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How A New Community College Ethnic Studies Requirement Could Have A Ripple Effect On Cal State Campuses

A male college student wearing a dark blue sweatshirt sits at a desk in a classroom, with other students seated at desks in the background.
Students in a California State University classroom.
(Garvin Tso
/
California State University)
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How A New Community College Ethnic Studies Requirement Could Have A Ripple Effect On Cal State Campuses

This week, California State University faculty watched closely as the board of governors that oversees California’s community college system voted unanimously to require that students earning their two-year associate’s degree take an ethnic studies course.

“It is a big deal for ethnic studies,” said Theresa Montaño, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge.

“I think that those of us in ethnic studies see this as a part of a bigger movement for ethnic studies from (kindergarten) through university,” she said.

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The new community college requirement is also important for the CSU system, because the 23-campus university system is requiring students who plan to graduate in 2024 to complete an ethnic studies course.

Also, about half of Cal State students are transfers from community colleges, so both higher education systems have been in talks to make sure the courses students take meet the four-year system's requirements.

“I think that those of us in ethnic studies see this as a part of a bigger movement for ethnic studies from (kindergarten) through university."
— Theresa Montaño, CSUN professor

“We're very pleased for them (the community colleges) that they have this new requirement,” said Alison Wrynn, who’s the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs, Innovations and Faculty Development at the CSU Chancellor’s office. “It in many ways will align with the requirement that we have in the CSU.”

But not 100%, she said.

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Wrynn said community college students who plan to transfer and want to use their community college ethnic studies class to fulfill the CSU requirement shouldn’t assume that it will.

“First thing, talk to your advisor, to make sure you're taking the right course,” she said.

Some community college ethnic studies classes, she said, may fulfill CSU general education requirements, but may fall short of what CSU requires their ethnic studies classes to cover.

Cal State faculty and administrators have come up with five sets of “competencies” for their ethnic studies courses. To fulfill the CSU ethnic studies requirement, the CSU courses, as well as the community college courses, must have three of these elements embedded in the courses in a way that students actively engage “with anti-racist and anti-colonial issues and the practices and movements in Native American, African American, Asian American and/or Latina and Latino communities and a just and equitable society.”

Montaño at Cal State Northridge said it’s OK if students don’t fulfill the ethnic studies requirement at a Cal State so long as they have fulfilled it at their community college.

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“We may see ourselves not having to offer as many undergraduate courses in ethnic studies,” she said.

Montaño said more ethnic studies classes in higher education, regardless of where students take them, will help prepare graduates to understand today’s complex discussions of racial and ethnic issues.

The community college chancellor’s office says it’s working out details, such as training faculty to teach ethnic studies, and setting standards for the courses across the state’s 115 community college campuses.