steps listed in the department's Graduate Student Handbook.

Required Courses and Credits

Students must complete 60 credit hours, with a minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate-level coursework (including any transferred graduate credit from the completed master's degree referenced above). At least 18 of the 30 credit hours of graduate-level coursework must come from the Department of Ethnic Studies.

All doctoral students are required to complete the fall and spring sequence, ETHN 6000/ETHN 6001: Foundations in Comparative Ethnic Studies and Methods in Comparative Ethnic Studies (6 credits total, 3 per semester). The introductory, two-semester course will prepare doctoral students for interdisciplinary studies on race, ethnicity, gender, class, indigeneity, sexuality, and culture. The first semester will be a theoretical introduction, and the second semester will examine research methodologies and application of theories to research.

In addition to the two introductory courses, students will be required to enroll in a 1-credit professionalization seminar (ETHN 6002), which is a two-semester course offered by the Ethnic Studies Department that meets once a month during the academic year.

The remaining required credit hours of graduate-level coursework will be selected in consultation with the student's advisor from among ETHN graduate offerings, graduate courses in other units, and approved transfer credit up to 9 credit hours.

Areas of Specialty

The department encourages, but does not require, that students complete a minimum of 9 credits of graduate-level coursework in an area of specialty. Depending on their research interests, students will create an area of study which may include, but is not limited to: Native American & Indigenous studies, Africana studies, Asian American studies, Chicanx/Latinx studies, and criminology. Thematic subfields allow students to develop a thematic framework (e.g. “Decolonial Theory,” “Diaspora and Labor Migration,” or “Borderlands”) in which they will specialize. Students will work in consultation with their advisor to develop an area of specialty, which will be highly individualized to suit students’ particular research interests.

Dissertation Credits

In addition to the 30 credit hours of graduate-level coursework, students must complete a minimum of 30 dissertation credits in total: 5–10 during comprehensive examination preparation and 5–10 per semester when defending the prospectus and writing the dissertation. Students must be registered for a minimum of five dissertation hours the semester (including summer semester) in which the comprehensive exam/dissertation defense is held. Students are not permitted to register for more than 10 credit hours of dissertation credit per semester, per Graduate School rules.

Language Requirement

The department encourages, but does not require, non-English language proficiency, especially for students conducting research in contexts that extend beyond their existing abilities. Proficiency will be demonstrated by passing (with a grade of C or better) the fourth semester of a non-English language course, earning a passing score on the Graduate School Foreign Language Test (GSFLT), or by an alternative mode of assessment agreed to by the Graduate Committee. Credits earned for language proficiency will not apply toward the doctoral degree. The goals of the language requirement are to ensure that doctoral scholars can research materials in other languages besides English. The department will work with the Graduate School to ensure that the language requirements are in parity with other interdisciplinary doctoral programs at CU Boulder.

Continuous Registration

A PhD student is required to register continuously as a full-time, regular degree-seeking student at CU Boulder for a minimum of five credit hours in the fall and spring semesters of each year. Students must be registered for a minimum of 5 dissertation hours per semester beginning with the semester following the passing of the comprehensive examination and extending through the semester in which the dissertation is successfully defended (final examination). A student who fails to register continuously after passing the comprehensive examination must retake and pass the examination to regain status as a student in good standing in the Graduate School.

For additional details, visit the department's PhD Program webpage and download the Graduate Student Handbook.