June 24, 2020
An Open Letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom on Ethnic Studies
Dear Governor Gavin Newsom:
As one of the few tenured Latina/o faculty members at the California State University (CSU)—the largest public university system in the country—I’m requesting that you sign Assembly Bill 1460 or AB 1460 (ethnic studies bill), once it reaches your desk.
As a son of Mexican immigrants who was born in the State Capital, I’m neither asking nor begging. This is not a “mother may I” or “pretty please” ask. As part of a racial justice movement led by faculty of color, students of color and community activists, this is a formal request for you to do the right thing. While I don’t believe in settling for crumbs—where all CSU’s should have a College of Ethnic Studies!—AB 1460 represents a small, yet important first start to diversify CSU’s curricula with a 3-unit ethnic studies course for graduation. It usually takes 120 units to graduate, as I documented in my recent essay, “The Right to Ethnic Studies in Higher Education” (Inside Higher Ed, 05/15/20).
In a time when the curtains of white supremacy are being torn down by the masses on the streets and countless others in divergent spaces, this is not the time to oppose a bill aimed at teaching tomorrow’s leaders about the history and plight of the racialized, marginalized and otherized. Given that you represent the most powerful person in California, if anything, do it for your legacy. You don’t want to follow in the disgraceful steps of former Governor Pete Wilson with his support in 1994 of Proposition 187—a failed, racist proposition aimed at immigrants. Too often, politicians talk a good game about racial justice and equity, but when it comes to action, they hide behind the same rules, regulations and protocols that brutalize and dehumanize racialized groups and others.
At the end of the day, a 3-unit ethnic studies course is a minor request. This formal request doesn’t include the abolition of police forces, prisons and immigration detention centers in California, representing racist institutions that beat, murder and cage mostly brown and black bodies. Hence, given that AB 1460 doesn’t threaten the status quo in a radical or transformative manner, I’m not sure why you haven’t already committed to signing it?
While I’m aware that the predominately white CSU leadership, including Chancellor Timothy P. White, opposes AB 1460, you should consider the fact that the majority of CSU students are non-white. For example, 21 out of 23 campuses consist of Hispanic Servicing Institutions (HSI). Don’t be fooled by the CSU’s diluted “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice” graduation requirement, which includes and goes beyond AB 1460’s four designated groups: Latinas/os, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. By going beyond these four groups to include all types of “hierarchy and oppression” under the sun, this nonsense seeks to appease everyone, like the racist “All Lives Matter.” To counter this diluted measure, I’m compelled to borrow from Dr. Aaron Wildavsky’s 1973 article on urban planning: If “ethnic studies and social justice” is everything, maybe it’s nothing.
This open letter is not simply an individual request, as noted above. This is part of a racial justice movement led by faculty of color, students of color and community activists. This also includes the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies, the California Faculty Association and others who seek to transform higher education to reflect the changing demographics of this nation.
As a member of the Academic Senate at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (or Cal Poly Pomona), I’m happy to report that we recently approved an anti-racist resolution which includes support for an ethnic studies graduation requirement (06/17/20), following the examples of San Diego State University (SDSU) and California State University, Stanislaus. It’s also great that California State University, Northridge’s (CSUN’s) Academic Senate explicitly includes AB 1460 in their resolution (02/20/20).
Finally, like Bob Dylan’s famous song, “The Times They Are a-Changin,” I hope that you, as governor of the great state of California (formerly part of Mexico!), “…heed the call” to what we—the racialized, marginalized and otherized—are demanding during these dark times: to be listened to; to be treated with dignity and respect.
Álvaro Huerta, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Academic Senate Member
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Copyright 2020 by Dr. Alvaro Huerta. Image of Ethnic Studies used under the fair use proviso of the copyright law from the Ethnic Studies Now website.