Students who enroll at California State University (CSU) in the coming years will be required to take course in ethnic studies or social justice to graduate.
The university system's board of trustees voted last week to approve the new general education requirement, which goes into effect at the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year. It's the first major change to CSU's general education requirements in 40 years, according to a news release.
"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," CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a statement.
"It will empower our students to meet this moment in our nation's history, giving them the knowledge, broad perspectives and skills needed to solve society's most pressing problems. And it will further strengthen the value of a CSU degree."
Ethnic Studies generally refers to the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity in the US. It focuses principally on the histories, experiences and perspectives of four major marginalized racial identities in the US: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans and Native Americans.
The amendment requires undergraduates to complete a three-credit, lower division course on ethnic studies or social justice. Students can satisfy the requirement by taking a course on one of the four racial groups that comprise ethnic studies, or by taking a course on other groups who have been oppressed, such as Jews, Muslims and LGBTQ people.
That broader definition was a source of contention among some trustees, five of whom voted against the plan, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Some opposed the requirement on the grounds that it was developed without the input of ethnic studies faculty. Also at issue was the labeling of the requirement as ethnic studies, despite the fact that students would be able to satisfy the requirement without ever taking an ethnic studies course by instead enrolling in a class on social justice.
Several state lawmakers and California Faculty Association also opposed the requirement.
"CFA is severely disappointed in today's decision by the CSU Board of Trustees to move forward with a diluted Ethnic Studies and Social Justice course requirement," the organization said in a statement last week.
"How the board can look at anyone with a straight face and say that an Ethnic Studies requirement can be fulfilled without ever having to take a course in Ethnic Studies is beyond believable."
Many of those opposed to the CSU proposal instead favored a state legislature bill put forward by Assembly member Shirley Weber, which limits the course requirement solely to ethnic studies classes. AB 1460 would require California State University to offer ethnic studies courses at each of its campuses, and require all students to complete an ethnic studies course.
The bill was passed by the Senate last month with minor amendments, and now must go back to the Assembly for approval before it reaches Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk. If Newsom signs the bill, it will take the place of the CSU plan.