Gov. Gavin Newsom: Support an ethnic studies requirement in CSUs

Illustration of a person reading a textbook, surrounded by images of people of different ethnicities telling them about their histories
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Staff

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As one of the few tenured Latina/o faculty members in the California State University system — where Latinas/os make up only 4% of tenured faculty members — I am requesting that Gov. Gavin Newsom sign AB 1460, the ethnic studies bill, once it reaches his desk.

As a son of Mexican immigrants who was born in California’s capital city, I’m neither asking nor begging Newsom. This is not a “mother may I” or “pretty please” ask. Amid a racial justice movement led by faculty of color, students of color and community activists, Newsom should do the right thing for the state of California and its CSU students.

While I don’t believe in settling for crumbs, AB 1460 represents a small, yet important first start to diversify the CSU system’s curricula with a three-unit ethnic studies course for graduation. In a time when the curtains of white supremacy are being torn down, as illustrated by the removal of Confederate statues throughout the nation, this is not the time for Newsom to oppose a bill aimed at teaching tomorrow’s leaders about the history and plight of the racialized, marginalized and otherized.

Given that Newsom is the most powerful person in California, if anything, he should sign it for his legacy. Newsom doesn’t want to follow in the disgraceful steps of former governor Pete Wilson with his support in 1994 of Proposition 187 — a failed, racist proposition aimed at immigrants. Too often, politicians talk a good game about racial justice and equity. But when it comes to action, they hide behind the same rules, regulations and protocols that brutalize and dehumanize U.S. minorities.

As I articulated in a previous essay from the perspective of a faculty member of color, “ethnic studies is about self-respect and self-determination. It’s about racialized groups — workers, students, scholars, organizers and others — refusing to be viewed or gazed upon from a Eurocentric paradigm as inferior or less than. It’s about rejecting the scholarly practice of being objects of studies. Instead, we demand to be the subjects in this equation. As subjects, we don’t need outsiders writing our stories, narrating our histories and planning our futures.” This is what makes this course requirement so crucial: to have all students read and understand the experiences of racialized groups in their own words, with their own voices.

At the end of the day, creating a three-unit ethnic studies course requirement is a minor request. This doesn’t include so-called radical ideas, such as the abolition of the police, prisons and immigration detention centers in California, racist institutions that beat, murder and cage mostly Brown and Black bodies. So, given that AB 1460 doesn’t threaten the status quo in a radical or transformative manner, why hasn’t Newsom already committed to signing it?

While CSU Chancellor Timothy White opposes AB 1460, the majority of CSU students are nonwhite. Out of the 23 CSU campuses, 21 are Hispanic-Serving Institutions; in repugning AB 1460, the chancellor is not representing the interests of CSU students.

Newsom shouldn’t be fooled by the CSU system’s diluted “ethnic studies and social justice” graduation requirement, which includes courses about issues and groups beyond AB 1460’s four designated groups: Latina/o Americans, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. By going beyond these groups to discuss any and all types of “hierarchy and oppression,” this diluted requirement seeks to appease everyone, like the racist “All Lives Matter” does. If “ethnic studies and social justice” consist of everything, it might become nothing.

This formal request to support AB 1460 is part of a larger racial justice movement led by faculty of color, students of color and community activists. This also includes the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies, the California Faculty Association and others who seek to transform higher education to reflect the changing demographics of this nation.

Moreover, as a member of the Academic Senate at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, I’m happy to report that we recently approved an anti-racist resolution, which includes support for an ethnic studies graduation requirement, following in the footsteps of San Diego State University and CSU Stanislaus. It’s also great that CSU Northridge’s Academic Senate has explicitly supported AB 1460 in a resolution, something that the UC system should consider doing and perhaps implement itself.

Like Bob Dylan’s famous song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” I hope that Newsom, as governor of the great state of California , “heed(s) the call” to what we — the racialized, marginalized and otherized — are demanding during these dark times: to be listened to and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Álvaro Huerta, Ph.D. ’11, is an associate professor in urban and regional planning, as well as ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.