As protests continue around the nation, the conversation of institutional and structural racism has come to the forefront in the fight against injustices. Currently, faculty within the Cal State Universities focus on how to combat these issues within their own institution.
The California Faculty Association, a union representing CSU faculty, released a report on July 1 titled: “Anti-Racism and Social Justice Transformation Package.” The document urges the CSU to provide free tuition to Black, Native American and Indigenous students, whose enrollment has decreased significantly, create programs to help those impacted by the criminal justice system and increase support and the hiring of Black faculty among other things.
A week following the release of the July 1 report, Cal State Fullerton human communications professor Jon Bruschke published a research report on July 8 that details white privilege in the CSU’s funding structure.
“The system invests more money per student in campuses that have a larger proportion of white students,” according to Bruschke’s report.
Bruschke said that it is a commonly known fact at CSUF that the university is the worst funded CSU in the system, which is what sparked his interest in this project years ago.
After racial justice movements gained a momentous surge following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Bruschke said he felt he also had to play his part in fighting for change.
“Unequal educational opportunities are part of the whole systemic question. There’s systematic racism and it’s built into funding for K-12 education, funding for community colleges, funding for higher education and educational opportunities,” he said.
Bruschke’s research report not only explained the data he found, but also its significance in today’s political context.
“If the CSU takes this moment simply to lament the shortcomings of law enforcement without a thorough self-examination of the role that education plays in the systemic inequities, we will have misunderstood a key element of this moment in history,” Bruschke said in his report.
He said the obvious solution is to give equal dollars per student across the 23 CSU campuses, and that the real question is how quickly they are willing to do it.
“The point of systematic racism is that even if there were no racists, the system would still produce inequitable outcomes,” Bruschke said. “The only question is: are you more concerned with protecting the privileges of those who have it or addressing the deficiencies of those who do not,” Bruschke said.
Fram Virjee, the CSUF president, issued a statement on May 30 offering his condolences to the Black community amid the national protests due to the death of Floyd.
“These black and brown lives are our students, our future, our Eden. If we do not hear their cries, listen to their lived experience, and step out and stand up for and with them, we will surely perish ourselves as a people and as a nation,” Virjee said. “I feel sure that many are similarly disgusted, incensed, and moved to tears by what is rearing its visage in our communities, wreaking havoc in our institutions, and playing out upon the streets of our country.”
Bruschke said that the CSU should strive for change to better align with their values as a system, an idea that Siobhan Brooks, professor and chair of the African American studies department, used in the context of CSUF.
“These issues are important not only to students, but they should also matter to faculty invested in social justice, which is a mission of our campus,” Brooks said. “We need to give the message that we care about them as people who want to make a difference in society.”
Black students made up 2% of CSUF’s student population in fall 2019. Black faculty made up 3% of the faculty population for the same semester.
Brooks said she believes that CSUF should give Black students and faculty more resources to dismantle anti-Blackness, and that classes outside of the African American studies department should include Black content in their courses.
She said that the campus needs to create a more welcoming space for Black faculty and staff, and university departments should value Black scholars who teach about and outside of ethnic studies.
“We give our students the critical thinking tools needed to negotiate the racialized world we live in,” Brooks said. “In African American studies, one can see how Black struggle and contribution to our society relates to other fields.”
Kristen Rowe, assistant professor of American studies, said the university could better support the Black community at CSUF by offering and committing to monetary structural support, in addition to their statements of allyship.
“How that can come is more support for research and work that amplifies voices of marginalized communities,” she said. “If we want to make a long standing impact, it needs to be in these material things.”
Rowe also emphasized the importance of education in building a better world, echoing her support for the ethnic studies bill, AB 1460, a proposal that has been rejected by Virjee and CSU chancellor Timothy White.
“Education is a really important tool,” Rowe said. “You learn about the histories, the stories, the patterns, the counternarratives within our histories that help contextualize and humanize what we see today.”
African American studies lecturer Mei-Ling Malone said she also believes that education is powerful and a good start to looking at structural and radical change in a broader sense, and shared her support for AB 1460.
“I think that it’s part of the solution for sure, that critical education; just seeing that growth in students after understanding it better and kind of debunking all of these kinds of lies and propaganda,” she said.
Malone said she is excited to see that the bill is being pushed forward because if more people were able to understand history, they could understand the events rather than get caught up in mainstream media that could play down the problem, spread misinformation or focus on other distractions.
“Any kind of American studies, ethnic studies or African American studies can help give students the background to really digest the gravity of the problem because it is such a massive systemic issue,” Malone said.
In addition to the proposition, she said that CSUF could address the issue of institutional racism by having a more comprehensive look at who the school is admitting and reaching out to, as well as the betterment of the hiring process to have a more accurate representation of the school’s population. Malone added that the university should have a genuinely diverse faculty in terms of race, politics, religion, sexuality and so forth.
As protestors move forward with their pursuit of justice and demand equity in higher institutions, including education, Bruschke said that now is not the time for the CSU to host studies or committees that only serve to postpone the issue.
“Most civil rights actions, the first answer is always you need to wait. I think this moment in history means waiting should be not the top plan,” Bruschke said.
The next board of trustees meeting will be held on Wednesday, in which the AB 1460, finance and institutional advancements will be discussed.