Over 100 students, community activists, faculty, staff, and others jammed the Cal State L.A. Academic Senate on January 28, 2014 to demonstrate its strong support for “Ethnic Studies” (i.e. Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies) becoming part of the General Education (GE) program.
GE courses are intended to introduce undergraduates to a broad knowledge base from a wide range of disciplines in the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences. GE courses are important for they help students develop basic problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
As it currently stands now at CSULA, Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies are not fully supported within the GE course structure.
Dr. Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of Pan-African Studies, proposed a remedy to the lack of institutional support of “Ethnic Studies” by including language that essentially “institutionalizes” Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies into the GE structure meaning that every student planning to graduate from CSULA will have as part of their education an “Ethnic Studies” course requirement.
Dr. Abdullah’s motion states: “at least one of the two diversity courses must be taken in one of the four Ethnic Studies/Area Studies Departments/Programs: Asian/Asian American Studies, Chicana/o Studies, Latin American Studies, or Pan African Studies.”
Yet, as the Academic Senate debated, it was evident that there was strong opposition among CSULA faculty to explicitly require “Ethnic Studies” as part of the new GE structure for Fall 2016.
Several CSULA faculty members who spoke made vague references to racist email exchanges they received from “anonymous” faculty.
Other faculty despite publicly stating that they supported “Ethnic Studies” in “principle” still found a way to oppose Dr. Abdullah’s proposal by using coded racist language within the narrative of “reason” “truth” and “objectivity” because for them suddenly “Ethnic Studies” was not inclusive of “others.”
According to the narrative of “reason” offered by some faculty members, it would set a bad precedent to allow “Ethnic Studies” to be part of the GE course requirements because what would keep say “Business Administration” or “Color Theory” advocates from pressuring for inclusion in the GE?
Furthermore, some of these white faculty members had the audacity to question the expertise of “Ethnic Studies” professors because apparently according to these white guardians of academia, they would be left out of teaching “Ethnic Studies” if it was made part of the required GE courses.
These white faculty members somehow felt privileged enough to claim ownership over “Ethnic Studies” essentially admitting their racism by implying that “Ethnic Studies experts” weren’t qualified to teach even in their own area of expertise.
After being subjected to the onslaught of Eurocentric academia, “Ethnic Studies” has allowed communities to “write back” and “talk back” to the racist ivory tower narrative and now some professors at CSULA feel threatened that their monopoly over pedagogy, methodology, and ideology might be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kevin Baaske, chair of the CSULA Academic Senate, attempted to close the debate on this issue, yet Dr. Abdullah reminded the Academic Senate that there were over 100 students, community activists, faculty, staff, and others who were in attendance and had the right to speak and have their voices heard on this important matter.
In a most undemocratic manner, it was made clear to all of us in attendance, that this was not a public forum, and that it would be up to the Academic Senate to vote on whether to allow public comment or not.
To add insult to injury, for the first-time ever the Academic Senate voted with “clickers,” ensuring that there’d be no accountability or transparency on this matter.
When Dr. Abdullah continued to press for faculty accountability and transparency by calling for a roll call vote, the Academic Senate refused and voted it down with their “clickers.”
So, as of now, we will not know which professors voted for or against Dr. Abdullah’s proposal. However, the final tally to include language that would make Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies part of the GE was voted down 29 to 20.
So where was our prestigious Chicana/o Studies faculty in this debate? SILENT. I repeat they were SILENT. SILENT. SILENT.
When the chair of the Academic Senate asked if there were any other senators wishing to be heard, there was total silence in the room, at which point I shouted “C’mon Chicana/o Studies SPEAK UP!” And the room became tense.
Once again, Chicana/o Studies at CSULA remained SILENT. The opportunity to strengthen “Ethnic Studies” was presented on a platter, and yet Chicana/o Studies remained SILENT and did not raise its voice to persuade any of the faculty who were in opposition to Dr. Abdullah’s proposal to vote in favor of what was on the table.
One can surmise the following: either the Chicana/o Studies department felt threatened by one of our Black sisters for making the initial proposal and got caught up in the old divide and conquer tactic of academia that pits Blacks against Chicanas/os and maybe just maybe Chicana/o Studies was in opposition to including “Ethnic Studies” as part of the GE course requirement or perhaps Chicana/o Studies was afraid to speak up on behalf of the students and community?
Dr. Abdullah’s proposal was a positive step towards ensuring the survival of “Ethnic Studies” at CSULA yet for the Chicana/o Studies department to remain SILENT was unacceptable.
But it shouldn’t be a surprised to any of us who have been following the history of Chicana/o Studies at CSULA or have been struggling to root Chicana/o Studies back to the goals of El Plan de Santa Barbara.
Let me remind you that in early February 2013, MEChA de CSULA called out the Chicana/o Studies department: “While we understand the institutional racist structures in place, MEChA de CSULA also recognizes that Chicana/o Studies has remained silent on many issues impacting students. The lack of Chicana/o Studies accountability is a disservice to those students who created the department in 1968 on behalf of the community.”
