A bill that would require all California State University students to complete an ethnic studies course to graduate overwhelmingly passed the state Senate on June 18.
The bill, Assembly Bill 1460 (AB 1460), passed by a 30 to 5 vote. If the bill becomes law, it would make California the first state in the nation to require students to complete an ethnic studies course in order to graduate, says Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).
AB 1460 would require each California State University (Cal State) campus to provide courses in ethnic studies beginning in the 2021–2022 academic year. Students graduating in the 2024–2025 academic year would be required to complete at least one three-unit course in ethnic studies to get their undergraduate degrees.
“We need students to know not only of the contributions of white Americans, but of black, Latino, Asian, and Native Americans, and their contributions to this country,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood), a co-author of the bill, said during the Senate session.
The bill defines ethnic studies as “an interdisciplinary and comparative study of race and ethnicity with special focus on four historically defined racialized core groups: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latina and Latino Americans.”
Bradford said the bill is supported by the Black Caucus, the Asian Caucus, the Latino Caucus, the California Faculty Association, and the California State Students Association, among other groups.
“For over 400 years, we have sanitized and whitewashed history, full of lies, omissions, and denials. Now it’s the time for the truth—because as we know, the truth will set you free,” he said.
Sen. Steven Grazer (D-Orinda) spoke against the bill, calling it “political interference” that could set a dangerous precedent. He warned against the state making education curriculum decisions that he said should be left up the Cal State board of trustees and administrators.
Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) also argued against the bill, citing a $20 million implementation cost at a time of financial difficulty.
The Cal State board of trustees is expected to pass its own revised ethnic studies curriculum and requirements by July 1, according to many of the senators who testified at the hearing. The California State University is composed of 23 campuses across the state, and educates 482,000 students each year.
Bradford said some opponents who have reservations about dictating curriculum are “many of the same folks who oppose the removing of racist heroes in this country … and changing the names of naval and army bases.”
“Part of the fight against racism requires us to increase our understanding of one another and our history. If our students do not understand that 400-year history of white supremacy and segregation in this country, how can they understand the moment of now? The legacy of that history is still all around us today,” he said.
He added, “It’s visible in who can buy a house, and where you can buy a house due to restrictive covenants and redlining that once existed. It’s visible in who’s incarcerated and who’s not, because of a legacy of slavery and the 13th Amendment, the war on drugs, and other institutional biases. It’s visible in which families have intergenerational wealth, and which ones have one-tenth of that wealth.”
Institutional racism is evident when Wall Street fraudsters get away with financial crimes, Bradford said, “unlike George Floyd, who died for maybe passing a fake $20 bill.” He also brought up legislative ignorance of Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday that celebrates the emancipation of slaves following the Civil War.
“Too few people know slavery endured for years, and in many ways still endures now,” Bradford said. “An ethnic studies requirement will help fix that ignorance.”
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) graduates have a far better grasp of history than other colleges, he said, because HBCUs “teach American history, not sanitized history.”
The bill now returns to the Assembly, where it began and already passed, for a vote that incorporates any amendments made by the Senate. It is expected to pass again, and move along to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature on the way to becoming law.