Seeing that hate crimes are rising in California and other areas of the country, some state legislators believe that Ethnic Studies courses will help.
They say when people learn about other cultures, they become more open-minded, empathetic and tolerant – and communities become more enriched socially and otherwise.
That’s why a group of lawmakers, academics, students and activists – some of whom have been working to make Ethnic Studies a college-level requirement in California for more than 50 years – are rallying to support a bill making its way through the Legislature, AB 1460.
If passed, the proposal would require that the approximately 481,000 students enrolled in all 23 California State University (CSU) campuses take one 3-credit unit of any qualifying Ethnic Studies course before they graduate.
“The times in which we live make the call for an ethnic studies requirement all the more urgent. …What we are witnessing and experiencing is white supremacy in terms of policy and violence,” said Melina Abdullah, Chair of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University Los Angeles. “Hate crimes are soaring. As educators… we have a role in turning the tide. We know ethnic studies to be part of the solution.”
On June 26, Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who authored and sponsored AB 1460, testified during a hearing on the bill before the Senate Education Committee at the State Capitol.
“Ethnic Studies has a demonstrated benefit for all students – students of color and white students,” said Weber, who is the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and a former professor at San Diego State University, where she taught for 40 years and helped to set up the Africana Studies Department.
“Regardless of major, students who took Ethnic Studies courses graduated at a much higher rate than their peers in their major who did not take Ethnic Studies classes,” added Weber. “Ethnic Studies enable students to succeed academically, professionally, and socially, resulting in them making valuable contributions to the community, the country and our democracy.”
Since introducing AB 1460, Weber has gained the support of a wide range of Californians, including student groups, CSU professors and several of her colleagues in the Assembly and Senate, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).
But two Democratic senators, Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Steven Glazer (D-Contra Costa) stated that they support the goals and the idea of Ethnic studies in higher public education – but they both stepped back from voting for the bill.
Their indecision led the committee to table the bill, which is expected to be heard again as early as next week.
For Pan, he’s hesitating, the lawmaker told Weber, because he does not want to legislate making Ethnic Studies a requirement since a task force commissioned by CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White already made that recommendation in 2016 for schools across the CSU system. A year later, White issued an executive order telling CSU schools to adapt it.
Weber counters that many of the Academic Senates at CSU schools have yet to implement White’s guidance. That is why, Weber said, she resorted to introducing statewide legislation.
“I have tremendous reluctance to have curricula dictated by the Legislature,” said Pan, in whose district Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders and other minorities make up more than 60 percent of the population. “We should let the faculty take the lead on this.”
Like Pan, Glazer says mandating by law that schools require Ethnic Studies could be the beginning of a “slippery slope.”
“There is a potential in the future that the folks that are up here could be people with a different philosophical view than us,” he said. Glazer, whose district is just under 50 percent minority, says he’s worried about setting a precedent that others could misuse later.
Other senators disagree with Pan and Glazer.
”True reform does not occur without bold leaders decidedly challenging the status quo,” says Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who is African American and supports the bill.
Senator Steven Bradford (D-Los Angeles), who is also African American, says every year the California Legislature recognizes June 19th as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” when the last slaves in the United States were freed. But that history, he points out, is not taught in the state’s public schools.
Send a letter to your legislator in support of or opposition to AB 1460: https://calegislation.lc.ca.gov/Advocates/