Eth­nic stud­ies: Bay Area univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors are in­spired by the main­stream awak­en­ing to cour­ses’ mes­sage.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors at Bay Area univer­si­ties in­spired by main­stream awak­en­ing to cour­ses’ mes­sage

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Ron Kroichick

Fifty­one years ago, San Francisco State be­came the first univer­sity in the coun­try to es­tab­lish a Col­lege of Eth­nic Stud­ies. Seven years ago, SFSU grad­u­ate stu­dent Ali­cia Garza co­founded Black Lives Mat­ter.

Now, amid na­tion­wide protests against racial in­equal­ity and po­lice bru­tal­ity — and a main­stream awak­en­ing to the Black Lives Mat­ter mes­sage — eth­nic stud­ies pro­grams at col­leges and univer­si­ties hold fresh op­ti­mism for in­creased stu­dent in­ter­est and en­gage­ment.

This could prompt more stu­dents to en­roll in classes for the fall se­mes­ter, ac­cord­ing to one SFSU pro­fes­sor, at a time when state of­fi­cials are ad­vanc­ing leg­is­la­tion to re­quire Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity stu­dents to take an eth­nic stud­ies course. At the least, the vig­or­ous and sprawl­ing re­sponse to Ge­orge Floyd’s death

“I think eth­nic stud­ies classes will feel in­creas­ingly rel­e­vant.”

Amy Sueyoshi, dean of S.F. State Col­lege of Eth­nic Stud­ies

gives prac­ti­cal ur­gency to an of­ten over­looked field of study.

“I think eth­nic stud­ies classes will feel in­creas­ingly rel­e­vant to col­lege stu­dents na­tion­wide,” said Amy Sueyoshi, dean of the col­lege at San Francisco State.

The is­sues spark­ing the birth of the school’s Col­lege of Eth­nic Stud­ies in the late ’60s were all too fa­mil­iar: stu­dent strikes and protests against sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple of color. A half cen­tury later, sim­i­lar chal­lenges re­main.

Many U.S. univer­si­ties be­gan eth­nic stud­ies or African Amer­i­can stud­ies pro­grams long ago. Only one other school, Cal State Los An­ge­les, has fol­lowed San Francisco State’s lead in form­ing a sep­a­rate col­lege within the univer­sity. It did so last year.

Against this back­drop, the state Se­nate ap­proved a bill on June 18 re­quir­ing all stu­dents in the 23­cam­pus CSU sys­tem to take one three­unit eth­nic stud­ies class to grad­u­ate. AB1460, now back in the Assem­bly for leg­is­la­tors to re­view mi­nor amend­ments, soon will head to Gov. Gavin New­som’s desk.

Cal State of­fi­cials op­pose the bill and are push­ing for their own re­quire­ment in­volv­ing cour­ses on a wider va­ri­ety of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties.

State ed­u­ca­tors also are try­ing to add eth­nic stud­ies cour­ses to the K­12 cur­ricu­lum. That ef­fort, bogged down amid ram­pant con­tro­versy about which groups to in­clude, is not

ex­pected to be re­solved un­til early next year.

Shawn Gin­wright, a pro­fes­sor of Africana Stud­ies at San Francisco State, views the pend­ing Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ment as a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion dat­ing to the stu­dent protests more than 50 years ago.

“Cal­i­for­nia is say­ing that know­ing eth­nic his­tory is just as sig­nif­i­cant as know­ing English, science and math­e­mat­ics,” Gin­wright said.

Sueyoshi con­sid­ers SFSU the flag­ship pro­gram for eth­nic stud­ies cur­ricu­lum in the coun­try, with ap­prox­i­mately 6,000 stu­dents tak­ing 175 cour­ses in five de­part­ments (Africana, Amer­i­can In­dian, Asian Amer­i­can, Latina/latino, and Race & Re­sis­tance). Stu­dents of color ac­counted for 76% of to­tal en­roll­ment at SFSU over the spring.

Given the grow­ing pub­lic con­scious­ness about the im­pact of racial in­equal­ity, Gin­wright ex­pects higher­than­usual en­roll­ment in eth­nic stud­ies cour­ses this fall.

“We’re start­ing to see the pri­vate sec­tor at least have some con­ver­sa­tion about race and racial in­equal­ity,” he said. “I’m cer­tain we’ll see a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in stu­dents who want to learn more about racial in­equal­ity, as well as un­der­stand­ing and con­nect­ing that to their job prospects.”

Or, as Sueyoshi said, “What’s new now is there’s kind of main­stream sup­port for ad­vanc­ing the lives of Black folks, and also main­stream ac­cep­tance that race continues to mat­ter in Amer­ica.”

