Community Studies Program Protests for Recognition

Lack of funding limits student potential

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Students, faculty and lecturers affiliated with the community studies program protested at the base of campus on April 27 to demand the program be converted back to a fully funded department. Photo by Elena Neale.

Protestors echoed a resounding sentiment to bring back the comunity studies department.

Community studies affiliates — students, alumni and lecturers — gathered at the base of campus at 10 a.m. on April 27 to demand reinstatement as a department.

In 2010, the Academic Senate, under administrative pressure, disestablished the community studies department and demoted it to a program, said Mike Rotkin, community studies lecturer and field study coordinator.

“There’s a lot fewer resources in the program,” Rotkin said. “Students have to take all their elective courses from other departments that used to be in this department. In fact, a lot of students from other departments used to take our courses.”

Departments receive more funding than programs and have more resources at their disposal. Community studies functioned as its own department for decades. As the oldest interdisciplinary program on campus, founded in 1969, community studies combines classroom learning with field study. 

Community studies students embark on a two-quarter field study during the summer and fall following their third year. The field study functions as experiential education in one of two possible emphases, health justice or economic justice and political  economy.   

In addition to the field study component, courses, workshops and speaker series were fundamental to the department.

“Community studies provides a foundation for students to make the change that they want locally and on a broader level, but also to understand the challenges for making those changes,” said third-year community studies and Latin American and Latino studies major Sunshine Del Río.

The community studies department typically graduated about 130 students each year. Since the university disestablished it, graduation numbers hover at less than half that. 

Funding is the largest difference between recognition as a department versus a program. Funding cuts to community studies limit course availability and events like workshops on political organizing, Rotkin said. 

At its peak, the department had nine full-time faculty members on the Academic Senate. Now. it only has one full-time faculty position — the rest are lecturers, Rotkin said. 

Protesters gathered to raise awareness among the UC Santa Cruz community that the program is worth more than the resources it now receives. 

“It’s important for us to have that freedom and have that practice in reflection that we’ve been learning from Paulo Freire and all our activists that continued before,” said fourth-year community studies major Karen Moorer. “If we’re going to learn how to be the change, be a beloved community, then we have to fund community studies.”

Program affiliates are in ongoing conversations with the UCSC administration, but have made little progress toward their goal. They hope their organizing efforts will change the administration’s decisions and restore the department status.

“Funding is needed for students that wish to make a great social change in the world,” Moorer said. “If we’re going to address some of these social issues, we have to give students that freedom and that curriculum to go out and to question the organization of bureaucracy.”