Last Updated on May 10, 2016 by Andre Loftis

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.”

Cesar Chavez

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]This week, nearly fifty years after the Third World Liberation Front led the first strike in the nation and demanded the establishment of an Ethnic Studies Department at San Francisco State University, a group of students who call themselves the Third World Liberation Front 2016 have gone on a hunger strike at the same university for very similar reasons.

The group of four students have vowed not to eat until the university’s administrators agree to provide eight million dollars in funding they believe the school’s College of Ethnic Studies so desperately needs to maintain viability.

The students reportedly settled on the eight million dollars based on the cost of restoring the school to the economic foundation that secured it previous to the great recession.

In February, reports began to surface that the university ‘s College of Ethnic Studies (CES) would not have enough money to pay all of its staff beginning July 1. CES is apparently operating with a budget deficit of approximately $400,000. At the same time, CES also learned its reserve fund, set aside to pay for extra classes, was depleted. CES faculty and students were outraged and claimed that such a loss could have forced the college to suspend its graduate programs and eliminate lectures next year.

Almost fifty years ago, the original Third World Liberation Front students at San Francisco State University (SFSU) set a national precedence when they fought for and won a victory for the establishment of an ethnic studies program. From November 1968 to March 1969, the group lead a strike for that purpose.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”64477″ img_size=”350×283″ add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]It was the first time in the history of America minority students had banded together to demand the establishment of an ethnic studies department. The “Third World Liberation Front” Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) that lead the movement was formed from an alliance of the Black Student Union, the Latin American Students Organization, the Native American Student Union, as well as the Asian American Political and Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor at the university. The strike not only resulted in the establishment of CES, the university further responded to the strikers’ demands by increasing its recruitment and admissions of students of color.

The students’ efforts also had a major impact on the 1972 establishment of the National Association for Ethnic Studies.  The organization fosters interdisciplinary discussions for scholars and activists concerned with the national and international dimensions of ethnicity.

In February, SFSU announced plans to allocate $200,000 as a stop-gap measure so that CES faculty, students and staff would have more time to determine a fiscal strategy for the future; however the school’s faculty complained it was not enough to cover all of the school’s costs.

As of Wednesday, the protesting students had presented ten demands. Among them in addition to adequate funding, they have asked for an expansion of the school’s resource center and the addition of a graduate advisor to its faculty.

This week as the issue of ethnic studies boiled over at the university level, the nonprofit organization EdSource announced a state-wide movement to establish ethnic studies in California’s school districts had gained momentum.

According to the agency’s report, “An expansion of ethnic studies courses in some of California’s largest school districts is changing the way thousands of students are learning about the historical contributions of a wide range of racial and ethnic groups.”

In recent years, the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified and the state’s sixth largest school district, San Francisco Unified have both added courses to their high school curriculums aimed at expanding students’ understanding of the roles played by African-Americans, Latinos and other racial and ethnic groups in America’s history and culture.

Progress has also been made in both the Oakland and San Diego School Districts, the state’s twelfth and second largest school districts respectively. Last October, Oakland Unified approved an ethnic studies course for all Oakland high schools that it plans to implement in the next three years; while in addition, the San Diego Unified District will implement an ethnic studies pilot program in two of its high schools for the 2016-17 school year.

Not unlike the success of SFSU’s Third World Liberation Front nearly fifty years ago, these changes have largely come about in response to critics who complained existing courses continue to “present an excessively Eurocentric view of American history and culture.”

Two recent studies highlighted the value of ethnic studies to California students. One study of 1,405, 9th graders who took an ethnic studies course offered at three San Francisco high schools in a pilot program showed that, “students identified as at-risk for dropping out and for academic struggles through the 8th grade increased attendance by an average of 21 percentage points and boosted their grade-point average by 1.4 points, compared with students who were not viewed as at-risk.”

According to EdSource, a 2011 study conducted by a professor emeritus in the College of Professional Studies at Cal State Monterey Bay, had reached a similar conclusion. “Both students of color and white students have been found to benefit academically as well as socially from ethnic studies,” the study’s researcher Christine Sleeter concluded.

Legislation was recently introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, to amend the state’s Education Code and require every school district and charter school serving high school students to offer an ethnic studies course beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

Although the legislation, AB2016, was passed by the Assembly Education Committee last month; it still has a long road to travel before it becomes state law. The governor vetoed similar legislation six months ago claiming it called for the creation of an advisory panel that would duplicate the efforts of another group studying the issue. That legislation was also introduced by Alejo—regardless, the Assemblyman has vowed to continue his advocacy for change.

Once again, California leads the nation on a progressive issue. Based on the knowledge of Ron Scapp, past president of the National Association of Ethnic Studies, “Outside of California, there are no statewide initiatives for expanding the teaching of ethnic studies and [there are] only a few one-off courses here and there in a few states.”[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text el_class=”small”]Feature photo: Twitter[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.