AB1460: A Fight for Ethnic Studies

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by Ivan Salinas

In the spring of 2017, CSU Chancellor Timothy White distributed Executive Order 1100 across the 23 CSU campuses for comments and consultation, this was the beginning of the CSU system’s latest attack on Ethnic Studies. The executive order would remove the Cross-Cultural Competency GE Requirement where students had to take six units, two classes, that discussed race, gender, and/or class in order to graduate. Many of the classes offered in Ethnic Studies departments would fulfill this requirement.

Students and faculty began to demonstrate throughout the 23 campuses in response to the chancellor’s decision as many considered this to be detrimental to the Ethnic Studies departments which included four historically defined racialized core groups: Chicana/o Studies, Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, and Asian American Studies.

One of the first major demonstrations at CSUN occurred in Fall of 2017, when several students organized a week of action, walking out in the middle of class and boycotting purchases from campus stores. I was starting my sophomore year at CSUN, and although I was taking many general education courses in the Chicana/o Studies department, many of the professors had not brought up the issue in class. This issue became more visible once the students began organizing outside of classroom halls. It was the first time I joined a protesting march. 

Stevie Ruiz, an Assistant Professor of Chicano/a Studies at CSUN has been on the frontline of the struggle to undo what Chancellor White and his administration had done to Ethnic Studies departments. “We were trying to undo the harm that was done by the executive orders and we were invited by [Pan-African Studies Professor] Melinah Abdullah from CSULA as she had seen the attention we were getting,” said Ruiz “Our faculty voted against the executive order three times. But CSU Chancellor insisted on the implementation and [CSUN president] Dianne Harrison implemented it.”

In December of 2018, CSUN faculty senate voted 44 to 20 against the implementation of Chancellor White’s  executive orders and a 32 to 26 vote of no confidence in President Dianne Harrison.  I was outside of the Oviatt library joining professor Stevie Ruiz and student protesters who were denied entry to the senate faculty meeting. At the time I was working as assistant culture editor at The Sundial, although I was not assigned to write a story, I was there for support. By then I firmly believed the CSU administration was enforcing a system that would only hurt ethnic studies faculty. This was also the time I began to be more involved in MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan), where I learned more of the history of student activism. In fact, CSUN students were arrested in the 1960s for demanding ethnic studies colleges to be implemented in the university. 50 years later, a new generation of students were reminding the administration of the struggles people of color have had to endure to receive a higher education. However, these demands were not enough to ensure that the executive orders would not affect the future of ethnic studies.  

Ruiz explained that student and faculty coalitions found a new strategy, switching gears to save ethnic studies from disappearing on the curriculum through legislation. Dr. Shirley Weber introduced Assembly Bill 1460, a California Law that would require all students attending a CSU to take one class on Ethnic Studies in either Chicana/o Studies, Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, or Asian American Studies before they graduate. Dr. Weber, a California State Representative,was a Pan-African Studies Professor at San Diego State for over 30 years and understood the importances of education on historically racialized communities.

“This is her work. She was elected in San Diego as a voice of the marginalized, including the marginalized faculty in the CSU’s,” said Ruiz.“She’s not jumping into a conversation, but rather someone who’s done the work about this. Weber has shown us how to be diligent in how to advocate for policy. I hope that we can get stuff done. The real change is going to be at the local level.”

AB 1460, which passed and was written into law on August 17 corrects the watered down CSU Cross-Cultural Competency GE Requirement where students could take classes that discussed race outside of the Ethnic Studies. Now Students graduating in the 2024-25 academic take a minimum of three units within the four core Ethnic Studies departments in order to graduate. On top of this the law also requires all campuses to provide Ethnic Studies courses by fall 2021 and the Ethnic Studies Council and Academic Senate of the California State University must approve the core competencies guidelines before the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Throughout the summer of 2020 I became more involved as a student organizer to lobby for AB1460. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to adapt to social distancing organizing.  As a result, we created virtual phone banking sessions and made flyers and infographics to encourage entire communities of California to call district senators and vote in favor of the bill. Once AB1460 passed in the assembly, we then encouraged as many people as possible to call Governor Gavin Newsom’s office to sign AB1460 as soon as it was on his desk. We gained the support of many activists and organizations outside of education platforms to share our infographics on their platforms given that this was an issue that would affect future students of color that would enroll in a CSU. On August 17th, Gavin Newsom signed the bill and AB1460 became part of California law. 

But the CSU Board of Trustees are causing new issues. Ruiz explained they are rushing the process of implementation through an abrupt memo sent by CSU Executive Vice Chancellor Loren Blanchard saying that the full requirement of the law must be effective beginning in fall 2021. 

“We were told in early September we needed to produce the core-competency by Oct. 1st. We have been rushed to meet at all 23 campuses and produce a set of guidelines on how to implement ethnic studies all within less than one month,” said Ruiz. “He’s trying to rush the process so we’re just playing catch-upThis man has demonstrated a record to be anti-ethnic studies. He has not made the issue of a proper racial education a priority. We have been asking if we halt all implementation until we get our new chancellor, so this can be implemented as stated by the law.”

The California Faculty Association released a statement where their Political Action and Legislation Chair Steven Fillings explained in an email that “There is nothing in the law that would require the drastically accelerated timeline proposed by the memo.  There is nothing in the law that would require that ethnic studies courses meeting the learning outcomes requirements be offered in Fall 2021. There is nothing in the law that would require an immediate revision to EO 1100.”

I am currently in my final semester to complete my bachelor’s degree. One of the courses I am taking is Chicana/o Studies 261, Race, Racism, & The Sciences with prof. Stevie Ruiz. His class addresses how people of color have been subject to scientific experimentation and deemed as “inferior” due to our race and even refused us our rights of citizenship. However, the class also offers different ways that we can engage with this information in order to fix these systemic issues.

This moment in United State history, has proven that all residents in America need Ethnic Studies to understand the disparities affecting communities of color such as policing and environmental issues affecting all four communities, especially when the president continues to spread racist rhetoric and the push for a “patriotic” curriculum.

“The Trump administration has belittled the stance of race with a colorblind ideology widely endorsed by left and right-winged groups. They have taken a blind side to talk about racial inequity. We don’t know how his policies are going to shape ethnic studies in the future,” said Ruiz.

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D.