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California State University students will soon have a new ethnic studies requirement – but what exactly the requirement will look like is a matter of ongoing debate between CSU leaders and the state Legislature.
This week, the CSU board of trustees passed a new requirement mandating a three-unit ethnic studies class, but also allowed for classes that explore social justice issues or focus on the Jewish or LBTQ communities to count toward the requirement.
The move was an attempt to pre-empt the requirements that would be imposed by AB 1460, a bill close to passing the Legislature that would similarly mandate a three-unit ethnic studies course but would more narrowly require those courses to focus on “four historically defined racialized core groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latina and Latino Americans.”
The CSU system and each of its individual campuses are listed as opponents of AB 1460.
“We feel that our proposal is more inclusive, and more expansive than AB 1460,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the CSU chancellor’s office.
But that expansiveness is precisely why some legislators aren’t satisfied with the new requirement.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who wrote AB 1460, said the plan approved by the CSU board, though it’s branded as an ethnic studies requirement, is structured in a way that would allow students to meet it without actually taking any ethnic studies courses.
She likened the system’s plan to those who respond to the Black Lives Matter movement by saying, “All lives matter.”
“Does ethnic studies matter? Well, all these other courses matter too,” Weber said.
Uhlenkamp also said the CSU system is worried about the costs associated with implementing AB 1460. “We would have to hire additional faculty,” he said.
Weber, a professor emeritus at San Diego State University who chaired the school’s Africana studies department, flatly dismissed that argument. CSU campuses reconfigure course offerings regularly, she said, without ever asking the Legislature for money. She said the campuses all limit their tenured faculty so that they can retain flexibility to hire adjunct professors – and that flexibility could be utilized now to implement the requirement.
Brian Hiro, a spokesman for California State University, San Marcos, said the school currently requires students to satisfy two diversity and equity requirements in courses that “must substantially address identity intersectionality” and that the campus supports the CSU board of trustees’ new requirement.
“While similar to AB 1460, the new CSU policy avoids setting a precedent for future curriculum decisions to be determined by the legislature,” he wrote in an email.
AB 1460 is set for a final vote in the Legislature before the end of the month.
The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and several Latino leaders in the state, including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the Latino Legislative Caucus, announced a Latino policy agenda Thursday that they hope will take hold not only in California, but nationally.
“Latinos have been disproportionately devastated in this crisis, and systematically left out of relief efforts,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “The state and federal government cannot continue to leave behind the essential workers and taxpayers that serve as the backbone of our economy. California cannot recover from the effects of this pandemic if we fail to address the challenges that Latinos are facing. We must move forward an agenda for recovery that centers racial and economic justice for our community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial justice movement have exacerbated systemic inequities, demonstrating the need for a policy agenda that focuses on issues impacting Latinos and other communities of color, said Sonja Diaz, the founding executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
“Part of this exercise was really addressing the lack and dearth of leadership as our nation undergoes this change,” Diaz said during a press conference announcing the agenda.
The group recommends institutionalizing voter mobilization and education as a government function, increasing Latinos’ access to capital to spur business and job creation, universal health coverage, more equitable COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and treatment, a pipeline for Latinos and other underserved workers into clean energy and the green economy, progressive immigration reform, an immediate and indefinite moratorium on deportations and universal access to preschool.
State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, AltaMed CEO Castulo de la Rocha, California Primary Care Association CEO Carmela Castellano-Garcia and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Thomas A. Saenz were also part of the group that put together the agenda.
“We’ve never had an agenda that brings us all together, clearly stating, ‘This is our Latino agenda,’” Gonzalez said during the press conference.
The agenda will be building on many policies that the state of California has already been putting in place, like those to increase voter registration, Gonzalez said. National political conversations often associate the Latino agenda with immigration reform, she said, but in reality, housing, criminal justice, voting rights, economic justice and environmental issues are also major concerns to those communities.
The policy proposals will be shared with governors, both presidential campaigns, national political committees and leaders in other sectors, like philanthropy and education.