The Ethnic Studies Debate Comes to the UC System with a Proposed Admission Requirement – J.
A proposed new requirement for entry into the University of California system has reignited the debate over ethnic studies in the Golden State.
The proposed rule is reviewed by the University Senate, a faculty under the auspices of the Board of Regents. It would add ethnic studies alongside history, mathematics, foreign languages and other prerequisites to the list of courses required for admission into the prestigious university system.
Developed by a task force of faculty experts convened by UC President Michael V. Drake, the new requirement establishes criteria for an acceptable course in high school ethnic studies – the study of race and ethnicity. ethnicity with a focus on people of color—which go beyond the principles underlying the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum for Public High Schools, approved in March 2021. The criteria are not s would only apply to students wishing to enter UC’s nine schools, which together admit about 130,000 freshmen each year.
Among the task force of six UC professors who drafted the draft regulations, some have vigorously and publicly opposed the revisions to the approved ESMC — which high schools are encouraged but not required to use to meet the requirements. of the state – such as the deletion of the reference to the boycott, divestment movement and sanctions against Israel.
Representing the latest salvo in the nearly 3-year struggle over ethnic studies in California, the proposal demonstrates the lasting impact of splinter groups such as the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute, which aim to win ethnic studies more radically left . program in high schools, even after setbacks at the state level. Proponents of the proposed settlement say it would ensure ethnic studies classes stay true to the discipline’s origins, which emerged from protest movements such as the Third World Liberation Front of the 1960s and 1970s.
And yet, for critics, the proposal represents a devious effort to circumvent the statewide curriculum model and influence classroom instruction in a leftward swerve, and may harm Jewish students or students who support Israel.
The nonprofit Amcha Initiative, a Santa Cruz-based organization led by activist Tammi Rossman-Benjamin that fights anti-Semitism on college campuses, has collected more than 1,800 signatures, including 1,200 with a connection to the ‘University of California, on a petition calling on University Senate President Robert Horwitz and his colleagues to reject the proposal. The petition calls the regulation of ethnic studies a “direct result of a small group of educator-activists” fighting to “circumvent state law and manipulate the UC governance process.”
Amcha sent J. a list of signatories, covering about 13 pages of single-spaced names.
From a Jewish perspective, according to Amcha, the main concern is the adoption of critical race theory, a worldview that centers race as a totalizing force within American society. This view has rigid definitions of marginalized groups that exclude certain minorities, according to Amcha.
“Jews are seen as ‘white’ and ‘privileged’, squarely on the oppressive side of the race-class divide,” Amcha’s petition reads.
The language of the proposed settlement also gestures toward anti-Zionism – a common stance in ethnic studies circles. The text emphasizes indigenity, placing it first in a list of six course content guidelines, saying that for a course to meet the requirement, it must “center an understanding of indigenity”, for example by acknowledging that the course is taught on “stolen and unceded land”. with an eye toward “anti-colonial liberation.”
Among the authors are Andrew Jolivétte, chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego, who spoke out strongly against state ESMC revisions during a 2021 webinar hosted by the Save Arab Coalition. American Studies, and Christine Hong, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies. studying at UC Santa Cruz which joined an August 2020 webinar hosted by the Arab Center for Pro-BDS Organizing and Resources titled “Arab-American Studies, Palestine, and the Struggle for Ethnic Studies.”
Critics see efforts to remove references to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel or to add lessons about groups considered white, such as Jews and Armenians, as making concessions to conservative forces. State of California caving in to ‘pro-Israel lobbyists,’ activist says; the Liberated Ethnic Studies group described the revisions as replacing ethnic studies with an “all lives matter” movement.
The rules pick up on some of the common jargon in ESMC’s first draft. He says, for example, that to meet the requirement, the course must “place a high value on Indigenous knowledge” and must “center an understanding of indigenity, routes and roots.”
He describes ethnic studies as a discipline based on the “transformation of society and the world”, stating that courses must “challenge traditional Western educational approaches”. Ethnic studies must critique “dominant narratives of power,” he says, including “claims of neutrality, objectivity…and meritocracy” in order to “examine their harm to Indigenous and other communities of color.”
As in ESMC’s first draft, the regulations list forms of bigotry to be studied, including anti-blackness, anti-indigenous, xenophobia, patriarchy, ableism, and anthropocentrism (centered on the human), but not anti-Semitism.
If passed, the new rule “would have a dangerously divisive and damaging impact on many California students,” the Amcha petition argues, but is “particularly threatening to Jewish students.”
“At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility and violence have reached truly alarming levels, a mandatory ethnic studies course encouraging students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racial privileged’ is coming back to place an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student,” he says.
The settlement is currently meandering through UC’s administrative system. On March 30, the Academic Board referred the regulations for review to a committee called BOARS, the Board of Admissions and School Relations.
Academic Senate President Horwitz told J. in an email that members had raised a number of questions about the new rule for BOARS to consider. He said “technical questions/concerns” had been raised, for example, about how the ethnic studies course requirement would apply to applicants from private schools.
“Some campus senates noted that the course criteria were more narrowly defined than the guidelines approved by the CA State Board of Education in its ethnic studies curriculum,” he added.
Horwitz did not say whether BOARS would take into account the concerns raised by Amcha, while adding that “prior to the Board meeting, Senate leaders received numerous external emails and petitions. We noted them.
Once BOARS revises the regulations, it will come back to the academic council for a second discussion, Horwitz said. If approved, the regulations will be sent to the entire academic senate. The process could last until the fall and would give high schools until 2030 to implement appropriate courses.
Under California’s new ethnic studies law, fall 2025 is the deadline to implement an appropriate ethnic studies course for state high schools.