Photo courtesy of The Department of Ethnic Studies at California State University, East Bay

Critics of the new addition to the curriculum argue the state should not impose academic decisions

UNDER new state legislation passed last week, students attending California State University (CSU) schools will now be required to take courses in ethnic studies.

Starting in the 2021-2022 academic year, the CSU is required to offer courses focusing on race and ethnicity, particularly implementing comprehensive courses on Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans. In order to graduate, students would need to take one 3-credit course, according to AB 1460.

For the CSU — which is the largest public four-year university system in the United States — the bill was designed to broaden students’ understanding of non-white racial and ethnic groups, which the bill’s cosponsors argue are misrepresented in existing school curricula.

“For over 400 years, we have sanitized and white-washed history,” said California Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) when presenting the bill on Thursday, June 18.

The state Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill in the 30-5 vote; the bill now heads back to the Assembly — which passed the bill last year — to approve minor amendments made by the Senate before it heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom for his approval.

Proponents of AB 1460 cite the uproar and civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd as a reason to rethink the ways that academia portrays the experiences of marginalized communities in America.

However, critics of the bill, namely those within the CSU, argue that the California Legislature should not enforce course decisions on academic institutions.

“The CSU requirement avoids setting a dangerous precedent for legislative interference and keeps the higher education curriculum setting process within those institutions,” said Toni Molle, director of public affairs at the CSU, which has also been plagued by insufficient budgets and an uncertain future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CSU is currently in the middle of its own reforms, including a proposed Ethnic Studies and Social Justice requirement that would broaden students’ understanding of communities of color as well as the Jewish, Muslim and LGBT+ communities. CSU Chancellor Timothy White is expected to bring this proposal before the CSU Board of Trustees on July 21 for a vote.

According to White’s proposal, the CSU’s Ethnic Studies and Social Justice plan comprises much more comprehensive courses that consist of other disciplines like humanities, arts and social sciences. Courses could focus on a wide range of topics like class, sexuality, religion and immigration as long as there’s a social justice bend to the course structure.

The CSU — which comprises 23 campuses and more than 484,000 students — is known for making strides in ethnic studies education, leading the charge for other universities and university systems. In 1969, San Francisco State University established the College of Ethnic Studies, the first college devoted to studying the history and contemporary issues of ethnic minorities.

A year before that, in 1968, Cal State Los Angeles became the first college in the nation to establish a Chicano studies program as a way to serve its growingly diverse student body and faculty.

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