Special to the Vanguard
The bill that would make ethnic studies a requirement at the California State University system was signed into law on Monday by California Governor Gavin Newsome. The legislation requires students at CSU campuses to fulfill three units from courses in African American, Asian American, Latino/a or Native American studies.
Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber, the bill’s author, said AB 1460 is the culmination of a fifty-year struggle to ensure that students who are members of these ethnic groups have their history, cultures and experiences incorporated fully into the CSU’s core requirements.
“What we are seeing in Washington and on American streets right now demonstrates the necessity of understanding the experiences and perspectives of these historically marginalized and oppressed groups who have nonetheless contributed to the building of our country,” Weber said. “This is great day for students and for the state. I am grateful to the Governor for joining me in moving California forward.”
Ivan Salinas a English major at CSU Northridge wrote in a Medium article, “It is important that courses from these departments are taught to all students because they are part of the core solution to the issues we see in the United States. It encourages youth to enact real change against racism, criminalization, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia.”
Professor Therea Montaňo also a Northride said, “The CSU complains of the “cost” of strengthening ethnic studies course offerings, but ignores – as many senators recently pointed out – the true cost of doing nothing: the continuation of centuries of racism against people of color, including the killing of black people, oftentimes at the hands of police.”
“Moving to a more inclusive society and state begins with education,” CFA President Charles Toombs said. “Educational justice is at the forefront of CFA’s demands for resources to support anti-racism and social justice in the wake of anti-Black racism, violence and murder. Our work here is only beginning. Now, we call on Governor Newsom: Be a national leader on inclusive and diverse learning. Help us become the best state we deserve to be.”
Dr. Stevie Ruiz at Cal State Northride added, “The CSU is the largest public serving institution with the largest achievement gap between white students and Black, Latinx, American Indian, and low-income students. Countless studies have proven Ethnic Studies puts students on the path towards graduation, while at the same time it redresses the pain, grief, and suffering that students experience due to poverty, criminalization, war, and houselesness.”
Students graduating from CSU during in the 2024-25 academic year will the first to graduate with the Ethnic Studies requirement.
Supporters of the legislation believe the three-unit Ethnic Studies requirement would pose few challenges for students who are already charged to complete 120 units to graduate, as many Ethnic Studies courses already fulfill pre-existing GE requirements.
AB 1460 reflects 50 years of student, faculty, and community advocacy for curriculum reflective of and pedagogy responsive to the diverse demographic of the state.
Supporters have cited that education scholarship has well documented the positive academic outcomes for both students of color and white students who enroll in Ethnic Studies courses, as well as the need for the CSU—the largest and among the most diverse four-year postsecondary systems in the United States—to equip students with the critical thinking and social skill sets to empathetically serve California and the nation at large.
Supports also saw a clear distinction between Ethnic Studies and diversity or multicultural studies, in which the former facilitates explicit conversations on race.
While opponents noted a desire to avoid legislative interference in CSU faculty governance, as well as impending COVID-19-facilitated budget constraints, proponents acknowledged historical failure of the CSU-system to institutionalize inclusive curriculum, the sociopolitical urgency of the moment elevated by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the long-term social benefit that would outweigh any short-term budget limitations. Further, proponents pointed to the fact that AB 1460 was student- and community-driven and its passage would be akin to civil rights efforts of the past.
The passage of AB 1460 comes on the heels of a multi-year effort by the CSU Council on Ethnic Studies (CSUCES) and the CFA, and on-the-ground organizing by Ethnic Studies students, faculty, and numerous community organizations. Such efforts were often in conflict with the CSU Chancellor’s Office and Academic Senate of the California State University (ASCSU), which actively opposed AB 1460. In moving forward
Ethnic Studies is an interdisciplinary and comparative study of race and ethnicity with special focus on four historically defined racialized core groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latina/o Americans. In March 1969, the CSU system established the country’s first and then only school of Ethnic Studies after the longest student-led strike in the nation
Research has found Ethnic Studies has a demonstrated benefit for all students—White students as well as students of color. Regardless of major, students who took Ethnic Studies courses graduated at a much higher rate than their peers in their major who did not take Ethnic Studies.