By Ari Bird
The electricity of fresh ideas and progress resonated throughout the Guzman room overlooking Oakes College as UC Santa Cruz students sat on a variety of chairs and flat couches. People of different colors, genders and ages met to discuss the need for an ethnic studies program on campus and strategize ways in which to get one.
At this Strategy Session, about 40 students voiced their opinions on everything from prioritizing tasks and rallying support from the larger community, to the trials that people of color often face while attending a predominately white university.
Jennifer Bonilla, a third-year sociology major, said that if she was a first or second-year student with the option of taking ethnic studies courses, she would have readily taken advantage of it.
“It allows for another perspective to be seen, heard, and spoken about besides the westernized, white, Angelo one, “ Bonilla said.
The student-run Ethnic Studies Committee hosted the Strategy Session as a follow-up to a May 3 Info Session that included speakers and testimonials from community studies professor Paul Ortiz, Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR) Director Sayo Fujioka, alumna Eden Jequinto, and graduate student Felice Blake-Kleiven.
Speakers highlighted the history of the long and arduous struggle for ethnic studies at UCSC.
In 1977, students of color called for the formation of Third World and Native American Studies, or TWANAS, and wrote several drafts of a proposal for such a program. Though the administration created a committee on Third World Studies to take recommendations from students, in 1979 the proposal soon fell off of the administration’s list of priorities.
When 600 students marched in 1981 to demand a TWANAS program, the administration again combated their request by forming another committee.
In response, the TWANAS Support Coalition organized a 25-student hunger strike, intending to fast until their demands were taken seriously. Amidst these events, former Chancellor Mark Christensen flew to the east coast to attend to some business and never got around to adhering to the strikers’ pleas.
Now, over 20 years later, UCSC is the only campus in the UC system that does not have an ethnic studies program.
Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal, however, believes that the absence of an ethnic studies program has not led to a separatist campus atmosphere.
“UCSC continues to foster an environment that is diverse, welcoming, inclusive, and comfortable for all students of all ethnicities and backgrounds,” Blumenthal said via e-mail to City on a Hill Press.
He continued, “Our extensive outreach efforts in public schools are to ensure that we have a diverse pool of applicants, which leads to a diverse student body that ultimately reflects the diverse population of California.”
But despite these efforts, diversification has yet to become a reality. The state-wide ethnic composition is not reflected by the ethnic composition at UCSC.
According to the RAND website and the UCSC website, Hispanics make up 41.7 percent of California’s population, but only 15.6 percent of the undergraduate student body. African Americans make up 8.8 percent of California’s population, but only 2.6 percent of the undergraduate student body.
And while Native American Indians are 1.8 percent of the California community, they make up 0.9 percent of all undergraduate students.
On the other hand, Asian Americans make up 8.8 percent of California’s population and 19.5 percent of the undergraduate student body. Caucasians are 38.2 percent of California’s population, but they comprise the majority of UCSC’s undergraduate population, at 51.7 percent.
Sister Paula Livers-Powell, founding director of the African-American Resource and Cultural Center, believes that creating an ethnic studies program at UCSC would close these gaps.
She believes that it would increase graduation and admission rates for people of color as well as help educate students about histories and perspectives they might not otherwise learn about.
“Ethnic studies builds cultural competency,” Livers-Powell said. “You don’t want to be limited to one frame of history. We want a reflective history.”
Livers-Powell compared the struggle for ethnic studies at UCSC to another form of labor. The university and students are pregnant with the concept of ethnic studies, he said, and to give birth, “you’ve got to have a vision [of how to implement it].”
After Proposition 209, which did away with affirmative action, was overhauled in 1996, the university has not committed to retention policies of any form. Some believe that this has discouraged faculty of color and their supporters from coming and staying here.
Overall, only 12.4 percent of UCSC minority faculty are tenured, or formally granted permanent status at the university. Out of the 227 full professors, only 24 are minorities. Only 21 out of 87 associate professors represent a minority.
Paula Ioanide, a graduate student in the history of consciousness program, said that over the last two years, the humanities and social sciences divisions have lost about 35 percent of senior faculty who avidly provided support for students of color at UCSC.
“Not only is there not faculty support for students that are interested in underrepresented communities, no one will represent these students,” Ioanide said.
Ioanide stressed that this trend is not significant merely in numbers; it’s about what these faculty members brought to all UCSC students, and what is now lost because they are gone.
Nancy Kim, director of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Resource Center, pointed out that it’s important to notice that although UCSC’s ethnic diversity is low compared to other UCs, its diversity has been progressing throughout the years.
This could be witnessed by the recent leap forward taken by Asian-American and Pacific Islander Studies. A proposal to create an Asian-American studies minor is currently circulating throughout the history department.
“I think that the movement for Asian-American Studies is raising the question for ethnic studies,” Kim said.
Kim believes there is a need for ethnic studies on every campus across the United States, though she said that the form of the program depends on what best suits the individual university.
The online UCSC General Catalog maintains that “the campus integrates multicultural perspectives into the curriculum as a whole, rather than establishing them as the responsibility of a separate department or departments.”
And according to Blumenthal, “Whether or not UCSC can and should have an ethnic studies department is the purview of the academic senate and the faculty.”
He said that there are differences of opinion among faculty members, but backed the General Catalog.
“UCSC students have a wide range of courses to choose from that can be considered, and are ethnic studies,” Blumenthal said. “These courses can be found in programs such as American studies, history, politics, literature, sociology, psychology, et cetera.”
There are over 80 classes that comparatively or specifically focus on the ethnic experience at UCSC, but many students interested in studying underrepresented ethnicities are dissatisfied and hold the same view of second-year Acacia Woods-Chan.
“There definitely has to be some way for us to learn about our ancestry, our culture, our ethnicity,” Woods-Chan said. “And for other people to learn about it too.”
A pamphlet created by the Engaging Education (e-squared) class of fall 2005 reads: “Ethnic studies is an attempt to transform the racist educational system from the ground up. It is a way of creating new forms of resistance to university elitism and new ways to democratize knowledge.”
UC Berkeley’s department of ethnic studies was established in 1969 after massive student and faculty picketing.
According to the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies website, the department’s “undergraduate programs in Asian-American, Chicano/Latino, and Native American Studies (along with the Department of African-American Studies) investigate the social, political, and cultural factors that shape the core groups’ formation and transformation.”
Using existing ethnic studies programs such as Berkeley’s as models, and drawing inspiration from previous struggles for an ethnic studies program on campus, active students gather every Wednesday morning from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Redwood Building at the Baytree Plaza, to continue the fight for ethnic studies at UCSC.
“We need to be able to provide a network of support for the small community of diverse people at Santa Cruz,” Woods-Chan said. “Our voices need to be heard!”