by the UC Ethnic Studies Faculty Council
Starting in 1968, students at two public universities in California–first San Francisco State and then UC Berkeley–courageously led the way for the grassroots formation of ethnic studies by going on strike and shutting down their campuses despite police brutality and military repression. Well over half a century later, the University of California has at long last proposed an ethnic studies requirement that centers what has historically been marginalized in traditional curricula: namely, the lived experiences of Native peoples and communities of color, their epistemologies, and their struggles within and against systems of colonialism and racism.
As national academic organizations, academic departments, student centers, and community organizations, and as individual scholars, teachers, students, activists, practitioners, and members of the community, we fully support a UC ethnic studies requirement. Not only is this requirement overdue in a state that has been majority minority since 2000, but also, it aligns with state law (AB 101) that will require the completion of an ethnic studies course beginning with the 2029-30 high school graduating class. The UC requirement also works in tandem with the California State University (CSU), which is in the process of implementing a new state-mandated ethnic studies requirement (AB 1460) and with which the University of California shares an Inter-segmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC).
Currently in the pipeline of system-wide review, the A-G course criteria proposal for a UC ethnic studies requirement was drafted by a workgroup of twenty ethnic studies experts, both scholars and teacher-practitioners, whom the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) convened from across the UC system. Six of these specialists served on the writing team charged with producing a draft of the criteria within a process that was conducted with integrity and care. It entailed multiple rounds of review, feedback, and revision, including the incorporation of recommendations not just from the larger workgroup but also from BOARS. On the basis of the writing team’s exhaustive edits, BOARS approved the proposal on November 5, 2021. Since then, feedback from the UC academic senates has also been overwhelmingly supportive.
Yet during a time of intensified racist violence and proliferating racist misinformation, when the need for ethnic studies is more apparent and urgent than ever, the UC ethnic studies requirement has come under virulent attack. This curriculum, which has the overwhelming support of Native peoples and communities of color, risks being pushed to the margins once again. Naysayers with no expertise in ethnic studies not only presume to define the field, rendering it completely unrecognizable to its practitioners, but also have sought to intervene in the UC system-wide deliberative process.
Then and now, ethnic studies comes with a struggle. Then and now, we must be willing to stand against racism. Even as ethnic studies is an evolving interdisciplinary area of study, research, and praxis where ideas can and should be contested, as an over fifty-year-old field that emerged from decades of socially engaged scholarship, sustained community engagement, and resistance to racism, it is not a free-for-all. Unlike traditional academic disciplines which unreflexively center and reproduce whiteness, ethnic studies was forged, in the first instance, through the far-sighted efforts of students of color and Native students to make California public universities responsive and accountable to their needs and interests. This imperative must be honored.
More than fifty years have passed since students first rose up at SF State and UC Berkeley. The time for ethnic studies was then. The time for ethnic studies is now. It is in a spirit of solidarity with ethnic studies and its guiding and animating principles that we, the undersigned, express our full support of the UC A-G ethnic studies requirement, as drafted by experts in the field.