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Senate Motion Divides Ethnic Studies

By Angeline Bernabe
On February 17, 2014

A third attempt to suggest an Ethnic Studies course as a requirement to the new G.E. curriculum was proposed on Tuesday, February 11th, 2013 at the Academic Senate Meeting.

The motion, which was brought forth by Senator Aaron Sonnenschein, proposed, "At least one of the two required diversity courses must be taken in one of the four ethnic/area studies departments/programs: Asian/Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, Latin American Studies, or Pan-African Studies or be a course cross-listed with courses with the aforementioned departments/programs." 

After much heated debate by some senators, and emotional testimonies from some students who attended, no decision was reached leaving both sides even more unsettled and frustrated. 

Since a decision was not made on this third motion for Ethnic Studies, one can't help but wonder what exactly is keeping senate members from reaching a decision.  Perhaps what needs to be addressed first is where each department/program from Ethnic Studies stands. 

At the gathering in front of the bookstore on Tuesday before the Senate meeting, Dr. Melina Abdullah, the chair of Pan African Studies and Dr. Beth Baker-Cristales, the chair of Latin American Studies, both expressed the urgency to make Ethnic Studies a required course.  The chair of the Asian and Asian American Studies Program, Dr. Ping Yao and the chair of Chicana/o Studies, Dr. Bianca Guzman, were not present at this gathering.

While Dr. Abdullah, over the course of the past couple weeks, has passionately shown how a required Ethnic Studies GE course would benefit students, and while Dr. Baker-Cristales has shown the same support for the requirement, by even publicly addressing her position at the student rally on February 4th on the proposed motion, the presence of the Chicano Studies Department chair and Asian and Asian American Studies chair almost appear to be nonexistent.

What has not been acknowledged is that both the Chicano Studies (CHS) Department and the Asian and Asian American Studies (AAAS) Program do not agree with the proposal to make Ethnic Studies a requirement.  Both released similar statements that they do not support the motion that will require students to take one Ethnic Studies Course as one of their required diversity courses. 

The statement released by the Asian and Asian American Studies Program explained how their program took into consideration CSULA's General Education curriculum as a whole.  With the revision to the General Education requirements, the statement said, "We envision that a strengthened AAAS will play an indispensable role in the GE program.  For these reasons, we cannot support the motion proposed on February 11th, 2014."

Similarly, the Chicana/o Studies Department released in an official statement, "The Department of Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) does not support the Senate motion proposed on February 11th, 2014."  Just like the statement released by AAAS, the CHS department also addressed the benefits of the new GE Program explained, "The Departments of Chicana/o Studies and Pan African Studies, and the Asian/Asian American Studies and Latin American Studies programs were never excluded from the GE program, and more importantly, each department/program has the opportunity to insert and develop core courses within the major that meet the new diversity requirement."

So if AAAS and CHS see a benefit to the program, why is it seen that LAS and PAS do not see the benefit?

Since January 21st's Academic Senate meeting in which the first motion to have a required Ethnic Studies course in the curriculum was introduced (and ultimately failed), the talk of the matter has been that Ethnic Studies will be weakened in many ways if the motion does not pass.  One of those ways suggests a loss in Ethnic Studies majors. 

In 2011, an article from Cal State Northridge reveals the struggle that Cal State L.A. faced regarding the Asian and Asian American Studies Program.  The 2011 article titled, "CSUN community reacts to CSULA's Ethnic Studies Dipute" shows how the administration decided to suspend the AAAS Program at the time because it was struggling as a program. Regardless if the article does not answer all the questions about the movement now, we can take a look into data.  By looking, it can help determine how Ethnic Studies can be weakened and why the push to make Ethnic Studies a requirement is seen as imperative to some.

From the Office of Institutional Research, research shows there has been a gradual decline in majors since the Winter Quarter of 2008.  In the past six years, the number of students who decided to major in Ethnic Studies dropped significantly from a combined total of 136 Ethnic Studies majors in the Winter Quarter of 2008 to a total of 99 Ethnic Studies majors today. 

If dissected even further, the data shows that each of the departments/programs under Ethnic Studies have dropped in the amount of students who are pursuing each of those majors. 

Compared to majors like Liberal Studies, Criminal Justice, or Psychology, which each had over 500 majors in the Winter Quarter of 2008 and reached an impacted status in the span of three years (which shows the growth of the departments), Ethnic Studies has shown a major decrease in the amount of students who want to pursue their majors. 

The significant decrease in the amount of majors has been important because if there are no majors, then the less likely it would be that students are enrolled in classes involving that major.  If there aren't any students taking a particular course from a department and no demand for that class, then that department will not receive funds for that given class due to a lack of students enrolled. The funds that a class receives is determined by FTES, or Full Time Equivalent Student, which helps keep track of how many students are in a particular class being taught. 

So if we take for example AAAS, and take a look at what is provided in the public data from the Office of Institutional Research, the number of majors in that program for Fall 2013 was a total of 12 students.  Because only twelve students were majoring in AAAS, the FTES that the AAAS program received was a total value of 44.33.  The FTES amount can also be distributed among GE courses as well.  For example, if we take a look at the PAS department, there were only 13 undergraduate majors and because there was probably a demand for PAS in Upper and Lower Division GE courses, the FTES for the PAS department in the Fall was a total of 207.73. 

Compared to the Psychology department, which had a total of 782 undergraduate majors alone in the Fall of 2013, the FTES that their department received for their classes in the Lower Division GE curriculum, Upper Division GE, and their major was a total value of 819.40, given that the Psychology Department only has one GE course present in Block D of Lower Division, and about two courses present in the Upper Division Theme.

In short, based on the extensive data, Ethnic Studies courses rely heavily on General Education Courses unlike other departments such as Psychology or many other majors on campus. The information provided shows that Ethnic Studies majors need General Education Courses to survive. 

Based on the statements that both the Chicano/a Studies Department and Asian and Asian American Studies Programs released, it's easy to see how making Ethnic Studies a requirement is not as simple as it sounds.  Since the AAAS Program is still establishing themselves as a major, a required Ethnic Studies GE course (taught by only Ethnic Studies professors) to graduate would mean a greater focus on General Education for a program like AAAS or Chicano Studies, which is also trying to gain majors. Since through that emphasis on General Education, resources will be reallocated in trying to accommodate GE courses rather than the emphasized major. 

Moreover, the new GE curriculum, which has redefined the meaning of diversity and has changed the requirement of what a diversity course is supposed to have students achieve, would not give Ethnic Studies an opportunity to rely on GE courses in the same way they currently rely on GE courses with the new revision to the GE curriculum. 

Overall, a change in the new GE package that was passed could potentially mean Ethnic Studies could lose students if the motion to have Ethnic Studies as a requirement does not pass.  

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