SFSU is not shel­tered from th­ese prob­lems. In a let­ter sent last week to school Pres­i­dent Lynn Mahoney and other cam­pus lead­ers, mem­bers of the SFSU chap­ter of the Cal­i­for­nia Fac­ulty As­so­ci­a­tion protested “harm­ful racial pol­i­tics” and as­serted “racial in­equal­ity is not im­prov­ing on this cam­pus but is be­com­ing more en­trenched.”

The let­ter cited in­ci­dents of racial pro­fil­ing by cam­pus po­lice, de­manded de­fund­ing of the Po­lice De­part­ment and crit­i­cized hir­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ci­sions.

“U.S. univer­si­ties, since their in­cep­tion, have been com­plicit in per­pet­u­at­ing white supremacy and racial in­equities,” Mahoney said in a state­ment emailed to The Chron­i­cle. “The CFA is ex­press­ing the frus­tra­tion of many who are tired of in­equities, state­sanc­tioned vi­o­lence and words. I know we must move be­yond words to con­crete ac­tions . ...

“Our ac­tions in­clude a plan to im­ple­ment manda­tory an­tiracism ed­u­ca­tion for all man­agers at San Francisco State Univer­sity, de­velop stronger pipe­lines for Black stu­dents to higher ed­u­ca­tion and strengthen our fo­cus on in­clu­sive hir­ing.”

Among the fac­ulty as­so­ci­a­tion’s other de­mands was that the Col­lege of Eth­nic Stud­ies “re­ceive full fund­ing com­men­su­rate with other col­leges.” This echoed a con­cern raised by Nikki Jones, a UC Berke­ley pro­fes­sor and act­ing chair of the school’s De­part­ment of African Amer­i­can Stud­ies. Jones was en­cour­aged to learn that some schools, in­clud­ing UCLA and Washington Univer­sity in St. Louis, re­cently pledged to in­vest in their African Amer­i­can stud­ies de­part­ments.

But she also fears “re­trench­ment,” know­ing th­ese pro­grams of­ten are threat­ened dur­ing an eco­nomic cri­sis such as the one caused by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

“We need to re­al­ize how es­sen­tial th­ese de­part­ments are,” Jones said. “The hows and whys of this mo­ment are an­swered ev­ery day in Black stud­ies and eth­nic stud­ies classes across the coun­try.”

San Francisco State is not the only Bay Area school to oc­cupy a prom­i­nent place in the his­tory of this dis­ci­pline. The Olympic Project for Hu­man Rights started in 1967 at San Jose State — sparked by Harry Ed­wards, later a long­time Cal so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor — and led to the fa­mous protest by sprint­ers Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los, who held raised fists dur­ing the U.S. na­tional an­them at their medal cer­e­mony at the 1968 Mex­ico City Olympics.

Three years ago, San Jose State founded the In­sti­tute for the Study of Sport, So­ci­ety and So­cial Change. That takes on par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance in 2020, as ath­letes in­creas­ingly lend their voices to the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment.

Ak­i­lah Carter­fran­cique, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tute and an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in African Amer­i­can stud­ies, seeks to con­nect the past and present for her stu­dents. Her grand­par­ents, for ex­am­ple, fled Tulsa, Okla., after the Tulsa race mas­sacre of 1921.

“My goal is to help young peo­ple un­der­stand and con­tex­tu­al­ize this mo­ment,” CarterFran­cique said. “Some of them don’t quite un­der­stand how we got here.”

She finds hope in the ris­ing en­gage­ment of col­lege stu­dents, such as San Jose State soc­cer and bas­ket­ball play­ers’ re­cent event to raise money and aware­ness for Black Lives Mat­ter. Stu­dent ath­letes at Texas spoke out about chang­ing the school song, which has racist un­der­tones.

Gin­wright, the SFSU pro­fes­sor, also traced cur­rent events to the im­por­tance of ed­u­cat­ing col­lege stu­dents on eth­nic his­tory. He and other Bay Area pro­fes­sors want to seize the un­prece­dented mo­men­tum to ad­dress racial in­equal­ity.

Black Lives Mat­ter is re­ally a claim about hu­man­ity, Gin­wright said, and has in­spired a move­ment in which “the rules are be­ing rewrit­ten be­fore our eyes.” Higher ed­u­ca­tion plays a vi­tal part in what hap­pens next.

“We’ve al­ways cre­ated seeds of con­scious­ness,” he said. “We’ve filled that role and con­tinue to fill that role. The ques­tion now is the fu­ture, and how we ex­pand the sig­nif­i­cance of Africana stud­ies.”

Scott Straz­zante / The Chron­i­cle

Shawn Gin­wright, pro­fes­sor of Africana Stud­ies at San Francisco State Univer­sity, says: “I’m cer­tain we’ll see a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in stu­dents who want to learn more about racial in­equal­ity” in the wake of protests.

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