The Academic Senate at Stanislaus State weighed in on a system-wide issue last week that could change the general education requirements of college students throughout the state, voting in support of an ethnic studies requirement for degree programs.
Assembly Bill 1460 was introduced in the State Legislature earlier this year and, if passed, would require the 481,000 students enrolled in all 23 California State University campuses to take one 3-credit unit of any qualifying Ethnic Studies course before they graduate. The bill was created to place legislative pressure on the CSU system following a 2017 executive order in favor of a requirement issued by Chancellor Timothy White that has yet to be implemented.
Stanislaus State’s Academic Senate, which serves as the official representative body of the General Faculty, voted favorably on the issue earlier this week in response to a Nov. 1 deadline for feedback on the bill set by the CSU Academic Senate.
The bill was met with both support and questions on the State Assembly floor, and due to concerns about legislative intrusion into each campus’ curriculum, AB 1460 didn’t make it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee and became a “two-year bill.”
That means it could be heard again in January and have a second chance to make it through the legislature, but before then, state lawmakers asked the CSU system to collect viewpoints on the issue from each of the 23 campuses. Stanislaus State and the other schools had until Friday to weigh in, with about 85 percent of Academic Senate members voting to support the proposed requirement.
Stanislaus State’s Academic Senate Speaker Dr. Steven Filling believes that a majority of other campuses throughout the CSU system will also support the ethnic studies requirement.
“I suspect the answer will be largely yes, but the devil is in the details,” Filling said. “How do we do that across 23 campuses who each have their own uniqueness?”
Stanislaus State already has an Ethnic Studies program, but the courses aren’t required. The ethnic studies requirement would not necessarily mean the student has to take a course from the program — just one that meets the specific learning outcomes of ethnic studies. For example, Filling explained, the requirement could be met by a sociology course that focuses on race issues, or a course in history that charts the impacts of race throughout the years.
Stanislaus State also has a multicultural requirement in place for its degree programs, which require students to take three units of qualifying courses. Many other CSUs, like San Francisco and Northridge, already have requirements for courses that shed light on other ethnic groups, making the decision to make the CSU requirements more uniform one that has caused conflict.
For starters, Filling explained, in order to abide by Chancellor White’s former order that all degree programs must be capped at 120 units, many programs throughout different CSU campuses had to cut courses to make room. The fear is that another requirement added to the list will have a similar impact, forcing departments to get rid of courses that may have otherwise remained. In addition, some CSUs feel like the legislation is an overreach and don’t want the government interfering in decisions on what classes students take.
In order to evaluate and address some of these concerns, Stanislaus State’s Academic Senate considered reports from its Multicultural Subcommittee, an Ad Hoc Committee on the multicultural requirement and the Ethnic Studies program, and also held multiple student and public forums to hear community input on the issue.
To mitigate faculty’s fear of removing courses to make room for the ethnic studies requirement, tactics such as combining requirements have been examined. For example, a psychology class dealing with how racism affects the psyche could fulfill two requirements, rather than just one.
Where there is opposition to the ethnic studies requirement there is also support, Filling said, noting that such a requirement could impact the lives of countless students of color at Stanislaus State. The CSU is the most ethnically and racially diverse university system in the nation with minorities making up about 74 percent of the student population.
“These classes address some of the things our students experience in their lives — especially our students of color and first-generation students. There is often an epiphanic moment when they get into a course that speaks to these issues. A lightbulb goes off, and they realize it wasn’t just them, or their neighbor or the family that these things happened to,” Filling said. “It’s a shared experience, which puts a different take on things.”
Filling added that an ethnic studies requirement could be especially helpful in changing attitudes around Stanislaus State, where flyers touting white supremacist websites and stickers promoting hate have been found frequently in recent years. Proponents of AB 1460 say that when people learn about other cultures, they become more open-minded, empathetic and tolerant – and communities become more enriched socially and otherwise by this.
“Ethnic studies helps people get beyond those ideas and understand themselves in a different way,” Filling said. “Research shows this tends to lessen the frequency of white supremacy and helps us see each other as human.”
Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn said she supports the efforts of the Academic in a released statement.
“Stan State is pleased to have a very vibrant Ethnic Studies program, offering a major, minor and concentration taught by our excellent and dedicated faculty. The Academic Senate of the California State University (ASCSU) is collecting guidance from all 23 campuses that will be used to draft a proposal for a system-wide ethnic studies requirement to recommend to the Chancellor's Office. All campuses were requested to submit their guidance by Nov. 1,” Junn said. “This past week, Stan State’s Academic Senate voted in favor of an ethnic studies requirement for all baccalaureate degree programs. We remain supportive of the efforts of the Academic Senate and Ethnic Studies Department.”