Stevenson Provost Alice Yang meets with students at the Stevenson Fireside Lounge to discuss the proposal of the critical race and ethnic studies major. Photos by Chelsea McKeown.

“If we don’t do something now, it will never happen.”

The fight for a critical race and ethnic studies (CRES) major at UC Santa Cruz is nearly as old as the school itself. In light of never-ending financial woes, students, faculty and administration at UCSC have decided the time for CRES is now or never.

Humanities dean William Ladusaw underscored the renewed sense of urgency on campus to make this program happen.

“Living with today’s budget makes this an urgent time,” he said. “We have to make the most out of the curriculum that we have. We used to plan for the future, thinking we were going to have lots more faculty, and we had big ideas for all new programs someday. We don’t believe that we’re going to have lots more faculty anymore.”

This coming fall, a formal proposal for CRES will be submitted to the Academic Senate, a legislative body run by the faculty which decides the university’s academic course. The proposed program will include an undergraduate major and minor, as well as a graduate-designated emphasis. A graduate emphasis is to a graduate student as a minor is to an undergraduate student.

Many pre-proposals for the program have already been introduced to UCSC. Eric Porter, the current chair of American studies, was a primary part of the faculty team that wrote up the latest pre-proposal and submitted it for approval and comments from the faculty, administration and students on May 9.

“This pre-proposal is the culmination of many different documents that people have drawn up,” Porter said. “Earlier documents were more like calls for action, where they said, ‘We need an ethnic studies program and this is why.’ There was a longer pre-proposal submitted by faculty in the fall, but Dean Ladusaw asked us, for the purpose of distribution and getting the conversation started, to make it significantly shorter.”

The document proposing the CRES initiative last fall listed 25 faculty members who said they were dedicated to working with the program, in addition to a comparable number who said they wished to support it. Ladusaw said the formal proposal will include a faculty charter, in which faculty can formally show their commitment to the program. The proposal emphasized exploring race and ethnicity through a global lens, something with which many students who have been involved in the planning for CRES have expressed their dissatisfaction.

Third-year Anna Nelson, who has been involved with CRES’s development since early 2011, said she hasn’t agreed with the direction the proposal has taken. She has been part of the student organizing group for CRES and was later a part of the undergraduate, graduate and faculty working group which formed after the March 2 rally and retreat in demand of ethnic studies.

“Some of the changes made by Humanities Dean William Ladusaw [to the fall pre-proposal] are taking the concept of CRES away from its roots in student-initiated struggle in a local context,” Nelson said in an email to City on a Hill Press. “For the past 40 years, UCSC students have fought for ethnic studies with rallies, marches and at least two hunger strikes, all for the simple demand of access to education that was relevant to their lives and was critical of the university itself as an institution that primarily represents and values the histories, knowledge and contributions of white and European cultures.”

The fight for a CRES program at UCSC started in 1969, just four years after the school was established. Students took over the first graduation ceremony and protested the marginalization of and discrimination against students of color on campus. In 1977, a group of students called for a Third World and Native American Studies (TWANAS) program.

“Asking why it has taken 40 years for a CRES program to finally be started at UCSC implies that basically nothing relevant has happened during this period,” said Latin American and Latino studies (LALS) chair Jonathan Fox. “The creation of the campus-wide ethnic studies course requirement was seen as a significant student victory at the time, as mentioned by last year’s commencement speaker for Merrill College, Ricky N. Bluthenthal.”

William Ladusaw, dean of the UCSC humanities division, meets with students at the Stevenson Fireside Lounge to discuss the proposal of the critical race and ethnic studies major.

UCSC currently has LALS, an ethnic studies program focused on Latinos in the Americas. Fox said its creation as a program and eventual growth as a department was an important student victory in the scope of the fight for a CRES program.

Nelson said comparable CRES programs typically follow a “four food groups” model, which consists of Asian American and Pacific Islander, African or black, Chicano or Latino, and Native American or indigenous studies. Macarena Gomez-Barris, the interim chair of American studies and ethnicity at USC, said their curriculum follows such a model.

“The American studies and ethnicity (ASE) major at USC is directly about race and ethnic studies, power, and the analysis of race and racism,” Gomez-Barris said. “For ASE at USC, we start with the assumption that Los Angeles is a global city, where black, Chicano, Native and Asian social movements — of bodies and for political power — have and continue to have intense global ties and a long arc of international influence.”

