CSU ethnic studies community celebrate AB 1460 passage

BY: Xol Aceytuno, Sept. 7, 2020

Ethnic studies advocates at Cal Poly Pomona and throughout the California State University system celebrated the passage of California Assembly Bill No. 1640 that mandates an ethnic studies graduation requirement for CSU students.

The bill, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month, supersedes the CSU’s previously approved “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice” general education requirement, which critics argued did not sufficiently emphasize ethnic studies.

On July 21, the CSU Board of Trustees passed an amendment to include a 3-unit, lower-division GE requirement in ethnic studies, but included a social justice component course that could fulfill the requirement as well. It was the ambiguity of the social justice component that sparked strife throughout CSU campuses — particularly amongst the ethnic studies community.

“The ethnic studies and social justice plan provides a loophole, where someone can take a class that has nothing to do with ethnic studies and still meet the requirement,” said CPP Academic Senator Alvaro Huerta, who is a faculty member in Ethnic and Women’s Studies. “Ethnic studies is interdisciplinary and incorporates social justice. Social justice is ethnic studies. It is a part of what we study anyways so why separate it.”

JL Frazier with Students for Quality education making posters in support of AB 1460 Courtesy of Sarah Sandoval

Despite the governor’s signature approving the requirement for CSU students graduating in the 2024-2025 academic year, questions as to the policy’s implementation remain.

“CSU campuses are awaiting guidance from the chancellor on how to implement the requirements set out in the bill,” said CPP Academic Senate Chair Phyllis Nelson. “There is a lot of consultation at the CSU system level about what that guidance should be.”

A system-wide ethnic studies GE requirement was recommended by the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies in 2016. The task force’s recommendations were based on a statewide survey of all the ethnic studies departments in the CSU system. According to the survey, 50% of ethnic studies departments reported meeting moderate to extreme resistance in regards to establishing and maintaining ethnic studies programs at their universities, with extreme resistance being the most frequent response.

“Even though there was a study from the ethnic studies council a long time ago saying we needed it, nothing happened until AB 1460. And once AB 1460 was a real thing, the Senate realized something needed to be done,” said CSU Academic Senator Gwen Urey, who represents CPP in the system-wide senate.

In a letter to CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White, 20 state lawmakers, including AB 1460 author Assembly Member Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and members of the Ethnic Legislative Causes opposed the CSU’s “ethnic studies and social justice” requirement.

The letter read, “Advocates for making a course in ethnic studies a requirement for graduation have waited long enough for the CSU to act. The changes proposed by the Chancellor’s office will significantly water down the intent of AB 1460 and will result in something akin to a ‘diversity’ requirement, which was not developed in collaboration with the CSU Council on Ethnic Studies.”

Weber introduced the bill in 2019 on behalf of the California Faculty Association, the statewide ethnic studies coalition and is supported by the Legislative Ethnic Caucuses as well as student organizations at CPP including Students for Quality Education and the Gender and Ethnic Studies Major Club.

Students for Quality Education is a network of student organizers advocating for student needs across the CSU campuses. CPP students activists organized a campaign in support of AB 1460 which included emailing and calling Governor Newson, White and others on the board of trustees, rallying outside trustee board meetings and raising awareness of the importance of ethnic studies.

“It is important to see it being taught because a lot of us would like to learn about our history, and also other peoples history and cultures,” said J.L. Frazier, an intern at CPP’s Students for Quality Education. “It is really important to see that represented. I do think that in the climate that we are in right now and where we are with everything going on it is important for us as people of color, Indigenous people, Black people to have the ability to learn those things if we want, but also for other people regardless of the major.”

As the CSU campuses await guidance, the CPP Academic Senate met Friday, Sept. 4 to discuss a timeline for the implementation of the graduation requirement.

“The chancellor’s office and the statewide senate will have to come up with some guidance and send it to the campuses and the campuses will have to come up with the courses and framework for how they are going to meet this. Very soon it will be in departments and then in their curriculum committees,” said Academic Senate Member Urey.

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