Illustration by Louise Leong.

Student-driven education is a laudable effort. It’s one of the most encouraging aspects of university life. When a group of ambitious individuals decide to act on their shared backgrounds and interests, like in the case of the Filipino Student Association’s (FSA) Pilipino Historical Dialogues (PHD) 5-unit program, the university’s ability to gather bright and engaged people in one place shines through.

But the burden of something as comprehensive and necessary as ethnic studies and its related programs shouldn’t be relegated to students alone. The university should embrace the idea of meeting students halfway, and with regard to ethnic studies, UC Santa Cruz can do more.

The PHD program has been operated by elected student leaders from the FSA for roughly 10 years, and remains one of the few ethnic studies courses available to students at UCSC at this time. Ethnic studies at UCSC has a long and embattled history, and — much to the chagrin of students — it has amounted to more losses than victories. While areas of concentration like Jewish studies, Latin American and Latino studies. and the more recent Sikh and Punjabi studies programs are steps in the right direction, the fact remains that UCSC has not provided a comprehensive set of ethnic studies options for its students despite strident demands from the student body.

To be clear: the PHD program does an admirable job of providing a fertile environment for those who know about the 5-unit independent study course. The problem is one of scale. Students can only support so many of their brethren, and that’s where the university needs to step in. Only they can answer the very real need for a large-scale program that would teach students about ethnicity as a very tangible and delicate subject, while fulfilling their responsibility to students as educators. Graffiti bearing hateful messages on the UCSC campus has become almost commonplace, and it’s that sort of routine hatred and banality that ethnic studies would help address. That’s not to say it’s a panacea in any sense, but the fact remains that UC Santa Cruz is one of the only campuses in the UC system that doesn’t have an ethnic studies major.

The ethnic studies major has a long history, which is why it’s strange a socially progressive campus like UCSC would have to fight so hard for it to come to fruition. It’s clear that the UC has money problems. It’s disheartening that community studies and American studies majors are scrambling to get what they came for before the lights in their classrooms go dark. Still, ethnic studies is something that lets people understand each other and see them as something more than a preconception — that doesn’t seem like an optional program for a progressive university. The university is taking steps to further ethnic studies at UCSC, but they need to do more. Perhaps student-led classes could even be part of the major or program. It just can’t be the only part.

In 1981, the Third World and Native American Student Coalition (TWANAS) staged a hunger strike in protest of the university’s lack of an ethnic studies major. It’s a stretch to think they did that just to have an easier elective option. In a world where multiculturalism is the norm, ethnic studies approaches something of a moral responsibility. It’s not a responsibility that students ought to have to bear alone.