By Edith Yang
Since the 1960s, students and faculty have been fighting to form an ethnic studies department at UC Santa Cruz. Today, the fight continues, but advocates are finding no shortage of problems. One of the main difficulties is organizing busy and ambitious students and faculty together to create a proposal for an ethnic studies program.
*Ongoing Problems:* Students participating in the Hunger Strike of 1981 at UCSC were promised the Ethnic Resource Center and an ethnic studies department. While there has been progress — the development of the Ethnic Resource Center — an ethnic studies program has yet to be developed. “I know that UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced are the only campuses in the UC system that do not have an ethnic studies department or major,” said Ruel Paul, a fourth-year cultural anthropology major and a member of the Ethnic Studies Committee.
Despite the lack of an ethnic studies program, some argue that there are more than enough courses at UC Santa Cruz for students to create an independent ethnic studies major.
“There are enough courses in the humanities and arts to put into an independent study,” Pedro Castillo, professor at the history department and provost of Oakes College, said. “It would be easier if there was a department, but you can [still] major in [ethnic studies].”
But it’s difficult here to create an independent major in a growing research university. “I think that the older model of UCSC was that ethnic studies is to be spread out across the campus in different departments [where] departments would offer ethnic studies courses,” said Paul Ortiz, professor in the community studies department. “But the problem is that [the model] was designed for a university much smaller than what we have now. There’s simply too many students for departments to have them so diffused.”
Eric Porter, associate professor in the American Studies department, agrees that a unique ethnic studies department may encourage students who want to learn in different ways.
“There are a fair amount of classes across different departments, but students don’t know they’re out there,” he said. “I think it comes from no ethnic studies.”
Students have tried to form ethnic studies courses outside of their curriculum, such as the Asian Pacific Islander Perspective or Filipino Historical Dialogue courses. Though some students have enrolled, they were not given credit for these courses.
“We asked different departments last year about what they thought of the class and asked if we could get academic credit, and they said, yeah, we can give you academic credit, but not upper-division credit, you’re not getting credit to help you graduate,” Ortiz said.
Karen Yamashita, professor in the literature department, feels that students alone cannot drive issues like ethnic studies and Asian American studies.
“It can’t depend on one person teaching. We have to get faculty to teach it,” she said. “We can’t have ethnic studies until there is a body of faculty … there’s no center or focus.”
Demand for ethnic studies among students at UCSC is especially high. “We’ve been promised ethnic studies for so long and nothing has been done,” said Maggie Kong, a fourth-year environmental science and biology major and a member of the Ethnic Studies Organization Council. “All these students want ethnic studies and are planning and trying to get involved, but we need people that are higher up and have the power to be our allies.”
Besides the difficulty of gathering students and faculty together, professors that have played main roles in developing ethnic studies have since left UCSC.
However, “I think that with professors leaving, students feel that [ethnic studies] has been deemphasized,” Porter said.
“The fact that we don’t have Ethnic Studies says a lot [about the diversity of the campus]. Santa Cruz is supposed to be a progressive liberal school [but we do not] have ethnic studies. We barely have the [Latin American and Latino/a studies] major,” Kong said.
For graduating students, employers now are looking for students with a better-rounded education that can deal with diversity in the real world. According to Ortiz, “It isn’t just something that I want to happen; employers now ask me, ‘Are your students capable of dealing with a multicultural environment?’ It’s not even just a political issue anymore; it’s a reality in the job market. If we can’t produce students that can deal with diverse society, community workforce, and so forth, then we’re failing students — we’re failing you guys.”
*Now What?* The initiative to bring about a proposal for an ethnic studies program at UCSC has yet to be drawn.
“I think people are waiting,” Ortiz said. “Students may be waiting for the faculty, faculty may be waiting for the students, and I think we’re ready to get out of the waiting. I don’t really blame anyone, but the fact is that, it’s just that [students and faculty are] all busy.”
Lilia Reynoso, a fourth-year and member of the Ethnic Studies Committee said, “There is a high demand, but everyone is spreading themselves thin to have a good amount of people [to make ethnic studies happen].”
Faculty members feel that not only is it essential for students and faculty to get together; in order to get an ethnic studies program the first step is to create a proposal. There need to be clarifications on both sides of what each expects out of the ethnic studies program’s curriculum.
“A lot of faculty know that there are groups of students who are talking about ethnic studies, but the challenge is we don’t know what they’re saying,” Ortiz said. “At the same time, students will hear that faculty is talking about ethnic studies, but they don’t really know what we’re saying either and that’s the challenge that we have to meet. We have to get beyond the rumor.”