The UCSC pre-proposal states that CRES seeks to examine “the public” and “the common good” from a racial and ethnic point of view. It goes on to say this requires the study of the dynamic power relations resulting from the cultural and institutional stigma and policy of the idea of “race” on a local, national and global scale. Nelson fears that the emphasis on global perspectives in the pre-proposal will take precedent over all other views.

“Ethnic studies has always been tied to social justice in a U.S. context, especially in terms of  genocide against indigenous and Native Americans and their cultures with U.S. history,” Nelson said. “There’s nothing wrong with studying how race and ethnicity work outside of the U.S., but if the focus is on the ‘global,’ CRES would not be relevant to our local context in this country, this state, this city and of course this campus, which reflects racial inequality itself. Emphasizing the ‘global’ implies that UCSC, within the U.S., is an outside observer, rather than a structure that needs to examine itself.”

One of the CRES faculty and administration working groups is developing a special guest lecture series for the 2012–13 school year. The goal of these lecture series is to generate more student interest in CRES, as well as to learn from comparable programs at other universities so that UCSC may improve its own program.

An independent study sociology class entitled Critical Race and Ethnic Studies: Envisioning and Organizing a Liberatory Department has participated in the planning for the new major for many years. The class is led, taught and organized by students.

“The main goal of the class is to study what CRES is and what it could look like as a major at UCSC,” said Randy Colón, a fourth-year sociology major who is in the class.

Colón said CRES needs to maintain its focus locally in order to draw attention to and combat tensions surrounding race and ethnicity on campus.

“CRES won’t put an end to racist graffiti,” Colón said. “But at least it’ll begin a critical discussion on why more attention should be paid to this issue and what we can do about it.”

On May 20, the CRES independent study class held a meeting at Kresge Town Hall open to all students to discuss the pre-proposal for CRES.

To kick off the meeting, everyone introduced themselves and said why they were there. Reasons ranged from giving support to finding out more about what CRES was. Tamara Gonzalez, a feminist studies and anthropology major, said students need to make sure that this pre-proposal results in what has been rallied, fought and campaigned for 40 years — a CRES program that doesn’t forget its duty to justice and self-examination, as well as global perspectives.

“As students, we have a lot of power and it’s time that we tapped into that power,” Gonzalez said. “We need to tell the administration that this is what we need.”

The following day, a CRES forum was held at the Stevenson Fireside Lounge that invited students, faculty and administration to discuss the pre-proposal and address any questions and concerns people may have had.

At the forum, students from the CRES independent study class discussed their concerns that the pre-proposal created a program that was not focused on local issues, and was designed to look at CRES only through a global perspective.

Ladusaw said much of the vision will be carried out by student interest when the program is created.

“The fact that language doesn’t show up in the pre-proposal doesn’t represent a rejection of the aspiration to the local service learning aspect of the program,” Ladusaw said. “The task here is to make it legible to the bureaucratic process.”

Despite student concerns about the viability of the pre-proposal as it is now, the administration and other groups on campus support the pre-proposal as it stands.

Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) Alison Galloway has earmarked two faculty provisions for the future major. Faculty provisions are large chunks of money that promise to pay the salary of faculty members for the entire time that they are employed at UCSC. That means a starting salary of at least $60-$65 thousand, which does not include costs that helps to jump-start the academic career of new faculty.

“I think that CRES would be a valuable addition to our campus,” Galloway said. “Many of our faculty are already engaged in work that incorporates a critical examination of these areas of interest.”

The new director of the African American Resource Center, Dr. Marla E. Wyche-Hall, said she was very excited about the pre-proposal and its focus on global perspectives, as well as what it means for the future.

“It is critical to learn about others from a multitude of lenses and perspectives that goes beyond just Black and European, but stems to the Latina, African and many more plethoras of diasporas that should be explored within the realm of higher education and beyond,” Wyche-Hall said. “The wonderful thing about this proposal is that it will bring scholars together from a variety of disciplines and offer topics that will evoke conversations that will ignite scholarly thought.”

Wyche-Hall also said she hopes to teach or co-lecture CRES classes in the future.

This coming fall, a formal proposal for CRES will be submitted to the academic senate, a legislative body run by the faculty which decides the university’s academic course.

Although it remains to be seen what shape CRES will take, students, faculty, and administration alike are setting their sights high.

“I think that CRES, at its full potential, would change the climate of UCSC and become an influential force both academically and politically,” said third-year Anna Nelson. “We should make sure that students are at the center of the decision-making process.”