CFA Activists Join Students, Community Members in Opposing Watered Down Ethnic Studies Proposal

Chancellor White’s statement on going virtual for Fall 2020 wasn’t the only weighty topic discussed at Tuesday’s CSU Board of Trustees meeting. 

CFA members joined students and community members calling on Trustees to change course on a watered down version of an ethnic studies graduation requirement.

Speakers expressed severe disappointment with plans by the Chancellor’s Office to disregard its own task force’s recommendations on implementing an ethnic studies graduation provision. 

In January 2014, Chancellor White convened a task force to study the advancement of ethnic studies at the CSU.  The council released a report with recommendations in January 2016, and little progress has been made since.  In response to the resounding inaction, CFA sponsored Assembly Bill 1460 that would require students complete a 3-unit ethnic studies course to graduate.

Students for Quality Education member and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, student Sophia Florez urged Trustees to support AB 1460 which was developed in consultation with ethnic studies faculty when the Chancellor’s Office appeared unwilling to implement its own task force recommendations.

“Ethnic studies is one of the only academic disciplines that’s created for the people by the people,” she said.

CFA members also questioned the timing of offering a path forward on the issue more than four years after the task force’s report.  It is incredulous to consider a weakened version of AB 1460 during a public health crisis that many faculty, students, and staff are struggling to survive.

“I find it appalling that the CSU exploits this time of public isolation, faculty, and student suffering, and increasing racial and economic disparity to promote an individualistic, bigoted agenda. While our students are overwhelmed with finals and faculty work overtime to meet their intellectual obligations, in a clandestine move to suppress and undermine the movement for ethnic studies, the CSU bypasses the expertise of the ethnic studies council, student opinion, and public dissent using this pandemic to present a reductionist proposal,” said Theresa Montano, chair of CFA’s Teacher Education Caucus and professor at CSU Northridge.

Trustees heard a report from Chancellor’s Office staff about their proposal.  Several trustees expressed concerns over not allowing presentations from the ethnic studies council and proponents of AB 1460 at the meeting.  Others were upset that not everyone who wanted to speak during the public comment period was able to do so in the very limited hour allotted for public comment. While most trustees voiced support for ethnic studies, they focused on technical issues in opposing AB 1460.

“The (Chancellor’s Office) uses legislative interference as an excuse to impede efforts to obtain three units in ethnic studies. What we need is unequivocal support for ethnic studies and AB 1460, not veiled attempts to dilute 50 years of hard work,” Montano  said.

Speakers also pointed out the Trustees’ undemocratic public comment period.  Input from the public was limited to an hour total, and one minute per speaker.  CFA had gathered more than 60 speakers on ethnic studies, but only 21 were allowed to speak, with many trying to get on the queue.

“There were several students and faculty in the waiting room (of the video call), and the failure of the Board of Trustees to let them speak is considered by us a silencing technique directed at suppressing the voices of those in opposition to this agenda item,” said Dr. Melina Abdullah, professor at Cal State Long Beach and steering committee member of the CSU Ethnic Studies Council.

Trustees will take up changes to the ethnic studies graduation requirement at their July meeting.

Events over the last few years in America clearly indicate the need for all of us to be culturally literate and knowledgeable of different races, ethnicities, and perspectives (of what it means to live in America). Institutional racism and other “isms” continue to compromise the life possibilities for many.  CSU students, who will be the leaders in California, the nation, and the world, must be equipped with these diverse perspectives, histories, and epistemologies.

CFA will continue to promote and support anti-racism and social justice in the CSU and across the state.  It’s why we are co-sponsoring Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 that would repeal 1996’s Proposition 209 that banned the consideration of race and gender in hiring, awarding contracts, college admissions, and policymaking.  CFA is also supporting Assembly Bill 3121, which would establish a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans to address the debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships African Americans continue to suffer due to historical and structural racism.