There are currently 61 undergraduate Ethnic Studies programs across universities in the United States. Many offer the study of race, ethnicity, nation, and identity under a different academic heading, but all of them, including USF, built their programs using the groundwork laid by nearby San Francisco State University. SFSU holds the legacy of having established the nation’s first and only independent College of Ethnic Studies, now in danger of losing staff and a number of offered courses to budget cuts. Different USF organizations are now standing in solidarity with the students who are fighting to maintain the College of Ethnic Studies.
Last month, SFSU notified staff of the College of Ethnic Studies that the program had been operating at almost a $250,000 deficit, and that salaries might not be fulfilled come July 1. In response to a shortage of money, rumors began circulating that the university was mulling over a proposal to cut the department’s funding, which SFSU administration later confirmed.
The main reason university administration is discussing budget cuts is because they allege that the College of Ethnic Studies overspends and misallocates the funds provided to them.
However, SF Gate reports that the school gave the Ethnic Studies program $3.6 million for this academic year, but that is still nearly $2 million less than the College of Education received, even though the College of Ethnic Studies has 30 percent more students. SFSU spokesman Jonathan Morales responded by saying that the university gave an initial amount of $3.6 million that ballooned to $5 million, so that the University could cover the college’s overspending with extra money from a reserve fund (which is now depleted.)
Response to the initial idea of proposing restructuring was met with anger and disapproval by the college’s students. At a meeting to address the budget cut threats with SFSU’s President, Leslie Wong, Latino/a Studies major Oscar Peña directed his attention to the administration and said, “Shame on you guys for putting us in this situation,” before elaborating on how crucial the college has been in shaping his life.
Faculty and staff of the College of Ethnic Studies also came out in force, defending their use of funds and asserting that the school is incorrect in saying that they overspend and misallocate their budget.
Since initial back and forth amongst administration and strikers, the school released a statement responding to what President Wong says have been “misapprehensions” of the proposed budget restructuring for the College of Ethnic Studies.
After the first statement, and the subsequent town hall meeting, students of the University felt that further action needed to be taken. So on Feb. 25, students of the College of Ethnic Studies issued 10 demands to President Wong to resolve the current budget crisis, as well as further advance ethnic studies. Wong answered on Feb. 29 with a statement reassuring the SFSU community that cuts will not occur to the College of Ethnic Studies. Furthermore, he promised to allot $200,000 more to the College. The most recent update comes from the student advocate’s side which promises to increase further pressure on Wong and his administration after feeling disappointed with what Wong had to say. “In effect, President Wong has chosen to evade responsibility by addressing none of our demands,” read the statement.
The strikes between 1968 and 1969 that led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies, also led to the foundation of one of the city’s most distinguished civic media organizations, El Tecolote. In 1970, only a year after the College of Ethnic Studies was founded, El Tecolote ran its first issue. The editors, writers, and photographers that made up the first issue were students in an Ethnic Studies course. Since that first issue, El Tecolote has been able to provide Latino-centric news to people across the Bay Area, and is the longest running Spanish-English bilingual newspaper in California.
Alexis Terrazas, editor in chief of El Tecolote, graduated from SF State and believes the proposed budget cuts for the College of Ethnic Studies are something commonplace amongst higher education institutions. “Whenever you have budget cuts, it’s far too often that programs like [the College of Ethnic Studies] get the axe, and the worst part is that we’ve become desensitized to it, we’ve come to expect it,” said Terrazas.
Here at USF, students are showing solidarity with the affected SFSU students through online photo campaigns accompanied by a message of solidar ity and hashtags such as #OurFutureMatters #StopTheAssault and #AdvancingEthnicStudies, which were provided by students of SFSU’s College of Ethnic Studies. Organizations on USF’s campus that have participated in the campaign include ASUSF Senate, Black Student Union, and Filipino-American undergraduate student organization, Kasamahan.
In fact, much of the awareness raised on campus can be attributed to Kasamahan and their President Juliette Langit, who works closely with SFSU’s Pilipino American College Endeavor and Kappa Psi Epsilon. Members of these organizations alerted her of the situation going on at their campus. Members of Kasamahan immediately promoted the social media campaign but also saw this as an opportunity to teach USF community members about the potential repercussions of eliminating the College of Ethnic Studies. Kasamahan’s Public Relations and Political Affairs Directors, Jazlynn Pastor and Avery Balasbas recently held a workshop called “Kabuhayan Arts Workshop: Ethnic Studies,” where they looked at the history of Ethnic Studies at SFSU and how it relates to us at USF. “Kasamahan’s first step to any situation is to educate ourselves, then educate our communities,” said Langit.
Kasamahan President Juliette Langit wants students to pay attention to what is going on at SFSU because it is something that, she believes, could affect any university and any academic department. “Our Ethnic Studies program now, more recently deemed the Critical Diversity Studies Program, was modeled after the College of Ethnic Studies at SFSU. If Ethnic Studies at the founding university is in peril, this could start a domino effect to our own ethnic studies programs,” said Langit, who continued by claiming that one of USF’s programs is already in danger of potential budget reductions. “We already see low enrollment in the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program and Asian Pacific American Studies Program classes; similar cuts could happen very soon here at USF,” said Langit.
Photo courtesy of Sydney Abel