On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that requires all California State University students to take an ethnic studies course in order to receive an undergraduate degree.
AB 1460 signed into law
Assembly Bill 1460, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), will now have students decide between one of four ethnic studies classes for the new requirements: Asian American, Native American, Hispanic American, and African American. The bill is due due to go active for the 2021-2022 academic year, with students graduating in 2025 being the first class to graduate with the required class.
Assemblywoman Weber celebrated the bills passage over Twitter: “Great news, today AB 1460 was signed into law by Governor Newsom! This bill reflects 50 years of student, faculty, and community advocacy for curriculum reflective of and responsive to our diverse state. Thank you CFA (California Faculty Association) and many more advocates for your tireless organizing/support.”
Great news, today #AB1460 was signed into law by @CAgovernor! This bill reflects 50 years of student, faculty, and community advocacy for curriculum reflective of and responsive to our diverse state. Thank you @CFA_News and many more advocates for your tireless organizing/support
— Asm. Shirley Weber (@AsmShirleyWeber) August 18, 2020
AB 1460 had been passed by the Senate in June and by the Assembly earlier this month across clear party lines. Strong continents of supporters and opponents had come out over the bill in the previous months, with many taking the issue online due to COVID-19.
Supporters, bolstered by the George Floyd protests, said that ethnic studies was needed to address California’s diversity, confront any “miseducation,” and to “think critically” about race in America.
“Governor Newsom, by signing AB 1460, has demonstrated his understanding of the power of a true ethnic studies graduation requirement to change people’s lives and to change the racial trajectory this state and country are on,” said CFA president Charles Toombs. “Moreover, Governor Newsom, unlike so many others, has listened to and really heard the voices and lens of ethnic studies faculty, students and the community.”
Others noted how AB 1460 will potentially boost academic success for many minorities.
“The CSU is the largest public serving institution with the largest achievement gap between white students and Black, Latinx, American Indian, and low-income students,” explained CSU Northridge professor Dr. Stevie Ruiz earlier this month. “Countless studies have proven Ethnic Studies puts students on the path towards graduation, while at the same time it redresses the pain, grief, and suffering that students experience due to poverty, criminalization, war, and houselesness.”
Opponents warn of declining student enrollments, high costs to implement AB 1460
Opponents have noted that AB 1460’s passage does not guarantee success, ignores other needed mandatory classes, could be an artificial push to boost certain departments, and may lead to many students not going to CSU colleges altogether.
“This sends a message to many students that they aren’t welcome,” explained an anonymous CSU Los Angeles Professor to the Globe. “CSU actually had a much longer list of classes that was a lot more inclusive in their own proposal. But this narrows it down to four. What about Jewish students? Slavic students? Muslim students? Female students? Gay or Lesbian students? Pacific islander students? Don’t they matter? Shouldn’t they learn about their culture and potentially have others learn about it too for greater understanding? According to California, apparently not.”
“Only around 20% of all CSU students are white. That number has been going down for years, and it’s going to accelerate now. Same with other races and people and genders who are suddenly not important enough to be on the mandatory list. It’s a shame because you have some of the most passionate teachers in these classes, and if they were left as electives, you would see a good mix of students wanting to take that instead of large groups of students mostly disinterested in it like other mandatory classes.”
Many at CSU campuses are also not happy with AB 1460 because of the $16.5 million cost of implementing these changes.
“The coronavirus recession has stretched a lot of state college budgets thin,” explained college policy expert Dr. Helena Pierce. “California is no exception. And now they need to find this extra money to expand these departments, hire extra teachers, and hope the plan doesn’t fall off with enrollment declination across nearly two dozen campuses.”
“There hasn’t really been an honest discussion about this because many professors and students fear being called racists if they opposed this. And now it’s law with students not having any say in the matter.”
Passage of AB 1460 has made California the first state in the U.S. to have an ethnic studies class as a graduation requirement in their state university system.
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