August 9, 2020
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  • 10:41 am “We Asked for Orange Juice and Got a Glass of Tang:” CSUDH Faculty Sound Off on Alternative Ethnic Studies Requirement
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This vote will make CSU undergraduate students take a 3-unit ethnic studies class as a graduation requirement. Photo by Kyle Smith, Unsplash.

By Robert Rios and Taylor Helmes

It’s been a busy summer break for Donna Nicol, chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University, Dominguez Hills. In early June, amid the wave of anti-police brutality and protests taking place across the globe, her department issued a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement which propelled other campus departments s to draft their own statements of support. 

Then, on June 18, the California State Senate voted 30-5 in favor of an ethnic studies course requirement that all California State University undergraduates must take in order to graduate, something that Nicol’s department and the Chicano/a studies department have strongly supported for years.

If minor amendments are approved by the state assembly and Gov. Gavin Newsom signs off, undergraduates at all 23 CSU campuses must complete a 3-unit ethnic studies course as a graduation requirement starting in the 2024-25 academic school year.  In line with the bill, introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, all CSU campuses must provide ethnic studies courses starting with the 2021-2022 academic year.

The bill states that ethnic studies will focus on four historically defined racialized groups which include Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latina and Latino Americans.

Considering the long and often contentious history of ethnic studies in the state, Nicol said she wasn’t expecting such a large margin of support.

“I’m very pleased and was actually shocked at the margin by which the bill passed 30-5 with five abstentions,” Nicol said.

(For a good look at the history of ethnic studies in California, and some of the obstacles that needed to be overcome to make it a requirement, visit this link.

CSUDH s was already creating a requirement that aligned with AB 1460. The university’s General Education Assessment Working Group (GEAWG) was in charge of putting together an assessment plan, gathering feedback for the general education curriculum, and to revise the cultural pluralism requirement.

One supervisor of the GEAWG is Kim Costino, dean of Undergraduate Studies and member of CSUDH’s Academic Senate.  Although AB 1460 was not initially part of their charge, in a presentation earlier this year at the Academic Senate, Costino and the assessment group wanted to find an answer to the question, “how is our campus addressing ethnic studies?”

“We were kind of taking up that question in terms of how we are doing it in terms of GE in the sense we are trying to update cultural pluralism and try to figure out what that will mean in an updated version,” Costino said at the meeting in February. “We built intentional attention to race so it’s not just about all kinds of identities. We really wanted to focus on race, equity and social justice.” 

While the GEAWG committee was devoted to updating the cultural pluralism requirement, they wanted to ensure students are engaging not only with the groups they are learning about, but with the ways of thinking and practicing unique to the discipline of Ethnic Studies, in order to address AB 1460.

In addition to the groups suggestions to the Academic Senate related to the assessment plan, the GEAWG has made the following recommendations:

  • that CSUDH’s Academic Senate propose an Ethnic Studies requirement that can be fulfilled by any course carrying an “Ethnic Studies” (ES) designation (a course in the major, in G.E., or an elective) and
  • that it create an Ethnic Studies Committee (similar to the University Writing Committee), that is chaired by a CSUDH faculty member with expertise in Ethnic Studies and that this committee be in charge of developing and keeping current criteria for the “ES” designation and approving courses for this designation through the curriculum review process.

“I do believe it is possible for DH to adopt and implement these recommendations in time to meet the AB 1460 deadline,” Costino said.

Giving support to AB 1460, Nicol and Marisela Chávez of Chicano Studies helped create a position statement representing the Ethnic Studies faculty and allied staff across the campus for the university, which she says was signed by various faculty.

“[Members of the CSU Ethnic Studies Council] support AB 1460 as a moral imperative because all students and especially our students need this education. It gives them an intellectual foundation for becoming global and culturally competent citizens.  Our students need to understand how race and ethnicity, settler colonialism and white supremacy operate on multiple levels, including structural and systemic, to impact their daily lives, social interactions and even their own understanding of themselves in a racialized society.”

The statement also mentions the Report of the CSU Task Force for the Advancement of Ethnic Studies that explains how ethnic study practices help support people of color in their construction and development of life to resist different forms of oppression. 

As our nation faces acknowledgement and correction of racial injustice and systemic racism today and throughout history, the ethnic studies requirement can help students learn and critically think about race and ethnicity differently (read: correctly). 

Although CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White and CSUDH President Parham A. Thomas released statements in response to recent Black Lives Matter protests and the racial inequality, some departments and faculty have released their own statements, demanding change and action from the administration.

The Department of Africana Studies at CSUDH released a letter in response to Chancellor Timothy P. White’s May 31 statement to the CSU community. They collectively felt that the letter sent by White was, “not sufficient in that it does not demonstrate a critical understanding of racialized conflict in America”. 

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