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Cal State LA's Choice For Interim Ethnic Studies Dean Comes With Controversy

The choice for interim dean of Cal State L.A.'s ethnic studies program is being sharply criticized by Melina Abdullah, a Pan-African Studies professor and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter-LA, and her supporters. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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Cal State Los Angeles announced Thursday that longtime Asian American legal advocate Stewart Kwoh will lead its new College of Ethnic Studies while the university searches for a permanent dean.

The appointment of Kwoh as interim dean was sharply criticized by supporters of Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A. and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. Abdullah is backed by United Teachers Los Angeles and other supporters.

In an interview earlier this week, Adbullah told us:

"It's that community who's making the demand that I serve as dean of this college. It wasn't my idea to initiate a public campaign. It was a bunch of students and faculty and community members"

But Abdullah, along with her supporters, has been active on social media in lobbying for the position.
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In a tweet posted on Wednesday, Abdullah denounced "the appointment of an unqualified non-Black male" as "a doubling down on anti-Black, Islamophobic, patriarchy" and "another attempt to erase Black women."

After news of Kwoh's appointment spread, she posted that "ethnic studies is not his lane."

“To appoint someone so out of line with what this very important position calls for and refuse to listen to the 1000s who have signed petitions, taken to social media, made calls, requested meetings, and demonstrated on campus is the height of disrespect,” Abdullah said via text after Kwoh’s appointment was announced.

Kwoh is the founding president and past executive director of the legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: Kwoh is a life trustee of the board of Southern California Public Radio.)

Abdullah said in her text message that she respects Kwoh’s work with AAAJ.

In an interview, Kwoh he said he wants to help raise money and foster collaboration between the three departments folded into the school -- Asian and Asian American Studies, Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies, and Pan-African Studies.

"I think the country is hungry for that kind of opportunity to learn and deepen their understanding of the contributions [of] people of color," he said.

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