Why ethnic studies programs are good for California, and America

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On Nov. 6, 1968, the Black Student Union and a coalition of student groups at San Francisco State University known as the Third World Liberation Front began what would become the longest student strike in U.S. history. They wanted the university to institute an ethnic studies program.

Beyond simply teaching students names like Frederick Douglass and Sacagawea, the program they envisioned would explore race and ethnicity across all disciplines in order to address issues of Eurocentrism, oppression and identity.

Such a field had been proposed since the late 19th century by thinkers like W.E.B. Du Bois and José Martí, but obstinate elites had never formalized it in mainstream academia. At one rally, San Francisco State President S.I. Hayakawa silenced student activists by yanking the wires out of the loudspeakers. But after nearly five months, he capitulated, instituting the first College of Ethnic Studies in the nation.

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