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AB 1460, the True Ethnic Studies Requirement, Now the Law of California; Work Still Remains

In Fall of 1969, the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies was established at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

Developed after many years of strike and protests, the Fall semester of 1969 went down in the history books and led the way for establishing Ethnic Studies programs at universities throughout the U.S.

On August 17, another day for the history books on inclusive learning as Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1460 into law. An Ethnic Studies requirement is now on its way to the California State University system.

CFA was a proud sponsor of AB 1460, which garnered bipartisan support across both houses. CFA thanks Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber for her tireless energy and efforts over the years to bring a true Ethnic Studies requirement to the CSU. 

The coalition of Ethnic Studies advocates included Cal State University Ethnic Studies faculty who have long been a part of the development of and experts in Ethnic Studies curricula and included Melina Abdullah from Cal State LA; Theresa Montaño from CSU Northridge; Kenneth Monteiro and Russell Jeung from SFSU; and Maulana Karenga from CSU Long Beach.

CFA also recognizes Stevie Ruiz (CSUN) for his strong advocacy for AB 1460 and many other faculty from all 23 CSU campuses, as well as support from Students for Quality Education (SQE), Black Lives Matter, Black Student Union, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA).

“The world has cracked wide open! In the midst of a global pandemic with an economic fallout, and Black Lives Matter as the largest movement in history, California stands at a crossroads; we can either decide to maintain the status quo and systemic racism or we can empower Californians to upend it. By signing AB 1460, Governor Newsom chose the latter and affirmed the value of authentic, meaningful Ethnic Studies and how crucial it is to higher education in the state,” Dr. Melina Abdullah, faculty in Pan African Studies at CSU Los Angeles and CFA member and activist wrote in a press release last week. “This victory was years in the making. We are grateful to Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber for authoring the bill and ushering it through and to all the legislators who signed. The truth is though, that this is the people’s victory.”

California will be the first state in the nation to require that a four-year public higher education system offer Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement, making California a leader in learning.

“Governor Newson, by signing AB 1460, has demonstrated his understanding of the power of a true Ethnic Studies graduation requirement to change people’s lives and to change the racial trajectory this state and country are on,” said Charles Toombs, CFA President last week in a press release. “Moreover, Governor Newsom, unlike so many others, has listened to and really heard the voices and lens of Ethnic Studies faculty, students, and the community. I applaud his leadership.”

Ethnic Studies is the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity that focuses on the lives of people of color from their own perspective. It offers a comprehensive understanding of the unique experiences of Native American and Indigenous Peoples, Asian Americans, Black Americans and Latinx/Chicanx Americans in the United States, as well as an intersectional analysis among the different communities.

“For more than two years, courageous, committed students, faculty, and community members have organized themselves, sent letters, taken to social media, made calls, lobbied, and rallied for Ethnic Studies…even in the face of system and campus administrators and opponents who attempted to block the path. We have turned a corner, by making Ethnic Studies a requirement, it becomes embedded in the largest system of higher education in the country and exposes hundreds of thousands of students to the call for racial justice,” said Abdullah. “This is a moment to celebrate in the names of all of those who fought for and won Ethnic Studies 52 years ago and those who continue to carry the mantle. When we fight, we win!”

News outlets across the state and country picked up the news of the impending higher educational requirement, including Los Angeles Times, KQED, California Black Media, CalMatters, EdSource, LAist, Daily Sundial, NBC News and NowThis News.

The new Ethnic Studies requirement begins with the Class of 2024-25. Undergraduate students on all 23 CSU campuses will take at least one Ethnic Studies course, which includes intersectional issues of race, gender and sexual identity. The law requires completion of one three-unit Ethnic Studies course to graduate, but it does not result in additional units to graduate, as students are able to take the Ethnic Studies course in place of other electives.

While this is a moment of celebration for CFA members and activists, much work is still needed to ensure this work becomes a reality on all 23 CSU campuses. CSU leadership at each campuses is expected to meet with the Academic Senate and the Council on Ethnic Studies. CFA will work tirelessly to ensure AB 1460 is implemented effectively and in the spirit of the bill. CFA will be convening several meetings with Ethnic Studies faculty from all 23 campuses to discuss implementation.

 

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