CSU ethnic studies programs receive $1.5 million grant

By Allison Larrimore, April 30, 2024

The California State University system recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Affirming Multivocal Humanities initiative to expand ethnic studies programs in colleges and universities.

According to the foundation’s press release, the grant aims to grow new and existing ethnic studies programs, focusing on those linked with gender and sexuality studies to include discussion of intersectionality in the curriculum. 

“This type of grant is very important because it reaffirms the fact that the CSU is a very diverse system,” said Álvaro Huerta, an associate professor in Cal Poly Pomona’s Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department. “Our diversity is our strength, not our weakness.”

As explained in “Ethnic and Women’s Studies: An Attempt at Educating in the Academy” by Lillian H. Jones, CPP’s EWS Department – initially called just the Ethnic Studies Department – was established in the College of Arts in 1978 after existing centers were combined. 

Offered classes at the time included Afro-American studies, Chicano/Hispanic studies and American Indian studies. Women’s studies classes were first added in 1979 due to much demand from students and were officially included in the department’s title starting in 1981. 

For the last 40 years, the EWS Department has offered major and minor programs in Gender, Ethnicity and Multicultural Studies with two subplans – Bachelor of Arts in GEMS and a BA in GEMS pre-credential program for students preparing for their Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential. 

EWS courses weren’t part of CPP students’ general curriculum requirements until 2021, when the CSU Board of Trustees and Chancellor’s Office approved a proposal to include a three-unit requirement for all undergraduates at all CSU campuses starting in the fall semester. In 2022, EWS moved from CPP’s College of Education and Integrative Studies to the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences to ease this change, allowing more faculty to teach courses that fulfill the requirement. 

Huerta is passionate about teaching his students acknowledgement and acceptance of America’s and, more specifically, Southern California’s diverse population.

“The importance of ethnic studies is not about a class requirement or a check-off to graduate,” said Huerta. “It’s about us being critical and challenging the system the way it is because the way it works is still based on white privilege and class privilege, and for those of us that don’t come from that background, we need to be included as well.” 


Bulletin board at Ethnic at Women’s studies department | Allison Larrimore

According to Anita Jain, an associate professor in the EWS Department, students majoring in EWS and even other subjects who take these classes describe their experience as impactful and life changing. 

“It’s common to hear students who take EWS classes talk about how they have been transformed by the experience and feel empowered to change their worlds,” said Jain. “It’s like they found a home, and I think that is a truly profound academic experience to have.”

Marilyn Leiva, an EWS student and vice president of the GEMS Club at CPP, is one such student who is highly grateful for and values what she’s learned from her professors.

“I’m so happy choosing this major because I feel like I understand the world a little bit better and what changes need to be done,” said Leiva. “That’s what I want to do when I’m older; I want to make a difference.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Allison Larrimore

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