Chairs Statement on Ethnic Studies bill

July 30, 2020

Dear Governor Newsom:

We write as chairs of the five departments in the College of Ethnic Studies, the birthplace
of the field of Ethnic Studies. We are writing to detail why AB1460 is so critical to the
realization of an education that centers social justice and equity.

First, Ethnic Studies is its own discipline whose birth and development has been fully
centered on questions of social justice. This means that faculty trained in this area are
steeped in conversations about the pedagogy, intellectual development, and activism that
are core to the field. To have students take a course about Ethnic Studies (according to
the requirement the CSU Chancellor is proposing) without having actual faculty versed in
the area teaching it is disingenuous. There are concepts and conversations that are
foundational to the field and that require active engagement in the discipline’s intellectual
and pedagogical spaces. In other words, a sociologist trained in the study of racial
inequality is NOT the equivalent of an Ethnic Studies scholar who does the same. Just as
Sociology is a distinct field, so is Ethnic Studies. An Ethnic Studies requirement requires
Ethnic Studies professors. To assume anyone can teach Ethnic Studies perpetuates the
very institutions of white supremacy that AB1460 was designed to fight.

Second, AB1460 was developed by the CFA, Ethnic Studies faculty and students,
community members and Assembly member Shirley Weber. It was passed by the
California Assembly and Senate because of the incredible activism of the originators. The
purpose of this movement was to ensure that all CSU students could benefit from the
critical work of Ethnic Studies, which is needed now more than ever. Allowing courses
from other departments to fulfill “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice” as the Chancellor is
proposing flies in the face of our historical and contemporary struggles against social
inequality. It is a slap in the face for those who have fought so hard to bring awareness of
the issues that should be foundational to the structure of college education.

Third, this legislation is meant to center the experiences of indigenous groups and people
of color—experiences that are at the core of the intellectual and social justice project of
Ethnic Studies. The ESSJ requirement casts the net so broadly so as to significantly dilute
the original intention of Ethnic Studies legislation. The fact that students under ESSJ can
graduate without having taken any courses about indigenous peoples or people of color is
deeply problematic and bolsters the structural racism that continues to rip our society
apart.

We stand in solidarity with the arguments meticulously laid out in the SF State Solidarity
Letter. The ESSJ proposal does a grave injustice to the intent of AB1460 to center
indigenous peoples and people of color and to have dedicated faculty teaching such
courses to redress the deepening fissures of race that mark U.S. society.

Sincerely,

Falu Bakrania, Associate Professor and Chair, Race and Resistance Studies
Joanne Barker, Professor and Chair, American Indian Studies
Doris Flowers, Professor, Acting Chair of Africana Studies,
     and Chair of Equity, Leadership Studies, and Instructional Technologies
Russell Jeung, Professor and Chair, Department of Asian American Studies
Katynka Martinez, Professor and Chair, Latina/Latino Studies