This article was updated Feb 13 at 2:45 p.m. to add a quote and audio clip for better context.
Sen. Michael Lam, wiped away tears after the resolution failed in its first reading 7-9-2 at Wednesday’s Associated Students Inc. Senate meeting.
Resolution #2020-13 would require students in the California State University system to take a three-unit ethnic studies course as a general education requirement.
It was meant to show support for Assembly Bill 1460, which would make the requirement state-wide.
“Ethnic studies is important and critical toward our development and the integration of it would benefit us socially, academically and beyond,” Lam said.
Although the Senate stressed the importance of ethnic studies, several senators expressed their concern over how the requirement may affect students’ choices and freedom over the courses they’re taking.
Sen. Taryn Williams argued that the new regulation is not necessary because the global issues requirement and the human diversity requirement include ethnic studies classes.
“There are other ways to take ethnic studies courses as your global issues requirement and human diversity,” Williams said. “What value is added by adding a third class if a majority of both capstones can be filled with ethnic studies course work.”
Sen. Ryan Phong disagreed.
“I just think that it’s important to have like a separate category just for ethnic studies because half of global issues category is yes, ethnic, but also it has history classes too and what if students pick history classes and for human diversity they pick like a music class or something?” Phong said.
Williams said if one of the existing capstones was mandatory as an ethnic studies requirement, that would be a way for everyone to win.
Sen. Kiran Sajjan argued that an alternative to the ethnic studies requirement would be mandatory ethnic studies workshops.
Vice President Leen Almahdi clarified that the bill would not add any courses on top of the already required courses and would not delay graduation. She added that it would only apply to students who enroll after it was implemented.
“Having cultural competency and understanding others reduces xenophobia, reduces the fear of the other and I think given the current political climate that’s something that we all desperately need,” she said.
Lam said that it would benefit all students. He also said that it would help boost enrollment.
“In the Senate, we may not disagree that often but the times we disagree it’s all professional and at the end of the day we’re all a part of the ASI family, I just hope that there’s no tension after,” Phong said. “We’re all doing this for our constituents, hopefully, we’re all OK after this.”
Sen. Jireh Deng said that there’s a good chance the bill is going to be implemented even though ASI did not approve it.
“It’s really hard because this is the first time I think we’ve really split as a board,” Deng said.
Almahdi echoed Deng’s sentiment on the divisiveness of the resolution.
“It’s a slap in the face to a lot of students on this campus, to a lot of the issues that they’re going through and it’s a slap to the face the whole ethnic studies department,” Almahdi said. “This is something that was really important and I know people mentioned alternatives but at this point in time this is the only solution and for the Senate to not support [it], it’s mind-blowing to me.”
The next ASI Senate meeting will be Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 3:30 p.m. in USU 234.
This article was updated Feb. 17, 2020 at 10:07 a.m. to clarify Resolution #2020-13. It previously stated that Sen. Michael Lam authored the resolution, which was incorrect.