Lewis Call is the department chair of the History Department. Opinion submissions do not reflect the opinions or editorial coverage of Mustang News.

Will future historians remember this as the dead week that changed history? On Dec. 3, I marched with 1,000 Cal Poly students, faculty, staff and administrators. We marched against hate. We marched for tolerance and inclusion and diversity. And we marched so that the demands of SLO Solidarity would be heard. 

As a faculty member and the chair of an academic department, I am especially interested in SLO Solidarity’s curricular demands. I fully support the implementation of a queer studies minor, and I am confident that my faculty will teach in that minor when it’s approved. I understand the demand that every Cal Poly student be required to take a course in women’s and gender studies or ethnic studies. And I have a bit of good news for SLO Solidarity. If their goal (like mine) is to ensure that every Cal Poly student learns about issues of difference and diversity related to gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture and class, then we are already meeting that goal.

Every Cal Poly undergraduate must take a course in GE Area D1, “The American Experience.” D1 satisfies the CSU’s “American Institutions (AI)” requirement, the only curricular requirement that’s enshrined in state law (and the reason your community college U.S. history course doesn’t transfer to Cal Poly). The law requires every CSU campus to “provide for comprehensive study of American history and American government including the historical development of American institutions and ideals” (California Code of Regulations Title 5, Section 40404). Here at Cal Poly, we believe that American history includes the histories of women, queer individuals and all ethnic groups. We believe that American ideals include diversity and dignity, tolerance and respect. Conservative comedian Steven Crowder apparently thinks SLO Solidarity should be demanding constitutional studies. Guess what? We teach that, too. Every American Institutions course covers the U.S. Constitution. The quest for diversity and inclusion is a crucial part of constitutional history.

Students can satisfy the American Institutions requirement by taking an excellent course in women’s and gender studies (WGS 201), ethnic studies (ES 112) or political science (POLS 112). But no other department teaches as many American Institutions courses as the History Department.  We have four different American Institutions courses: HIST 201, 202, 206 and 207. Every one of these courses meets the U.S. Cultural Pluralism (USCP) requirement.  Every one of them teaches diversity. HIST 201 and 202 show “how race, class and gender shaped changing definitions of freedom and equality” in U.S. History. HIST 207 has a similar focus. HIST 206 teaches the histories of “African American, Asian American, Native American, European American and Latino/a men and women.” I can only assume that the Facebook trolls who say that American history “just happens to be” the history of white men were not paying much attention in their American Institutions courses.

I schedule multiple D1 sections every quarter. Many freshmen get block scheduled into these courses; other students flock to these courses every quarter. History faculty teach 700 or 800 D1 students every quarter. So take an American history class at Cal Poly. Take 201 or 207 and learn about the history of slavery and its abolition. Take 202 and learn about the histories of the civil rights, labor and feminist movements. Take 206 and learn about the histories of the diverse peoples known collectively as Americans.

How serious are we about this? A few years ago, the CSU administration tried to water down the American Institutions requirement by letting some students waive it. I wrote an Academic Senate resolution to oppose the waivers and protect the requirement, and Cal Poly’s Academic Senate passed this resolution unanimously (AS-736-11). Last year my American Institutions faculty met with other AI faculty from every campus in the CSU system, to discuss strategies to make these vital classes even better. 

The chairs of every department that teach American Institutions classes at Cal Poly have marched with SLO Solidarity, as have numerous other faculty in those departments. As the students told 1,000 people at the University Union (UU) Plaza on Dec. 3, we have a lot of work to do. Faculty will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with students to do that work. But the Cal Poly community needs to know that its faculty are already working hard to ensure that every Cal Poly student learns about diversity. 

Letters to the editor may be submitted to editor@mustangnews.net with the subject line “Letter to the editor” to be considered for publication. Submissions should not exceed 700 words, and should include a headline, and your year and major.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.