Ethnic Studies Department Chair Denise Isom at third annual event honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1460 into law on Aug. 17, which will require all California State University (CSU) students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate. 

Beginning with the 2024-2025 academic year, all students will need to take a class in one of the following areas: African American studies, American Indian studies, Latinx studies or Asian American studies.

Ethnic studies department chair Jenell Rae Navarro said the new bill is a “big win” for the department. 

“With every student taking an ethnic studies course, I hope they gain a historic scope of the multiple layers of injustice people of color have faced in this country, a present day understanding of relentless structural racism in the U.S. and a will to fight for a future that is just and equitable for communities of color,” Navarro said. 

“With every student taking an ethnic studies course, I hope they gain a historic scope of the multiple layers of injustice people of color have faced in this country, a present day understanding of relentless structural racism in the U.S. and a will to fight for a future that is just and equitable for communities of color,” Navarro said.

The state bill was opposed with a proposal from CSU Chancellor Timothy White, which would have mandated that students take a social justice class. This would have allowed students to replace an ethnic studies class with gender or sexuality courses.

The ethnic studies department was “only in favor of AB 1460,” which will allow experts to teach relevant classes, according to Navarro. 

“The chancellor’s version would have allowed students to complete a so-called ‘ethnic studies’ graduation requirement without ever taking an ethnic studies course,” Navarro said. “In fact, that version was very hollowed out because it attempted to be so wide sweeping that it was not even clear if the courses students would take would have to mention race at all.”

There are some students who are not as excited about the new graduation requirement. Electrical engineering senior Blaise Bibolet said that he is worried about finding the time in his already busy academic schedule to take another required class.

“I don’t take GE classes at Cal Poly because I don’t have time in my schedule and it’s cheaper to do it online through community colleges, so I don’t know how I feel about the new requirement,” Bibolet said. “I obviously think its something everyone should learn about, but it’s hard to find the time to learn it, especially as an engineer.”

Other students said they are happy about the new requirement.

With renewed calls for racial justice throughout the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in late May, psychology senior Sophie Hoffman said she sees the new requirement as a step in the right direction. 

“Because California schools are composed of so many students from different backgrounds, I think it’s important that each student is exposed to at least one class involving ethnic studies content that will allow them to see the world through an alternate perspective,” Hoffman said.

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