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What's Next For Ethnic Studies In The Cal State System?

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Melina Abdullah at an Aug. 12 event to support her appointment as dean of the university's new college of ethnic studies. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)
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California is undergoing two ground-breaking developments in ethnic studies.

The first is a forthcoming requirement that all students in the 23-campus California State University system take a three-unit ethnic studies course. What that course looks like is still to be determined but it's expected to be in place in three years.

The second could put one of those Cal State campuses on the national map. Later this month, California State University Los Angeles will open a new college of ethnic studies that will bring under one roof the departments of Asian and Asian American Studies, Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies, and Pan-African Studies.

The question of who will lead that new school has pitted supporters of Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A. and a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA, against the university's president, William Covino. Abdullah and her supporters have been actively lobbying for her appointment as dean of the new school, particularly under the Twitter hashtags #drabdullah4dean and #FreedomCampus.

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On Friday, Abdullah shared a message sent by the university's provost to the Cal State ethnic studies faculty on Thursday night saying she will not be considered for either dean or interim dean.

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(Screenshot provided by Melina Abdullah)

The dispute escalated last week after Covino named Stewart Kwoh, the founding president and past executive director of the legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, as interim dean. (Full disclosure: Kwoh is a life trustee of the board of Southern California Public Radio.)

In the full 23-campus Cal State system, there's debate over a plan approved last month by the system's board of trustees requiring students to take ethnic studies or courses with a social justice component to graduate. Opponents favor Assembly Bill 1460, which would require students to take a three-unit course in one of four ethnic studies disciplines: Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies, or Latina and Latino studies.

UPDATE, 1:35 p.m. -- This article was updated to reflect an email sent to Cal State ethnic studies faculty saying Melina Abdullah will not be appointed dean.

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