Cal Poly’s Cross Cultural Centers third annual event honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Joe Johnston/University Photographer/Cal Poly 1-15-20

The California State Legislature may vote to determine that taking an ethnic studies course should be a graduation requirement.

If passed, Assembly Bill 1460 would require all California State Universities (CSUs) to provide ethnic studies courses by the 2020-2021 academic year, and would require all CSU students graduating in the 2024-2025 academic year to take at least one three unit ethnic studies course in order to graduate, according to the bill text.

Both the State Assembly and the State Senate have to pass the bill in order for it to be written into a law.

The State Assembly voted to pass the bill on May 23, 2019, and the State Senate reviewed the bill for a third time Feb. 20, according to the California Legislature website

The passage of the bill would “hopefully bring more awareness to all the diverse community that is at Cal Poly that usually gets overlooked,” Co-Student Coordinator of Students for Quality Education Sophia Florez said.

“When you’re reading just a lot of white authors, and a lot of just eurocentric history, you don’t learn about the struggles of people of color, LGBTQ+ and all those other communities,” Florez said. 

Students from marginalized communities should have the chance to learn about the history of the communities they identify with, according to Florez.

“It’s kind of like that ‘ah-ha’ moment, you really like, ‘oh, that’s the way things are, that’s why there’s so much poverty, that’s why there’s so much health disparities and all these other issues within our communities,’” Florez said.

The bill defines ethnic studies as “the comparative study of race and ethnicity with special focus on four historically defined racialized core groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latina and Latino Americans,” according to the bill text.

Cal Poly philosophy professor and Academic Senate Committee member Rachel Fernflores said she would support an ethnic studies GE requirement if it included gender studies. 

“I think that we always forget women. We too often act as if we’ve solved the problems that we need to solve – the gender-based problems,” Fernflores said. “It’s both, not one or the other. I think both are really important.” 

Though Fernflores and many of her colleagues support an ethnic studies graduation requirement, some professors do not think that the state legislature should write policies that affect CSU curriculum.

 “We accept laws in some places, but does that mean we want to get down to like the nitty gritty where they’re telling us to teach this class, or this set of classes?” Fernflores said.

CSU faculty decide on course requirements based on what skills students need to learn in their major to be successful in their fields when they graduate, according to Fernflores.

“It’s faculty who make those decisions, not legislatures,” Fernflores said. “The controversial part is not the kind of curriculum it is – that’s great – it’s do we want the legislature telling us what to teach, or do we want faculty members to work together to figure out what to teach.” 

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