Photo: Steven Bradford/Twitter
Sen. Steven Bradford and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber speak at a press conference in Sacramento on June 2 regarding the George Floyd murder.

Within the next 12 days, Gov. Gavin Newsom will decide which ethnic studies courses California State University students must take to graduate.

Advocates of a bill that would require students to take a 3-unit class in one of four ethnic studies disciplines gathered Tuesday to lobby Newsom to sign the bill by Aug. 15.

The group included legislators, representatives of the California Faculty Association and some CSU students. The bill, Assembly Bill 1460, would require students beginning with those graduating in 2024-25 to take a class in Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies or Latina and Latino studies.

The bill, which came out of the Assembly on Monday, takes a stricter and traditional view of ethnic studies compared to a proposal offered by Chancellor Tim White and approved by the CSU Board of Trustees last month. The CSU proposal would mandate students who enter the 23 campuses in 2023-24 to enroll in a 3-unit ethnic studies course which may include social justice classes. Acceptable courses could include the four traditional ethnic studies disciplines and courses that explore the history and culture of other oppressed communities, such as Muslims, Jews or LGBTQ.

“The chancellor’s office every step of the way has refused to listen to faculty, students and its own council on ethnic studies despite the fact this bill has been around for two years,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the co-author of AB 1460, said. “We’ve pushed the issue of ethnic studies on behalf of all students … people need to understand each other and appreciate who they are and appreciate those around them.”

Weber said the ethnic studies proposal from the chancellor’s office is “weak and ineffective” because it broadens the requirement to the point that students could technically graduate without ever taking one of the four core ethnic studies courses.

CSU estimates a price difference between the costs of implementing its proposal and AB1460. If signed by Newsom, the new law could cost about $16.5 million each year, assuming about 53% have not taken the course between Fall 2015 and 2018. It also includes the administrative costs to expand or develop classes. The CSU proposal would cost less — about $4 million a year — because campuses could include existing courses.

The legislators didn’t address the cost of their bill. They emphasized that the legislature and CSU have been arguing over this proposal for a decade and the college system had more than 50 years to adopt this requirement but failed.

“We are optimistic that the governor will see this is our responsibility,” Weber said. “When we find that the institutions we support financially are not being responsive to the needs of the people that they’re supposed to serve, it is the responsibility of the legislature to intervene.”

Sen. Steven Bradford, a co-author of the bill and vice-chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said he often has “non-ethnic” colleagues approach him and say they never learned about the internment of Japanese Americans or why Juneteenth is a holiday.

“Ethnic studies will shine a light, tell the truth and remove the whitewashing of American history,” he said.

During their meeting approving the CSU proposal, some trustees said they were concerned by the legislature’s interference in curriculum decisions and worried that approving AB 1460 would set a precedent. But ethnic studies faculty members said they were not consulted or involved in developing the CSU proposal. So, they turned to the legislature to force change within the university system.

Charles Toombs, the faculty association president and professor of African studies at San Diego State, said AB 1460 would not be a first for the legislature. The CSU’s American Institutions requirement, which requires every CSU student to be knowledgeable about the Constitution, American history, state and local government, came from the legislature, he said.

Toombs said the focus on just the four traditional ethnic groups was vital because they are “the most oppressed groups in this country historically and today. These people are murdered, maimed, lynched, burned, raped, enslaved and their bodies used as the labor to build and sustain this country.”

Toombs said the groups that aren’t included in the four core courses that the CSU proposal listed as part of their requirement have “done little to support ethnic studies, but now they want to be part of it.”

The AB 1460 advocates contend that their bill also corrects the history education students receive before they go to college.

Kaila Moore Jones, a junior at CSU Northridge who praised her Africana studies courses at the college, said the university system, which prepares the majority of K-12 teachers in California, allows “the blind to teach the impressionable.”

“In history courses, they describe my peoples’ beginning as uncultured savages,” she said. “But when you look at the fact that the building blocks of every nation came from the minds of African people, not knowing my history was not the fault of my parents or theirs. It was the end result of decades of systematic erasing and fabrication of my people’s history throughout my K-12 education.”

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  1. Jeanette EllisRoyston 1 month ago1 month ago

    European History is hiding behind American History. For so long many educators want to be politically correct. We have Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans or Latino/Latina or European Americans? What’s this?

  2. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

    We talk and act about what we can talk and act about. I guess. (See Laura Thomas’s short essay called the Fork Debate) Legislators are quick to signal their cultural virtues by advocating for laws that require CSU students graduate with the requirement that they take an ethnic studies course. How nice. Unfortunately, many of the students of color who would have loved to have matriculated into the CSU system are no longer able to because … Read More

    We talk and act about what we can talk and act about. I guess. (See Laura Thomas’s short essay called the Fork Debate)

    Legislators are quick to signal their cultural virtues by advocating for laws that require CSU students graduate with the requirement that they take an ethnic studies course. How nice.

    Unfortunately, many of the students of color who would have loved to have matriculated into the CSU system are no longer able to because they were part of a racist K-12 Education system that actually waged a war on them and in many cases succeeded.

    Many children of color could no longer tolerate a continuous dose of first-year novice teachers derived from an overall weak teacher pool that was generated by a laughable college of education system that recruited the weakest student candidates and then trained them poorly. Only 76.8% of Black students graduate. The state no longer even reports Drop out data. I wonder why?

