BLACK LIVES MATTER is painted big and bold on roads all across the U.S., Aunt Jemima changed their racist logo, and the California State University (CSU) system implemented an ethnic studies graduation requirement. What do all of these things have in common? Nobody asked for them.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2009 from CSU Fullerton in ethnic studies with a concentration in Asian American studies, and my master’s degree from CSU Long Beach in counseling with an emphasis in student development in higher education. I’m a proud product of the CSU system, but it wasn’t easy by any means as a first-generation college student. I graduated high school with a 2.6 GPA and was lucky to have had some incredible mentors guide me through my educational career, all the way through my application to graduate school and beyond. I’ve shared tears and trauma with some of my mentors, and it is because of the opportunity and experiences I’ve had in this school system that I’m disappointed a watered down 3-unit (one class) ethnic studies graduation requirement is the best they could muster up amidst all the incredible discussion of what type of educational experiences all Americans need right now.
I’m a proud product of the CSU system, but it wasn’t easy by any means as a first-generation college student.
Before I dive into this, I want to also acknowledge that I approach these conversations from a different mindset than other folks do. My education, both formal and informal, in my 34 years of life have led me to feel that all of our institutions (political, educational, criminal) are oppressive at their core, and they all must be re-envisioned from the ground up to explore what they look like in non-oppressive environments. No amount of patchwork can fix a sinking ship, just as no amount of reform can fix a system built to oppress. I also acknowledge that despite how I feel, the bottom line is I’m still going to participate in these systems because they are how our society functions. I will still vote even if I have no faith in the system because it will still make some difference, and it’s all the difference I can make given the circumstance. But I’m also still going to kick and scream the whole time because you HAVE TO MAKE NOISE TO BE HEARD SOMETIMES, ya know?
On July 22, the CSU Board of Trustees approved a one-class ethnic studies graduation requirement to go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year, citing the need for individual schools to plan out coursework to meet the requirement.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White said in a press release that “this action, by the CSU and for the CSU, lifts ethnic studies to a place of prominence in our curriculum, connects it with the voices and perspectives of other historically oppressed groups, and advances the field by applying the lens of social justice.”
I think it’s offensive that they feel one class would be enough time to teach anyone about the history of oppression that immigrants and their families endure in any meaningful way. The fact that there’s even a need for classes called “ethnic studies” is because the experience of non-White Americans are excluded from the recording of American history. A one-class requirement might be great to implement into all high schools, as it’s a good launching point to begin the critical thinking needed behind the concepts of racism and prejudice, but to say that they think this is “advancing the field by applying the lens of social justice” is elitist at best. There are so many inventions and innovations in American society that were created by non-White folks that are rarely celebrated or uplifted throughout the first 12 years of education and they believe one class is supposed to balance all that out?
The fact that there’s even a need for classes called “ethnic studies” is because the experience of non-White Americans are excluded from the recording of American history.
My hot take is this: Let’s stop trying to sound smart and show off how much we know. Let's stop pretending that research helps communities in need when it’s written in language the communities in need can’t understand. Let’s stop pretending we need to pay college presidents $300,000 salaries when there are equally or more qualified people who would love to work their position for under $100,000. Universities are businesses, and despite being well intentioned, are capitalist and will always oppress those without access to financial and social support because those students don’t generate money.
There’s a lot going on right now and the best thing we can do is listen to the people being affected to understand how we can best support them. If schools believe in ethnic studies, how about committing to increasing their budgets to hire more faculty and offer more classes? The pressure to uphold these existing systems comes from the fact that this is the way things have been done historically, but we need to stop letting dead people peer pressure us into doing things.
Let's stop pretending that research helps communities in need when it’s written in language the communities in need can’t understand.
I also believe it’s important to allow ourselves to dream of what life can look like without these oppressive systems, because who likes a complainer without solutions, right? I dream of a university that offers classes on the experience of multiple ethnic communities under the house of “American Studies." I dream of a university with affirmative action policies in place that support opportunities for students from marginalized communities, to acknowledge that these students can do equally well if given equitable access to support and resources. I dream of an environment where people work for the students, and not for power or money.
These aren’t just concepts that apply to students, as I believe these things hold true for all people. We need to unify our experiences as one human experience, while acknowledging the unique differences our community experiences. We need to support and uplift each other and acknowledge the beauty in all cultures, while we work towards being better individually. We need to stop following tradition for tradition's sake, and embrace the new beautiful society we continue to become. When we can dream of the future we want, we can start to find purpose in working towards it.
I’m glad to be doing some of this work through organizations like Nikkei Progressives and Vigilant Love, as well as individually through work I’m doing under the moniker “egodeath.” Please check out their websites and feel free to reach out to me directly if you’re looking to get involved with any social initiatives!
IG: @egodeath__ (website coming soon!)