Ethnic studies could become a required course across California Community Colleges if Assembly Bill 1040 is approved.
By Marcos Franco, News Editor
District officials are pushing for full approval of Assembly Bill 1040, a bill that would require each community college district in California to offer ethnic studies courses to students.
The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi and was voted 7-3 in favor of approval on April 8 by the California State Assembly Committee on Higher Education. If passed, AB 1040 would go into effect during the 2022-23 school year and students would be required to complete at least one 3 unit course in order to obtain an associate degree or transfer to a CSU, beginning 2024-25.
“We strongly support the expansion of ethnic studies requirements and are excited to help expand our programs to meet those requirements,” said Valley College President Barry Gribbons.
Valley already offers ethnic studies courses including Chicano and African American Studies as well as sociology, which touches on the surface of cultural diversity. The college also plans to add LGBTQIA classes in the future, regardless of whether the bill passes. Campus officials are assessing ideas to specify what those courses will be and which programs they will fit into. Although there is no set date as to when classes will be offered, Gribbons assures students that the campus is enthusiastically pursuing these courses.
Given the current racial climate, ethnic studies courses offer students an opportunity to explore and understand cultures not matching their background.
“I think these courses teach students critical reasoning skills that allows them to consider the vantage point of different perspectives,” said Keidra Morris, department chair of the ethnic studies department. “It reveals a lens through which they see a particular event, which helps students broaden their frame of reference when they are out in society and dealing with lots of different people.”
California is home to the largest community college system in the country with 116 campuses across 73 districts. If passed, the bill would require California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley to create and implement a statewide course curriculum plan that would be interchangeable among community college districts. A state-mandated local program would also be required since the bill imposes new duties on community college districts.
In the past, ethnic studies has been a controversial topic in other states with government officials claiming that the course curriculum is too political for the classroom. In 2010, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2281 into law, a bill that targeted the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in the Tucson Unified School District.
The bill prohibited school districts and charter schools from including classes that promote resentment toward a race or class of people or that advocates ethnic solidarity rather than treating students as individuals, according to the Arizona Legislature.
Despite lawmakers’ political concerns, research shows that students who have taken an ethnic studies class are more successful academically. Nolan Cabrera, associate professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, was at the core of a study that found students who completed MAS courses were more likely to graduate as well as pass standardized testing.
HB 2281 was overturned seven years later in 2017 by U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima, after he ruled the move was racially motivated.
Whether ethnic studies becomes a standard component of the CCC curriculum, these classes have proven to help students better understand and relate to marginalized groups, promoting diversity within the student body.
“Ethnic studies helps students who we talk about as being underrepresented on our campuses,” said Morris. “It fosters a sense of belongingness for these students that we offer these courses that focus on their own particular histories and literature in their culture.”