After much deliberation and revisions in committee hearings, the ethnic studies bill, also known as AB 1460, was passed on Thursday in the California Senate with a vote of 30-5.
The bill mandates that commencing with undergraduates in the Cal State system graduating in the 2024-25 academic year, students will be required to complete a three-unit ethnic studies course in order to graduate.
“Part of the fight against racism requires us to increase our understanding of one another and our history,” said Sen. Steven Bradford, a representative of District 35 in Los Angeles County, during his presentation of the bill. “We need students to know not only of the contributions of white Americans but also black, Latino, Asian and Native Americans and their contributions to this country.”
Bradford, who also co-wrote the bill alongside assembly member Shirley Weber, said that it was time for the truth to be told among a history that had been white-washed.
Sen. Andreas Borgeas, a representative of District 8 in Fresno, argued that the passage of the bill would create an imposition “at perhaps one of the worst times” financially.
He said that based on the given report the new curriculum would run the Cal State Universities approximately $20 million for implementation in the middle of an economic crisis while the transition to virtual learning leaves plenty of financial uncertainty.
“We are creating a situation that is, I think, at its heart, based on education and could be good for the overall academic and personal development of our students, but we’re choosing it at the absolute worst time,” Borgeas said.
He said that it would be better suited if the bill returned at a later date.
The discussion surrounding ethnic studies is not new. According to San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies, departments and programs emerged in the late ‘60s after the Black Student Union and Third World Liberation Front in the Bay Area organized protests against systemic discrimination at the university.
Since the bill’s introduction in early 2019, several Cal State Fullerton students have been advocating for its implementation in the curriculum. Some opposers of AB 1460 have been hesitant of its passage as it would make for an unprecedented event of a state government making a decision on behalf of the CSUs.
Last October, the Black Student Union presented President Fram Virjee with a list of demands, one of which asked for his support of AB 1460. Virjee refused and said that it would exclude certain communities as well as relinquish the university’s power to decide graduation requirements.
“The expressed omission of our LGBTQ community, women and gender studies, and other historically marginalized is as stunning as it is stark,” Virjee and the president’s cabinet said in a response to the union’s request.
The CSUF department of women and gender studies and queer studies later refuted Virjee’s reasoning in a statement of their own and expressed support for AB 1460.
Maria Linares, Associated Students board of directors chair, said that she was excited and proud of all the activists who pushed for the bill to be passed. She said that she hopes Gov. Newsom will sign the bill without question.
“The least non-people of color can do is educate themselves, and now, we can do that while earning three units,” Linares said. “Ethnic studies courses will challenge their thinking and what students learn they will be able to apply to their everyday lives. These courses will empower students and will provide them with the true history they were not taught in K-12.”
Similar to students, CSUF faculty members have expressed their support for the bill, like Mei-Ling Malone, a lecturer for African American Studies. She said she felt that the passage of the mandate had been a long time coming and well deserved.
“I can only see it being something beautiful and positive. Teaching ethnic studies myself, I can see how it’s healing and transformative for all students,” Malone said. “It’s incredible when we all can sit together and look at history in a way that’s inclusive and I think it helps us better understand our situation now.”
This post was updated to clarify that only undergraduates graduating in the 2024-25 academic year and beyond will be required to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate.