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Educators across the state are celebrating the historic new requirement that will make ethnic studies a part of every CSU student’s educational experience.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of AB 1460 (Weber), students entering college in the fall will be required to complete an ethnic studies course in one of four disciplines: Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies or Latina/Latino studies.

Cypress College ethnic studies professor Danny Lind says the new requirement is historic — for the field and for the experience of all students.

“It’s a long time coming. It’s great that it requires students at Cal State to take a class that focuses on the experiences of underrepresented people,” says Lind, a member of United Faculty North Orange County CCD. “This requirement is really important because it will force students to address issues that they might prefer to avoid and think critically about injustice, inequity and the experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color.”

In the wake of last year’s nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Lind says, the need to understand each other is glaringly obvious and crucial to our future. The new ethnic studies requirement will expose students to potentially sensitive material they might otherwise avoid.

“It will help people be more aware of struggles, past and present,” says Lind. “It is really important that you understand the experiences of the people who live amongst you. Not knowing each other is a problem.”

Direction to Come as Some Colleges Scramble

While the new requirement is widely lauded as long overdue, there are some unintended impacts and unanswered questions causing concern for community colleges. CSU’s decision to designate ethnic studies as a lower division general education requirement means that students will be expected to have completed the course prior to transferring to university — at one of the state’s 115 community colleges.

Some colleges, like Cypress, already have robust offerings and will likely need to expand to meet the new demand by fall 2022. But other colleges will have a difficult time meeting these new needs and are scrambling to determine how to proceed. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office estimates there are about 40 colleges that do not currently offer any courses that satisfy the new ethnic studies requirements. Lind says fewer than 50 have established ethnic studies departments.

The problem is compounded by the specificity in the ethnic studies law. Only courses offered by ethnic studies departments will satisfy the requirement, so courses on similar material in other departments only count if they are cross-listed with ethnic studies sections. Lind says the CSU decision was made without significant input from community colleges, which will need to expand offerings and hire faculty to meet the new needs.

“What happens is, we are the collateral damage. Community colleges that don’t have ethnic studies have to create those classes and hire faculty,” Lind says, noting that he expects Cypress College’s ethnic studies offerings to grow from its current 15 sections.

“We’re going to be building and expanding the field, which is great, but we need the funding to meet the needs of our students.”

Lind notes that the disparity in ethnic studies offerings between colleges across the state means that students will likely flock to those with more options to meet their needs. So, while colleges that don’t have ethnic studies faculty will be looking to hire, those that do will be looking to expand and also hiring. With many ethnic studies faculty working as adjuncts, Lind says, there will likely be issues with caps on the number of courses they can teach further compounding the matter.

“The requirement is great — it needed to happen. But now we need to make sure it gets the funding it requires,” Lind says. “We need direction, funding, we need to plan, and then it all needs to be communicated to the colleges and students so no one gets left behind.”

Direction is expected from the Chancellor’s Office (cccco.edu) in March. The new requirement goes into effect for students graduating from CSU in 2024-25, and students entering college next fall are the first who will be affected.

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