Raise your voices: Ethnic studies needs students to stand up

Illustration+by+Julie+Salvaterria%2FContributor
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Raise your voices: Ethnic studies needs students to stand up

Illustration by Julie Salvaterria/Contributor

Illustration by Julie Salvaterria/Contributor

Illustration by Julie Salvaterria/Contributor

Illustration by Julie Salvaterria/Contributor

Calvin Ratana

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Illustration by Julie Salvaterria/Contributor

Illustration by Julie Salvaterria/Contributor

Cal State Los Angeles’s Academic Senate meeting last month must have had a tense atmosphere as over 100 students, community members and activists jammed the room.

But why are so many people attending an academic meeting, something most students would try to avoid? Because these students and community members wanted to have their voice heard on a crucial matter — making ethnic studies a general education (GE) requirement at CSULA.

As it stands, there is a lack of institutional support for ethnic studies from CSULA. Melina Abdullah, chair of Pan-African studies at CSULA, proposed a plan to institutionalize ethnic studies at CSULA by making ethnic studies a GE requirement, making it so that students will have to take a class from one of four ethnic studies departments (Asian-American, Pan-African American, Latin American studies or Chicano/a studies).

But surprise, the proposal was shot down by the Senate, 29-20. Adding insult to injury, the students and community members were denied a voting voice in the matter.

Ethnic studies has certainly become a hot topic within the CSU system over the past several months.

Ethnic studies programs are facing various cuts and merges into other departments so that they can’t stand alone. So much so that the California Faculty Association (CFA) submitted an open letter to CSU Chancellor Timothy White to end the cuts and merges on ethnic studies.

In a previous Daily Sundial article, I said the war on ethnic studies has begun. And it’s our right and duty as students to fight back at the system that chooses to silence our voices and our history.

But why is it so crucial that ethnic studies be incorporated into the GE plan? I’ve heard from various professors that GEs are the lifeblood of ethnic studies.

Simply put, GEs are meant to broaden a student’s horizon and possibly introduce them to a subject that they may be interested in. It is also meant to develop a student’s critical thinking skills with the various courses that are required in the GE plan.

The only way a subject matter such as ethnic studies gains students as majors or minors is through introducing students to the subject matter as a GE class.

Most students do not walk into college conscious of race, as we are force-fed the history and thinking of the white man throughout high school. We are not taught the complete history of people of color. Rather, people of color are the supporting actors.

If ethnic studies is not a requirement, then how will students know that they will take an interest in that discipline? I only began a double major in Asian American studies after taking several classes in the subject. If ethnic studies was not a requirement in the GE plan, I might have skipped over the subject matter all together.

This is how the hegemonic power structure intends to wage war on ethnic studies — through attrition. By denying ethnic studies entry into the GE plan, CSULA has effectively cut off a source of students for the program.

Since ethnic studies will not be a requirement, there will less students exposed to the subject as students try to shoot through their GE courses as fast as possible. Less enrollment in certain classes means those classes are eventually cancelled. Less students and less classes in the program means the ethnic studies department is smaller.

As a result, there is a so-called legitimate excuse to either continue to cut the program or even merge it into a bigger department.

The end result of this vicious cycle means the complete shutdown of the ethnic studies department and program.

The students at CSULA were able to shutdown an Academic Senate meeting recently by protesting. Those students are doing what is right — fighting back to save an entire program that was raised from the efforts of our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s.

During that time, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and the students organized and fought to establish these programs. Now, ethnic studies programs are being struck down without much resistance from students.

What raises my concern isn’t the fact that ethnic studies are getting cut. It’s the fact that we, as students, are not doing much to go against these cuts. We are letting the big man cut our voices, culture and history. We are being complicit.

And that’s exactly how hegemony works — by making the dominated consent to the power of the dominator. Us being complicit in this issue is us consenting to the power that will continue to eat away at our voices and marginalize people of color.

We are responsible for what’s happening to ethnic studies just as much as the powers above are for beginning the cuts on ethnic studies. Are we going to be a generation of students that are put through school and pounded into meat to continue to feed the hegemonic power structure?

I would hope not. Just like the students of color before us, we should fight for the right to keep ethnic studies. Don’t just be processed meat. Be critical of this society and fight for not just us, but for the future generations to come.