Ethnic studies expands

Recently, statewide cuts to many ethnic studies programs throughout the California University System have threatened many schools’ programs. Sonoma State has so far avoided any cuts, and is actually expanding its two majors.

“When the chancellor was here two weeks ago a student in the audience asked if there would be cuts in ethnic studies programs,” said Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities Thaine Stearns. “What was interesting about that question, from my prospective, is that [budget cuts] are not what is happening at Sonoma State. Ethnic studies programs are not under attack here.”

At SSU, there are two ethnic studies majors: Chicano and Latino studies and American multicultural studies, which also includes a minor in Native American studies and more recently added courses in Jewish studies.

Despite the fact that the two majors are the smallest in the university’s arts and humanities department, the two majors had a collective 88 students enrolled last year, and almost 180 students taking an ethnic studies course to fulfill general education requirements. Both majors are working to expand and improve the courses and student experiences. 

“My experience so far with the Chicano and Latino studies department has been amazing,” said junior Seiri Aragon. “The program will be beneficial to whoever is curious about what Latinos in the past have done as well as the culture they have created.”

Chicano and Latino studies has grown in numbers over the last few years from extensive recruiting efforts, and American multicultural studies is going through a faculty governance program revision, which is scheduled to start in fall 2014.

“From my point of view it is one of the best program revisions I’ve seen from a department in the last two or three years,” said Stearns. “I am really proud of it, so the idea of it being cut doesn’t reflect the direction that we are moving toward.”

Other campuses in the CSU system are not as fortunate. Cal State Stanislaus, for example, has lost four faculty members in their ethnic studies program in the last few years, and at the end of fall 2013 two more faculty members will be cut as the program continues to shrink. 

The school’s front running solution is to hire one part-time professor and alter the current program so students can continue to take ethnic studies courses.   

San Jose State University is planning to eliminate its African American studies department and merge it into another program. Despite a petition that has been signed by over 750 students, the chances of avoiding these cuts seem small. 

At Long Beach State and Cal State Bakersfield the loss of funding and lower student enrollment are forcing these schools to re-examine their ethnic studies programs.

“The California State University is better than this. Given the diversity of our students, we should take a leadership role in providing the kind of education that will help our students be part of the solution to our country’s struggle with issues of equity,” said President Lillian Tiaz and Vice President Cecil Canton of the California Faculty Association in a letter to all CSU presidents, as well as Chancellor Timothy White.

In response, White put together an Ethnic Studies Task Force to try to find a solution so that they can bring it to the Board of Trustees for a vote in the near future.