Yesterday morning (2/18/14), Councilman Gil Cedillo introduced a motion that was unanimously adopted by the City of Los Angeles to support a pending proposal currently in the CSULA Academic Senate to require students to take at least one of the two diversity classes in “Ethnic Studies,” which would be necessary to graduate beginning in the Fall of 2016 as the campus transitions from quarter to semester system.
Around noon, the CSULA Ethnic Studies Coalition gathered for a fourth consecutive week at the steps of the student bookstore for a rally that included speeches and a couple of poetry readings by Felicia Montes and Iris de Anda.
The Coalition then marched towards the Martin Luther King Hall Jr. building as the students and community supporters took their cue from one of the students who shouted thru the megaphone: “When Ethnic Studies is Under Attack, What Do We Do?” as the rest of the coalition responded in unison “Stand Up, Fight Back!”
As the events have unfolded in the last month, students and community members have recognized that this issue goes beyond the mere proposal to make “Ethnic Studies” a part of the GE requirements, but it also speaks to the ultimate survival of the “Ethnic Studies” departments and programs on campus.
At the end of the rally, the Coalition made its way to the Academic Senate meeting where once again the CSULA campus police, by its mere presence, attempted to intimidate those seeking to establish “Ethnic Studies” as a General Education (GE) requirement.
As one of the first speakers to address the “Ethnic Studies” proposal, Dr. Ashish Vaidya, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, used flowery and condescending language to claim that the student personal stories heard the previous week strongly resonated with the CSULA faculty. Yet, somehow it didn’t seem to phase Dr. Vaidya that a dozen or so hardline academic senators could care less about a students’ “sense of place and purpose.”
Dr. Vaidya, furthermore, ridiculously claimed that the CSULA Administration is “strongly committed to the success of Ethnic Studies departments and programs at Cal State L.A.” Anyone with a sense of the “Ethnic Studies” history on the campus of CSULA clearly understands that his statements were contrary to historical fact.
After hearing three professors, including the CHS chair, who stated that they are willing to vehemently fight for “Ethnic Studies,” Dr. Armstrong, professor in Pan-African Studies spoke up and called out the phony sympathies that were being spoken.
Dr. Armstrong exposed the elephant in the room that is White Supremacy by correlating the founding of this country with “slavery.” Ethnic Studies departments and programs were founded on the principle that they would challenge institutional and structural racism, which are based on the ideals of White Supremacy. Many students thanked Dr. Armstrong for recognizing the historical fact.
As has been previously noted, Chicana/o Studies has refused to support the proposal to make “Ethnic Studies” a GE requirement by making the absurd assertion that “in general the Chicano/a Studies department felt that this alternative motion was not sufficiently inclusive and could potentially stunt and/or prevent the department from broader participation in GE.”
Dr. Bianca Guzman, chair of Chicana/o Studies, despite acknowledging “the passion by which you students have continued to argue to have Ethnic Studies be central at Cal State L.A.,” reiterated a central talking point that became very prominent throughout the senate meeting as speaker after speaker in opposition to the proposal that can be best summed up by this sentence: “We are not against Ethnic Studies, BUT…”
Dr. Beth Baker-Cristales centered her brief remarks on countering “some of the misconceptions that have been put out there” on the issue of “Ethnic Studies” per the proposal to make it a GE requirement. Dr. Baker-Cristales added that when “we say students have to take a requirement in English no one worries about the resources and where they are coming from… but when we talk about requirements in Ethnic Studies, we don’t want to take resources from other programs.”
Moreover, Dr. Baker-Cristales shared a very important fact with the students and faculty, which is that Chicana/o Studies is the best funded in comparison to Latin American Studies, Pan-African Studies and Asian American Studies, and also has the most full time professors than the aforedmentioned departments. This information could help explain why Chicana/o Studies has refused to demand “Ethnic Studies” as a GE Requirement.
The CSULA Academic Senate was once again forced to adjourn due to lack of time, but the meeting was to continue because Dr. Melina Abdullah was still scheduled to speak and as she began addressing the Academic Senate several faculty members from various departments, including Chicana/o Studies shamelessly walked out on her without giving her the courtesy and professional recognition she merited.
Dr. Abdullah was not phased whatsoever and she acknowledged that, for now, the “Ethnic Studies” motion may have been lost because the original language has been changed and what was initially on the table is no longer there.
But added that she was no longer there to win the Academic Senate’s vote because “the people here don’t even hear me, all they see is the angry Black woman. So let me tell you what the angry Black woman believes. I believe that we are in a White Supremacist Academic Senate.”
Helan Page, a Black anthropologist, defines White Supremacy in the US as an “ideological, structural and historic stratification process by which the population of European descent has been able to intentionally sustain, to its own best advantage, the dynamic mechanics of upward or downward mobility or fluid class status over the non-European populations.”
In exposing the White Supremacist foundation of the Academic Senate at CSULA, it was important to bring clarity to what is really at the heart of the American experience vis-à-vis people of color.
Let me put this issue into perspective for the CSULA Academic Senators so that they will better understand the significance and ramifications of their unwillingness to make “Ethnic Studies” a requirement: On June 11, 1963, the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace defiantly stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to try to block the entry of two Black students when they attempted to desegregate the University.
Similarly, today we have several academic senators who are defiantly blocking student access to a well-rounded education by their refusal to do what is right and incorporate “Ethnic Studies” into the GE course structure. It is what students want.
History has rightfully not been kind to George Wallace.
And history will not be kind to the Academic Senators if they continue to oppose educational equity and justice.
The struggle will continue, and students along with their community supporters will continue to organize. If the L.A. City Council can see the educational benefits of incorporating “Ethnic Studies” into the GE requirement, it is upsetting that the Academic Senate of CSULA fails to see it as well.