CSUB announces the creation of a department of ethnic studies | News
Cal State Bakersfield opened in 1970, just one year after the establishment of the first school of ethnic studies in the state of San Francisco. When the university held its first classes, it offered minors in African American, Mexican, Asian, and Latin American Studies.
The university would continue to offer courses in the interdisciplinary academic tradition of ethnic studies throughout its 51-year history, but it was not until this month that CSUB officially established a home for these courses with a department of ethnic studies.
The Ethnic Studies Department will focus on the contributions of Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and Indigenous peoples, the university recently announced.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Jorge Moraga, assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Studies program specializing in Latinx / Chicanx studies.
Moraga said the future was bright for a department now housed within the School of Social Sciences and Education. It now has the institutional support to develop and take measures such as offering a bachelor’s degree.
“This is a really big deal for the Central Valley,” said Tracey Salisbury, an assistant professor specializing in black studies.
Salisbury looks forward to a department that will connect students, as well as the community at large, with the legacy of places like the Allensworth Colony and labor activist Dolores Huerta. Salisbury said she looked forward to the department becoming a “university crown jewel” in the Central Valley.
Ethnic studies will offer students a chance to learn about the rich history of diversity in Kern County, according to Debra Jackson, associate vice president for university programs. Learning from different perspectives is “essential for their future education, success and career.”
But she said the university had also considered what it meant to be officially designated as an institution that serves Hispanics.
âDoes that mean we’re enrolling Hispanic students or does it mean something more? Jackson said. “Our conclusion is that this must mean something more.”
The story is generally interpreted through an American-European lens, Moraga said. When Black, Chicanx, Asian American, or Pacific Islander people learn about their own histories, it can spark a sense of civic duty.
âIt’s a ripple effect,â he said.
Jonathan Vega, a CSUB student who identifies as non-binary, said taking an ethnic studies course dramatically changed the trajectory of their life and career path.
Vega never heard of the Chicanx story while attending Bakersfield School and struggled. Enrolling in an Introductory Latin American Studies course allowed Vega to learn the history of their own community, and it completely changed their outlook.
âI have goals, I love myself, I found myself in a community that loves me,â they said. “I found a place, I found a purpose.”
The call for ethnic studies also came from outside the community. The African-American Advisory Council of CSUB asked the university to examine how an ethnic studies program can promote success for black students. In a letter to CSUB’s Academic Senate, he offered more courses that discuss stories of triumph in the black community.
“Every day in Kern County and across the country, black students, parents, church leaders, business professionals and community advocates overcome adversity to be successful in America,” the letter reads. âTo address the lingering effects of systemic inequalities across multiple social sectors, these stories need to be told in university classrooms. “
There is some frustration that it has taken so long to create a department among those who have championed it.
âI say I waited seven years because that’s the time I waited, but some people have waited 50 years,â said Liora Gubkin, associate dean of the School of Arts and Humanities.
In 2014, Horace Mitchell, then president of CSUB, chaired a statewide task force on the advancement of ethnic studies. Within CSUB, this led to the hiring of Salisbury and Moraga in 2017 to create the department. Moraga credits history professor Alicia Rodriguez with her work as director of interdisciplinary studies to bring the department closer to its purpose.
But there is also the pride that when the department crossed the finish line, there was a broad consensus that the department was needed across the university. The Academic Senate voted on the proposal unanimously. Discussions among professors were not about whether the department should exist, but whether it had sufficient institutional support, according to the minutes.
Supporters inside and outside CSUB have given a long list of reasons for supporting the department, but there is a very urgent one. AB 1460 went into effect this year, requiring CSUs to offer an introductory ethnic studies course and for 2024-25 graduates to take an ethnic studies course.
Prior to its adoption, Associated Students Inc. wrote a letter of support for the new department. The letter sounded a note of concern that two faculty members would not be enough to teach the number of ethnic classes requested – or required for students to graduate on time.
Vega thinks of how many lives will change because they took an ethnic studies course or because they get the chance to specialize.
âIt gives me goosebumps; it fills my heart,â they said.
In fact, Vega changed her nursing specialization to history after taking an ethnic studies course. Vega hopes to continue the tradition and teach history. This is a drastic change for the student who said he had little motivation in school and applied to CSUB at the last minute. Vega believes that history is important for the unity of the community.
“There is nothing drastic about someone who is not European to learn about their history,” they said.
Emma Gallegos can be reached at 661-395-7394.