Since their inception in the late 1960s, ethnic studies programs and courses have faced significant opposition and scrutiny in their attempts to be recognized as valid disciplines. In California’s community colleges, where the first ethnic studies associate of arts degrees were established, this opposition has served to stunt the growth of these programs and has contributed to a misunderstanding and confusion over their definition and implementation.
Despite this confusion, ethnic studies programs have been established in over fifty California community colleges and have been supported by a growing movement to add ethnic studies requirements to academic curricula across the state. This movement has already begun to bear fruit, as concrete efforts are underway to establish ethnic studies requirements in high schools and universities. In fact, this movement has produced the passing of California’s Assembly Bill 1460, which mandates an ethnic studies requirement for bachelor’s degrees awarded by the California State University beginning in the Fall of 2021. While the impact of this new law is certainly important for ethnic studies overall, the inclusion of lower-level courses means that community colleges will be directly affected by the new requirement in a way for which they are not currently prepared. This fact is already evident as community colleges begin to search for ways to ensure that their students will be able to meet these new requirements on their campuses.
Ethnic studies is a comparative discipline focused on the experiences of African-American, Asian-American, Latinx-American, and Native American communities in the U.S. from an interdisciplinary lens. It examines culture and contributions through a social justice framework, combining history, economics, politics, and social science for groups that have historically been left out of U.S. history. The field of ethnic studies combines the connections in the historically racialized and marginalized groups in the U.S. It requires critical thinking and understanding of the oppression of people of color and social engagement for the uplifting of communities, and it inspires advocates to value intersectionality and be change agents. A study at Stanford University (Donald, 2016) evaluated a pilot in San Francisco high schools that required an ethnic studies course for graduation and found that students had increased grade point averages and course completion, particularly for boys and Latinx students.
In January 2014, California State University Chancellor Timothy White created a state-wide CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies. On January 30, 2016, the task force submitted to Chancellor White its report, which included ten broad recommendations (CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies, 2016). The first recommendation was to create an ethnic studies general education requirement for the entire CSU system. Other recommendations included increasing and maintaining hiring within ethnic studies departments and curriculum development to strengthen ethnic studies and increase enrollment. On August 23, 2017, Chancellor White signed changes to General Education Breadth Requirement Executive Order 1100 (White, 2017). The changes to the policy were intended to clarify and streamline graduation requirements as well as to ensure equitable opportunity for student success. However, the changes to EO 1100 did not include adding a general education ethnic studies area to fulfill one of the recommendations from the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1460 (Weber, 2020) in August of 2020, months after the tragic death of George Floyd sparked protests across the nation. AB 1460 mandates that all 23 California State University campuses require an ethnic studies course as a baccalaureate degree requirement. The bill expressed “the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would require California State University students to complete one 3-unit course in ethnic studies in order to graduate.” 
While the California Assembly was working on AB 1460, the Academic Senate for California State University (ASCSU) worked to establish recommendations for ethnic studies curricula. This process involved a lengthy series of negotiations and compromises between the ASCSU, the CSU Chancellor’s Office, and the CSU Board of Trustees through several different proposals that ultimately had to be modified to satisfy the mandate of AB 1460. On December 3, 2020, the CSU Chancellor’s Office released the revised CSU General Education Breadth Requirements (California State University, 2020), which included the addition of Area F Ethnic Studies and reduced Area D Social Sciences to six units to accommodate for the added area.
At its Fall 2020 Plenary Session, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges passed two resolutions to address the issues involving ethnic studies requirements. Resolution 09.03 Fall 2020, Ethnic Studies Graduation Requirement,  directed the ASCCC to work with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to amend Title 5 §55063 to include ethnic studies as a competency graduation requirement for local associate degrees. Making students complete a competency does not add additional general education requirements but ensures that all students who complete an associate degree complete a course in ethnic studies. This requirement would apply for all students, including students who transfer to the CSU and the UC. Resolution 09.04 Fall 2020, Clarify and Strengthen the Ethnic Studies General Education Requirement, directs the ASCCC to work with the CCC Chancellor’s Office to amend Title 5 §55063 (b) (1) to add a fifth general education area entitled Ethnic Studies. Adding an Ethnic Studies area to Title 5 §55063 (b) (1) would only add it to general education for local associate degrees, so students who complete general education under the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) breadth pattern would not need to fulfill ethnic studies. Students who transfer to the UC typically complete the IGETC breadth pattern, while students transferring to the CSU have a choice of CSU-GE or IGETC breadth patterns.
Now that AB 1460 has passed and the CSU Chancellor’s Office has revised EO 1100, the work for community colleges begins. Implementation will vary by campus and should follow local governance policies and procedures. Every December, usually on the first Friday of the month, California community colleges are invited to submit course outlines of record (CORs) to the CSU and the UC for approval as meeting IGETC, CSU-GE Breadth, or American Institutions requirements. The CORs are submitted through the Articulation System Stimulating Interinstitutional Student Transfer (ASSIST) by college ASSIST managers, usually campus articulation officers or their designees. Courses go through a review process with representatives from the UC Office of the President, the CSU Chancellor’s Office, and postsecondary faculty. Results are typically reported to community colleges in late spring and made available on ASSIST. Prior to being submitted for IGETC, CSU-GE Breadth, or American Institutions requirements, courses need to go through local curriculum approval processes.
Recommendations to implement AB 1460 on local campuses are as follows:
- Create a work group of cross-discipline faculty to identify courses that meet at least three out of five of the core competencies as outlined in EO 1100 CSU-GE Breadth Article 4 Area F Ethnic Studies (California State University, 2020).
- Courses must have one of the following prefixes: African-American, Asian-American, Latinx-American, or Native American Studies or similar course prefixes such as Pan-African Studies, American Indian Studies, Chicana/o Studies, or Ethnic Studies.
- Courses may need to go through the local curriculum approval process to address the requirements outlined in EO 1100.
- Once courses have been identified and approved through the local process, the campus ASSIST manager can enter the COR on ASSIST and submit the course in the workflow to request that it fulfill Area F Ethnic Studies.
In addition to having courses approved for CSU-GE Area F Ethnic Studies, colleges will need their technical work aligned with EO 1100 CSU-GE Breadth requirements. College catalogs starting in Fall 2021-2022 will need to include CSU-GE Breadth Area F and the reduction of units in Area D from nine to six units. Although results of submissions for approval by CSU will not be known prior to printing of the catalog, colleges may wish to add Area F so that students who have catalog rights in 2021-2022 will complete Area F in order to meet the CSU graduation requirements. Other changes will include updating colleges’ various student management systems, student advising systems, and documents.
One of the most important things campus leaders, articulation officers, curriculum chairs, and academic senate presidents can do is to train their campus communities on these changes. They should be prepared to answer questions and address people’s concerns, as many questions and concerns are likely.
California State University. (2020). CSU General Education Breadth Requirements. https://calstate.policystat.com/policy/8919100/latest/.
CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies. (2016, January). Report of the California State University Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies. https://www2.calstate.edu/impact-of-the-csu/diversity/advancement-of-et….
Donald, B. (2016, January 12). Stanford study suggests academic benefits to ethnic studies courses. Stanford News. https://news.stanford.edu/2016/01/12/ethnic-studies-benefits-011216/.
White, T. (2017, August 23). General Education Breadth Requirements Executive Order 1100 Revised. https://www.csustan.edu/sites/default/files/groups/General%20Education/…
1 The full text of AB 1460 is available at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=2….
2 Full text of all ASCCC resolutions is available at https://www.asccc.org/resources/resolutions.