Legislator Urges Ethnic Studies as a Remedy to Culture of Hate

Left to right: Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Senator Steven Glazer (D-Contra Costa).

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/

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