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Fight for Black, Chicano Studies builds at CSULA

By David Cid |
February 13, 2014
Veteran Chicano activist Carlos Montes speaking at protest for Ethnic Studies
Veteran Chicano activist Carlos Montes speaking at protest for Ethnic Studies (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Los Angeles, CA - Several hundred students and community members held a protest march and rally on the campus of Cal State University of Los Angeles (CSULA), Feb. 4. The protest was in response to the Academic Senate voting down, by 20 to 29, a proposal made the previous week by the Pan-African Studies Department to incorporate ‘Ethnic Studies’ as part of the General Education requirements, starting in Fall 2016.

After being silenced and shut out last week by the undemocratic actions of the CSULA Academic Senate, students and community supporters agreed that the racist university status quo that sees Ethnic Studies as an unequal academic discipline had to be challenged.

Students, along with community supporters, began a rally at the steps of the university bookstore, then began marching through the campus and onto the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall building chanting in one collective voice: "The students united, will never be divided" "What do we want? Ethnic Studies! When do we want it? Now!"

Eventually, the students and community supporters made their way to the Golden Eagle Ballroom where the weekly Academic Senate was to be held. In a show of unity, students and community supporters were able to shut down the meeting and instead the students held their own meeting outside the doors of the Golden Eagle Ballroom.

As the Academic Senate began arriving for their scheduled meeting, the entrance to the Golden Eagle Ballroom was blocked by students and community supporters who locked arms. When Kevin Baaske, chair of the CSULA Academic Senate, arrived, students began chanting "No clickers," reminding him of the secret vote the week before that stopped, for now, the proposal to make Ethnic Studies a General Education requirement.

Upon encountering several hundred students locked in arms, Baaske, in a condescending tone, attempted to negotiate with students by stating that he would grant 30 minutes of speaking time to the students. Well-organized and disciplined, the students refused Baaske's terms and instead told him that the meeting would be held on students' terms.

Ironically, at the previous meeting, Baaske somehow found himself powerless to offer speaking time to students and instead pushed parliamentary procedural rules to block student and community input. Yet this week, he decided he had the power to allow 30 minutes of speaking time.

As more and more Academic Senators arrived, they had no choice but to listen to dozens of students and community supporters speaking about why they needed to do the right thing and reintroduce a vote in favor of making Ethnic Studies a part of the General Education requirements.

Speaker after speaker emphasized the urgent need to make Ethnic Studies part of the General Education requirements. For some, it was one positive step towards addressing a legacy of institutional racism, which acknowledges that this country was built on slavery and genocide.

For others, Ethnic Studies was important because it is a tool of community empowerment and for creating a positive identity. The struggle for Ethnic Studies is part of the struggle for equality for Blacks and Chicanos.

Towards the end of the student protest meeting, a couple of professors spoke in favor of the proposal, which states in part: “At least one of the two diversity courses must be taken in one of the four Ethnic Studies/Area Studies Departments/Programs: Asian/Asian American Studies, Chicana/o Studies, Latin American Studies, or Pan African Studies.”

Unfortunately, the Chicana/o Studies Department has refused to support the proposal.

Other Academic Senators, however, weren't even paying attention to the students and were making their opposition to requiring Ethnic Studies at CSULA conspicuously obvious. Sadly, Baaske several times laughed off students' comments.

Keep in mind, moreover, that what is being proposed by the multi-national coalition of student, faculty and community is that out of the 40 classes a student must take in order to graduate from CSULA that one class be in Ethnic Studies.

On Feb. 11, the Ethnic Studies Coalition held a press conference to inform the public on the proposal to expand and improve Ethnic Studies. After the press conference, the over 100 students and supporters marched to the CSULA Academic Senate meeting. During the meeting the students gave moving and inspirational talks to the body regarding the benefits of Ethnic Studies and the experiences of racism they face in Los Angeles. No new vote was taken and the students and supporters will return to the CSULA Academic Senate meeting on Feb. 18 to continue pressing for the GE requirement from Ethnic Studies.

David Cid is a Los Angeles-based Chicano activist and educator. Cid is active in the anti-war and immigrant rights movements. He recently received his Masters in Chicano Studies at CSULA.