And yet we continue to find this situation unacceptable and are compelled to raise our voice again to address the institutional neglect of not only CSULA but the complicity of Chicana/o Studies for its failure to remedy this blatant racist institutional practice of maintaining Chicana/o Studies, Pan African, and Asian American Studies in a state of flux.
As the meeting ended, Mayra Rangel, a MEChA de CSULA member, shouted that not allowing students and community to speak was unacceptable.
Those of us in attendance made it clear that our voices would not be silenced.
I stood up and told the Academic Senate loud and clear that their vote to oppose Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies “was a declaration of war against our community and that we would organize and challenge their decision.”
A white woman professor shouted back to me saying that “this was not a war, and I am not your enemy” but in her anger somehow managed to let out her closeted racism by stating for all to hear that what is she to tell her daughter when she is watching Beyonce on television “gyrating.” WTF?
I yelled back that her comment was racist. At this point, another student indicated that her comment is exactly the reason why we need “Ethnic Studies.”
The room became even more tense, but now other students were saying they would walk-out if they had to and that it was a war. I reminded the faculty present that they are here for the students.
As faculty were scrambling to leave as quickly as possible, Chicana/o Studies professor, Dr. Soldatenko avoided me, but I managed to confront the chair of Chicana/o Studies, Dr. Bianca Guzman. I told her that it was disheartening to know that Chicana/o Studies remained silent on this issue.
I asked her why they as Chicana/o Studies representatives and experts in the field remained silent. All she could say was that “its not so simple.”
I reminded her that for years the institution has denied us a place at the table, and now that we have people inside the ivory tower, we were once again left out because Chicana/o Studies remained silent.
How Chicana/o Studies representatives voted on this matter remains unclear for the moment, and we will follow up on this in a future post as the battle for Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies at CSULA continues.
Chicana/o Studies faculty fail to recognize that it was confrontation that built an infrastructure that created the space necessary for them to be employed in the first place. So their silence speaks volumes.
Demanding that Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies be part of the GE must be done in solidarity with our sisters and brothers from other communities, and to leave the Pan-African Studies department and professors hanging like that is lamentable. It is not out of line to protect the interests of students of color currently on campus nor those who will call CSULA their home in the future, especially in light of the hostilities that have historically existed from CSULA administrators against students and communities.
It is evident that the silence of Chicana/o Studies equates to complicity and as a result its non-confrontational acquiescence have gotten us nowhere.
It should be noted that the dialogue taking place at CSULA on “Ethnic Studies” goes beyond the issue of the GE requirements and the conversion from quarter to semester. In fact, the dialogue on “Ethnic Studies” is part of a larger question involving the 23 campuses of the CSU system.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White has appointed a task force to review the future of “Ethnic Studies” courses. The task force is assigned with probing the enrollment rates and other data for “Ethnic Studies” programs in the CSU system before a recommendation is brought to the Board of Trustees for a vote.
Since their inception, Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies have been marginalized, downsized and even completely eliminated under the guise of “low-enrollment” or “budget cutbacks.”
Across CSU campuses, Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies have been forced to confront what is called a “reign of data terror: a new administrative ideology that privileges the number of majors, course popularity, and fill rates over a broader vision of the CSU’s mission: to prepare students for a multi-cultural society.”
As such, “Ethnic Studies” departments and programs are the first disciplines in the line of fire to face the wrath of administrative austerity measures. These attacks are not new but part of a legacy rooted in the very formation of these programs in the 1960s and 1970s in which administrators used their power to block the creation of “Ethnic Studies” since day one.
CSU Chancellor White has appointed former CSULA President James Rosser to head the “Ethnic Studies” Task Force on this issue.
James Rosser was appointed president of CSULA in 1979 by a vote of 8 to 7 over Chicano educator Julian Nava. At the time, CSU trustees pitted Black and Chicano communities against each other.
Meanwhile, as President of CSULA, Rosser oversaw the growth of financial contributions that saw the modernization of the campus, yet “Ethnic Studies” programs under his watch faced structural failures, such as the inability to retain community activists and scholars like Richard Santillán and Bert Corona.
In addition, the cultural sovereignty of Chicana/o, Black, and Asian student centers were lost as these centers were consolidated under the banner of so-called “pan-unity” with the creation of the Cross Cultural Centers. Also, the Black Student Union (BSU) disappeared under President Rosser’s (who happens to be Black) administration.
Rosser retired in June 2013 after thirty-three years as president of CSULA.
Rosser’s appointment should raise concerns especially when under his administration “Ethnic Studies” programs were essentially kept dysfunctional.
One thing is certain, however, that the very presence of hundreds of students and community activists at the meeting demonstrated that this battle is just beginning and the community is once again ready to mobilize to stop the attacks against Chicana/o Studies, Pan-African Studies, and Asian American Studies at CSULA.
¡La Lucha Sigue!