Q: How have demographic and societal changes in the Bay Area affected the trajectory of the college?
A: There's been an increased demand among our students, to both become teachers and also health professionals. So, we're responding with several new educational pathways for these careers within the college.
For example, the Asian American Studies Department is collaborating with the Elementary Education Department on a social science teacher credential waiver program that would enable Asian American Studies majors to become elementary school teachers after graduation. We also just submitted an application to the California Teacher Commission to participate in a waiver program which allows students to take a set number of classes that fulfill one of the social science teacher credential requirements; it will be equivalent to taking the subject matter test.
As we know from studies in education, people from communities of color are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to standardized tests, and they’re expensive to take. We’ve already had a pipeline program in the college called Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP), where faculty members take undergrads into high school classrooms and have them assist with teaching Ethnic Studies classes. Among PEP’s accomplishments was initiating the inclusion of ethnic studies curriculum in the San Francisco Unified School District, which a number of districts across the State of California are now adopting.
We are also seeking approval for a college-wide online degree completion program in Ethnic Studies which we wouldn’t have been able to do in the 1970s. We can now offer classes online to folks who were unable to finish college after finishing their lower division general education and have them graduate with a B.A. in Ethnic Studies.
Q: What do you think the value is to studying Ethnic Studies in an academic setting?
A: The ethnic studies degree has both a practical application in terms of the employment market, as well as social significance. California is facing a potential shortage of college graduates in terms of workforce needs. Many tech companies say that what they're lacking is people who can think critically and problem-solve, which is the core of ethnic studies curriculum.
Many of our graduates go on to careers in the nonprofit world, education, and social service organizations. Our curriculum broadens their perspective to better serve their clients or students in a more meaningful manner. Moreover, we can see ethnic studies today as particularly relevant with the awakening of mainstream America to the reality of racialized state violence through the mass movement for Black lives. As this nation cries for more socially conscious workers, people educated in ethnic studies will play a crucial role in creating a more just and equitable society. Today more than ever, we need a citizenry who can think critically, communicate their views, and have compassion for themselves and the communities that surround them.
Q: What is your vision for future changes at the college?
A: I would like to see our college expand further into General Education. We do have a number of quantitative reasoning courses that are in queue to be approved. Currently, our courses are heavily embedded in the GE, so that most students can get a minor in the College of Ethnic Studies through taking all of their general education courses with us. But how revolutionary would it be if all students, regardless of their major, were to complete their general education entirely within the College of Ethnic Studies? We would still need to develop additional courses in physical and laboratory sciences among other areas, but this would be my dream of how expansive the College of Ethnic Studies could be in defining the larger University and educate masses of Californians on the importance of advancing Black, indigenous, and other people of color.
We are also constantly working on increasing the number of minors and majors in our college since we know students with ethnic studies degrees retain and graduate at higher rates than others. We hope to better reach folx who would like to seek a college degree but lack access to higher education. This includes Californians who may have completed some college but never returned, as well as people who are incarcerated. We are in the midst of creating a pipeline for these future students.
“We can see ethnic studies today as particularly relevant with the awakening of mainstream America to the reality of racialized state violence through the mass movement for Black lives. As this nation cries for more socially conscious workers, people educated in ethnic studies will play a crucial role in creating a more just and equitable society.”
- Dean Amy Sueyoshi
Q: Can you tell me about ways that you are helping students to overcome their challenges?
A: We are trying to help students financially in many ways, so they don’t have to work as many hours. We have seen that if a student works for more than 20 hours a week, it negatively impacts their education. We are also doing things like redesigning our courses so they're low or no cost, which means assigning class materials that have no cost. Faculty make every effort to facilitate their students’ success. We saw this particularly in March 2020 when the entire curriculum moved to distance learning, and instructors made accommodations to support students stressed about their health and finances due to the global pandemic.
The generosity of donors who fund scholarships remains critical for our students who are economically marginalized, particularly during this time of high unemployment. Scholarships pay for tuition, books, rent, and food, and allow students to focus on learning rather than worrying about their basic needs. They have additional benefits to students’ well-being, boosting their confidence and making them feel as though others are invested in their education.
It seems also that in the very act of applying for our scholarships we are able to inspire students. We have a number of named scholarships where applicants are asked to write about the person that it is named after, which are typically activists. We've noticed that as students write these applications, they're like, “Wow, I didn't know that this person who was here at SF State 50 years ago was doing all this incredible work.” This kind of relationship building, albeit abstract, also enables students to feel as though they are part of a larger ethnic studies community and history.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: Education really is the key to transforming America. There's no doubt that academia in the past has been thought of as an elitist space for a small number of people to amass power and wealth. However, that is not where higher education stands today. Most people today see it as the great equalizer of opportunity. The College of Ethnic Studies provides an educational space to empower people to become socially engaged change agents to transform not just themselves, but the world in which they live. And we need ethnic studies particularly now more than ever, as our communities respond to state-sanctioned assaults against Black folks, indigenous people, immigrants, queers, and women.