CSU’s ethnic course requirement arrives as OCC plans to expand program

College freshmen entering California State University System schools in the 2021-22 academic year will be required to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate just as Orange Coast College plans to grow its own program. 

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1460 into law on Aug. 17, requiring students at CSU’s 23-campuses to take a three-credit ethnic studies course. CSU was the first school in the country to offer any ethnic studies course and at least one class is already offered at each location. 

“The ethnic studies discourse now occurring throughout the state is an important one that seeks to shift to the center the narratives and experiences of groups in the United States that have been marginalized,” said Jessica Ayo Alabi, chair of OCC’s Ethnic Studies Program.

OCC currently offers two ethnic studies courses: Contemporary Ethnic America (ETHS A100) and Ethnic Groups in the U.S. (ETHS A150).

Contemporary Ethnic America, taught by Juani Funez-Gonzalez, “compares and contrasts the cultural and historical experiences of five major ethnic/racial groups contributing to the shaping of contemporary intergroup relations in the United States,” according to the OCC course catalog. This class will be offered during the upcoming spring/intersession semester. 

Ethnic Groups in the U.S., taught by Jordan Stanton, teaches students to “evaluate the role of a racial/ethnic group in the development of the United States,” and will also be offered during the spring/intersession semester. 

Alabi says that OCC students will be able to take these courses to fulfill CSU’s requirements.

In contrast to the ethnic studies courses offered by OCC, which explore multiple ethnic groups, the newly required classes by CSU will focus specifically on one of four ethnic groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino/Latina Americans, with possibly more on the way. 

“Before this measure passed, we were already in the process of developing more ethnic studies courses such as Black Studies, LatinX Studies, American Indian Studies, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies,” Alabi said. 

There has been debate over this interpretation of the new law, with opponents arguing there is nothing in the language of the bill to suggest it should be a lower-division course, drawing criticism from CSU faculty and students alike.

“We will make sure that students get the classes they want, need and deserve at OCC as a matter of equity and enlarging the Ethnic Studies Pathway of study for students who desire these degrees,” Alabi said. “Instead of piecing together random courses from all over the campus, it is important that ethnic studies as a discipline be recognized, understood and respected. It is not a periphery degree and shouldn't be treated as such because colleges want to rush things.”

Students can expect to start seeing these new classes in fall 2022. 

“There is a curriculum approval process that all our classes must go through first.  Also, in order to create a new degree program, there are additional steps,” Alabi said.

OCC may also have to hire new ethnic studies faculty if necessary. 

“What students will need immediately is already in place, but as a requirement, the demand will increase so offering more sections of these classes will be an option if the new classes are not in place,” Alabi said. 

“We intend to make sure the faculty that teach ethnic studies have training in this area and can deliver the competencies that are received in the CSU ethnic studies requirement,” Alabi said. “Eventually, it will be important to hire an ethnic studies full-time, tenured faculty member and create a degree program, which is my goal.”

The implementation of these new courses is still up in the air as it awaits finalization by CSU’s Board of Trustees, which will ultimately decide if this required class will need to be taken at the community college level. This decision could possibly cost up to $45 million for community colleges to add these courses. 

During CSU’s Board of Trustees meetings on Nov. 17 and 18, the educational policy committee voted to make a minor amendment to the policy, but not a revision clarifying that students can take the course at a higher or lower division, sending it a step closer to being implemented as a lower-division requirement.  

More news and updates to CSU’s new ethnic studies requirement can be found here.

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