Students of color are subject to increasing discrimination, as many ethnic studies programs are being cut across the state across all levels of education.
In 2012, the Tucson Unified School District banned K-12 ethnic studies classes because the administration said they felt it promoted hatred and division among their students.
Now, some California State University campuses are following suit and drastically cutting the ethnic studies departments or merging them into larger departments.
Despite what organizations like the Tucson Unified School District believes ethnic studies promote, these departments educate students in the cultural literacies needed to be effective leaders. It helps students learn to address the complicated social and cultural issues that are part of an increasingly diverse United States, according to the California Faculty Association (CFA).
Professors aren’t being replaced, classes are being reduced and majors could be eliminated or subsumed into other liberal arts programs, said Carla Rivera from the Los Angeles Times.
By cutting classes, not only are professors losing money, but students are also losing out because less courses are being offered which may delay graduation for some students.
The CFA, which has expressed deep concern regarding this issue in a letter to the CSU campus presidents, said that San Jose State, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Long Beach are considering either cutting the ethnic studies majors or merging them together; some of these schools have already started doing so.
Many opponents, including the Tucson Unified School District, believe that ethnic studies courses, such as Chicana and Chicano studies courses, are designed to promote hate or rebellion against other ethnic groups. Individuals of other races may become wary of these courses, and can develop a sense of alienation from their classmates. The mindset that courses in African-American studies are solely for African-American students is a misconception engraved in many students’ minds.
At Cal State Fullerton, the ethnic studies department consists of Chicana and Chicano Studies, African-American Studies and Asian-American Studies.
Alexandro José Gradilla, dual chair of the Chicana and Chicano Studies and the African-American Studies department, said ethnic studies is critical to higher education and university knowledge because it gives students the tools needed to question the stigma of the societal role of minorities. He said it’s rewarding knowing he works not only with students of color, but also non-students of color who are committed to issues of social justice, racial equality or social transformation.
Gradilla said he loves the way in which research and knowledge can be beneficial to the social progress of communities. As an undergraduate, he saw the power and impact that ethnic studies can have on students and their respective communities.
“We actually look at the world from a different standpoint so that the knowledge and the knowledge perspective that we bring, especially the good type of research and good type of knowledge, is always critical and from our standpoint as being people who have been excluded, people who have been ignored, people who have been made invisible,” Gradilla said.
Society is greatly changing and many departments don’t have the time to cover cultural diversity, Gradilla said.
“We give training in terms of thorough cultural diversity, cultural competency, cultural awareness. Students will learn how to use that and blend it with their future professional goals,” Gradilla said.
Carlos Beltran, 21, a political science and Chicana and Chicano studies double major, said the cuts and changes are devastating because they limit the expression and development of diverse ethnic groups.
“These ethnic departments do not only teach history of different ethnic groups, but also teach critical perspectives, histories, backgrounds, etc, about ethnic groups,” Beltran said. “These components are usually ignored in other Western departments, causing our history to get lost in tradition.”
People need to understand that ethnic studies goes beyond the color of the skin of the individual or its ancestry.
Ethnic studies brings to light what many try to hide.
The lessons taught are beneficial not only to people of color, but also to others, because it emphasizes unity among the masses while encouraging students to take their knowledge and apply it to their career and community.
The importance of understanding various cultures are less evident in writing, but rather in action, where individuals can promote individual as well as collective change.
“We call on each campus president, the Chancellor and Board of Trustees of this great system to view these programs (and others) not as impediments to efficiency, but rather as opportunities to help us all live up to the best in ourselves and in our history,” reads the CFA letter.
The ethnic studies department at CSUF is not in any danger of being cut because the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the president of the campus and other administrators on campus see the relevance and importance of it, Gradilla said.
“I think it’s a big challenge for us especially being ethnic studies at a majority minority serving institution such as CSUF,” Gradilla said. “Many students are not aware what ethnic studies is. Many students are only aware of either stereotypes or are unsure of what we do.”
Although many students are truly unaware of the deeper meaning of ethnic studies and are only exposed to various stereotypes, the department is necessary to encourage positive development among all students.