By Kayla Schneller
To capture the student perspectives regarding the AB 1460 Ethnic Studies Requirement I reached out to the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department Chair, Dr. Erualdo Gonzalez at Cal State Fullerton. Dr. Gonzalez connected me with a few students who felt that their voices had not been heard regarding the requirement, specifically at and prior to the Academic Senate meeting on October 31, 2019.
Each student I interviewed expressed their concern with the ASI focus groups that were put together to create a “unified” student voice regarding the ethnic studies requirement. Many of us discovered for the first time at the senate meeting that ASI promoted the participation of the focus groups via Instagram. However, the majority of students who attended the senate meeting to show their support of AB 1460 had not seen the Instagram post even if they followed the ASI account. They felt excluded from this approach and believed that the recruitment of participants did not represent all demographic groups in the student population.
The first student I met with is Daniel Saldana, who is a double-major in Business and Chicana and Chicano Studies. Saldana is in full support of the ethnic studies requirement. He feels that what he has learned in his ethnic studies courses has made him more aware about his community and the folks around him. Not only does he feel that the requirement would educate others about cultural diversity, but that it would foster a more welcoming campus environment for students of color. Saldana noted that he isn’t concerned where the requirement would fit within the rest of the GE requirements. “It doesn’t matter,” said Saldana. “It just needs to be included, period.”
Saldana had not heard of the ASI focus groups. He follows both the ASI and the Ethnic Studies Department accounts on Instagram and mentioned that the algorithm could have prevented him from seeing the posts. He expressed the view that when opportunities to participate in activism occur out of classroom time, he is automatically excluded due to other commitments. In addition to being a full-time student, he works part-time to support himself and his parents, and he commutes to school from Norwalk. He does not have the luxury of participating in extracurricular activities.
“The fact that our opinions weren’t asked for is disheartening,” said Saldana. “Current students who are taking any kind of ethnic studies class will be the most informed, because they are receiving the most up-to-date information in an academic setting. These [Chicana and Chicano Department] professors don’t sugarcoat our history.” He considers these professors as mentors who have shown him first-hand what people in the Latinx communities are possible of achieving. “If the announcement of the focus groups or surveys were announced during my [Chicana and Chicano Studies] class, I would have been very interested in giving my opinion” stated Saldana.
Samantha Montalvo is a graduating senior, majoring in American Studies. She has taken several Chicana and Chicano Studies courses throughout her academic career. The ethnic studies requirement “is a fundamental aspect that needs to be invested into each student,” stated Montalvo. “We all have different intersectionality, even myself, we all have different ways of thinking that may be narrower than others.” She highlighted the benefits of being exposed to different cultures through specific courses that are designed to educate students from an academic standpoint. “If students can better understand where people are coming from, they can better communicate with these different communities that surround us,” said Montalvo. She mentioned how this type of communication is key in no matter what field you are studying because of our increasingly diverse world.
If AB 1460 were to not move forward, Montalvo feels that universities would be sending a clear message that it is not important to their missions. “There are so many communities that are being negatively affected by racism right now, especially with this current political climate,” stated Montalvo. She attended the AB 1460 Academic Senate meeting after her professor, Julián Jefferies, announced it during one of her classes. Montalvo said that professor Jefferies was notifying them about the meeting because he was concerned that students were not properly being represented. The class where the announcement was made focuses on migrants and undocumented folks in the community. Montalvo mentioned that majority of the students in the class are people of color, bilingual, and active when it comes to issues regarding the “brown community.” Professor Jefferies had asked the Montalvo and her fellow students if they had received the surveys that were distributed regarding the AB 1460 requirement. “We had no idea what surveys he was talking about,” Montalvo said in frustration. Professor Jefferies did not mention the focus groups held by ASI, which he may have been unaware of.
Montalvo is involved with an organization on campus called Students for Quality Education (SQE). The organization focuses on keeping students aware of the issues happening on CSUF’s campus. Through SQE, Montalvo was given access to what came out of the ASI focus groups after they were held. “The ASI student senators were trying to push their report that they had collected from the focus groups into the meeting, but we had no idea what was in those documents,” said Montalvo. “We were concerned with what those specific student voices had said.” After reading the results of the ASI focus groups, Montalvo believes that the information collected was not fully representative of all student viewpoints. “If that was the only student representation we had at the meeting, we should have all been made aware of the collective student voice that was going to be inserted,” said Montalvo. She questioned, “Who was in these focus groups? Have those students taken an Ethnic Studies course themselves? There are still a lot of clarifications that we feel are needed that have not been given.”
Jackeline Benitez is a senior who is majoring in Psychology. She reached out to me via email after my conversation with Montalvo. Benitez is in full support of the ethnic studies requirement. She made it a point to mention the several racist incidents that occurred on campus just a couple weeks before the senate meeting. “A [requirement] like this would help students and our community to have a true perspective of different ethnicities and leave behind the white-washed rhetoric that they may have previously learned,” stated Benitez. “It would also teach about the resilience of these populations and their paths to academic success.”
Benitez shared her feelings about the Academic Senate meeting, which was the first one she had ever attended. “I was devastated,” she said. She expressed her frustration with how the time was spent during the meeting, specifically with the definition of ethnic studies included in the emergency resolution presented at the meeting. She was also disappointed when President Virjee left the room before the meeting was over and was concerned with the time allocated for students to speak. Benitez felt that the fact that surveys were distributed to faculty and staff via email, but to students only via the Instagram announcements, “made clear that the Academic Senate did not value the student opinion.”
As a Human Communication Studies graduate student, who identifies as Chicana, I support the AB 1460 ethnic studies requirement. Unfortunately, during my undergraduate career I had only taken one course that focused on a specific culture because I had chosen it to fulfil one of the GE requirements. Had I known that there was an entire department dedicated to Chicana and Chicano studies I would have switched my major. I am very passionate when it comes to issues regarding the Latinx communities, as well as undocumented folks.
Since I am also a full-time staff member, I received the survey. However, I stopped filling it out half-way through because of the language used throughout was confusing. I spoke with a faculty member who was also confused about how the information in the survey was presented. I felt that my voice was not heard, which is why I attended the Academic Senate meeting on October 31, 2019. I was very surprised at the number of students that flooded into the back of the room prior to the start of the meeting. I felt proud that the majority were black and brown, who showed up to represent their communities. Through the entirety of the very emotional and confusing meeting, it became evident that the “shared governance” aspect of the proceedings really did not include student voices.
While I commend the ASI representatives for trying to capture student opinion regarding AB 1460, I do feel that it was a failed attempt. The students who showed up to that meeting were frustrated and angry that they had no idea about the focus groups nor the surveys, and rightfully so. I spoke to a few students that day who were in the crowd. They said that if they would have known about any of this prior to the meeting they would have also been there to represent their communities, just like they had done at the meeting. As Montalvo mentioned, it is very unclear what happened in the focus groups, who was present, and if there was any representation of the people-of-color perspective. To me, it didn’t make sense that the ASI focus groups were not directly recruiting student participation from the Ethnic Studies Departments on campus. Saldana is right, the students who are taking these courses are the most educated in this field and their voices should be heard.
In all, I hope that the collection of these four student voices, including my own, will shed some light going forward on the way we, as students, are represented prior to, during, and after Academic Senate meetings.