Cal State L.A. students, faculty debate ethnic studies requirement

About 75 Cal State Los Angeles students and faculty showed up at a meeting Tuesday of the Academic Senate to demand that a course in ethnic studies be a requirement for graduation.

Supporters argued that the courses are important in developing critical thinking and ensuring that the curriculum includes perspectives from all cultures.

The courses can also help students better relate to one another, especially in racially and ethnically diverse Los Angeles, said Jelani Hendrix, 23, a Pan-African studies major who addressed the senate.

Hendrix, an African American, said he frequently has been threatened and harassed in his largely Latino El Sereno neighborhood.


“College students who take an ethnic studies class can go out and uplift their community,” Hendrix said. “They can show that all of us are more alike than different.”

The senate was considering a motion that at least one of two required general education diversity classes be in Asian/Asian American studies, Chicano studies, Latin American studies or Pan-African studies as well as optional related classes in other departments.

General education courses are required for graduation, and are intended to provide broad skills and knowledge outside of a major. The campus is overhauling many of its programs as it prepares to convert from a quarter system to a semester academic calendar.

The 55-member Academic Senate, which includes students and college deans, rejected a similar ethnic studies requirement last month by a vote of 29 to 20. While the senate’s voice is important, it acts only as an advisory panel for President William Covino, who can accept or reject its policy decisions.

Some faculty argued against the ethnic studies requirement, saying that it would hinder students’ freedom to choose.

Others said that a curriculum touching on race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic class should not be relegated to a handful of departments.

“General education requirements should be open to all departments and programs,” said Gretchen Peterson, chairwoman of the sociology department. “Ethnic studies should be integrated throughout the curriculum.”

After nearly two hours of debate, the senate failed to vote on the latest motion and will take up the issue again next week.

Melina Abdullah, chairwoman of the Pan-African studies department, said she hopes that hearing students speak so passionately about their experiences will help to persuade enough faculty to support the requirement.

“We’ll be doing a lot of lobbying, especially students engaging faculty to have a conversation about why this is so important,” Abdullah said.

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Twitter: @CarlaRiveralat