    Students are not even prepared to succeed within the CSU system and would find it difficult to gain entrance even after graduation. Only 14% of Black students are proficient in Math based on 2019 State Math tests. Fortunately, we have an affirmative action program within California that will accommodate students of color who received horrific education within the system. The system of course would like to blame the students for these abysmal numbers. I taught them but they just didn’t learn. But we know better. Right?

    Students of color who are learning English are subjected to years of English Language Study as they are placed in Dual Language Programs that extend learning English from 8-9 years hearing their native language spoken 80-90% of the time. The system throws White kids into the programs so that they can learn a little Spanish. We only reclassify our English Learner students at the rate of 13% per year. This is to be expected when the children are placed on a slow boat to learning English. Never mind though. This slow rate allows school districts to use the state and federal funds designated for supporting English Learners to fund pet projects and keep loyal staff employed.

    So let us absolve ourselves of addressing the structural root causes of racism within our system and do what we can do to provide Ethnic Studies to the children of color survivors of the K-12 Education System. We will feel much better about our cultural virtues and can move on. We continue to engage in our Kabuki Theater and will do so again and again and again.

  3. Jose Garcia 2 months ago2 months ago

    I work for the CSU and I fully support AB1460! I do want the CA legislature to dictate the curriculum when it comes to challenging white supremacy. Anyone who does not see how the university system is also part of upholding racism precisely needs to take Ethnic Studies courses. The CSU has a majority students of color so passing this bill is long over due. People forget that it was federal law that forced desegregation … Read More

    I work for the CSU and I fully support AB1460! I do want the CA legislature to dictate the curriculum when it comes to challenging white supremacy. Anyone who does not see how the university system is also part of upholding racism precisely needs to take Ethnic Studies courses. The CSU has a majority students of color so passing this bill is long over due. People forget that it was federal law that forced desegregation in 1950s, so we need AB 1460 now to challenge institutional racism.

    Replies

    • Kathryn D 2 months ago2 months ago

      These "majority students of color" do not all fall into the four ethnic groups. Why exclude Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ, veterans, and the disabled? So many Asians at the CSU are southeast Asians and they are not one of the four groups. I also ask that you provide proof of institutional racism at the CSU. If anything, the university system has more than accommodated people of color. What we really need are courses on Constitutional Law … Read More

      These “majority students of color” do not all fall into the four ethnic groups. Why exclude Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ, veterans, and the disabled? So many Asians at the CSU are southeast Asians and they are not one of the four groups. I also ask that you provide proof of institutional racism at the CSU. If anything, the university system has more than accommodated people of color. What we really need are courses on Constitutional Law so that these students and naive administrators educate themselves about the First Amendment and stop punishing people who disagree with their political ideas.

    • Robert Wu 2 months ago2 months ago

      "Challenge institutional racism"? The CSU is already one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the US. And your analogy to the federal law during Civil Rights is erroneous. You're proposing that state law should dictate college curriculum and assuming that a diversified curriculum does not already exist. Just about every course in the social sciences, business, arts, and humanities includes topics in diversity. We get diversity everywhere on campus with student events. I … Read More

      “Challenge institutional racism”? The CSU is already one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the US. And your analogy to the federal law during Civil Rights is erroneous. You’re proposing that state law should dictate college curriculum and assuming that a diversified curriculum does not already exist. Just about every course in the social sciences, business, arts, and humanities includes topics in diversity. We get diversity everywhere on campus with student events.

      I don’t see any “institutional racism” that you’re referring to. If anything, minority students receive privileges above and beyond many others.

  4. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

    We do what we can. I guess. Since we are unwilling to address the real fundamental structures of racism within our educational system, we address easy issues - window dressing. Laura Thomas addressed this problem in her wonderful short essay called the Fork Debate. We need to stop blaming the victims with mandatory ethnic studies curricula and recognize that it is the adults within the system that create the racial inequities' It is the adults who should … Read More

    We do what we can. I guess.

    Since we are unwilling to address the real fundamental structures of racism within our educational system, we address easy issues – window dressing. Laura Thomas addressed this problem in her wonderful short essay called the Fork Debate. We need to stop blaming the victims with mandatory ethnic studies curricula and recognize that it is the adults within the system that create the racial inequities’

    It is the adults who should be taking courses in how to administer schools in such a way that the children of color do not get the most novice teachers, the least resources, and are housed in segregated schools that look and feel like prisons.

    Now that would be something.

    When will the legislature take on the hard race issues of assuring that children of color get quality human and material resources throughout their educational careers?

    For now let’s just signal our faux cultural purity, virtuosity and equity aspirations with ethnic studies classes for the children. It’s always the same ole Kabuki Theater with our legislators.

    The children themselves must rise up and resist the pablum and pandering. I have faith that they will this time as they are beginning to see through the adult sham around them.

  5. S. Hannity 2 months ago2 months ago

    This whole issue has turned into a political football. The bill is motivated by an Assembly woman who wants to advance her political career. The CSU does not want the California legislature to dictate curriculum. If the governor sees through this, he should either veto the entire bill and force everyone to compromise or line-item veto.

    Replies

    • Bo Loney 2 months ago2 months ago

      The fact that he suffered from a learning difference (I’m thinking twice exceptional) and had to learn to compensate and fight through huge obstacles, regardless of his supposed “white privilege” to be where he is now, hopefully will guide his decision in total inclusion of teaching acceptance of all differences.

  6. Paul Muench 2 months ago2 months ago

    I think this bill has one flaw. Students should be required to take a course on an ethnic group other than their own. That requirement will achieve adequate funding for ethnic studies departments at each CSU. With proper department funding, students that want to learn more about their own ethnic group can take multiple courses.