Early Days of Ethnic Studies
Throughout the 1960s, colleges and universities were the sites of student-led protests for racial justice, environmental justice, gender liberation, and in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale met at Merritt College in Oakland, California, where they were inspired by the writings of the Black radical author, Franz Fanon. A sign on the Merritt College campus is shown in Figure 220.127.116.11.1. They began a student group called Soul Students Advisory Council and advocated for the first Black Studies program, before going on to found the Black Panther Party (Rojas, 2010). At the same time, similar efforts were underway throughout California and across the country. The Black Student Union at San Francisco State College (SFSC) was started in 1963 by activists who had trained with the Black Panther Party and SNCC (Rojas, 2010). The organization supported the small minority of Black students at SFSC at the time and sought to increase enrollment. In 1966, Jimmy Garret from SNCC arrived on campus to mobilize and organize Black students (Rojas, 2010).
At SFSC, the administration allowed students to teach each other courses not included in the traditional curriculum through the Experimental College. Students resisted any attempt to control the content of these courses, including invited speakers. The culture and operations of the Experimental College attracted radicalized Black students. Students, especially leaders in the Black Student Union, used the Experimental College to build the Black Studies curriculum. By 1968, the Black Studies curriculum covered history, social sciences, and the humanities, including courses like Sociology of Black Oppression, American Institutions, Culture in Cities, Composition, Modern African Thought and Literature, Recurrent Themes in Twentieth Century Afroamericano Thought, Creative Writing, Avant-Garde Jazz, Play Writing, and Black Improvisation.
Figure 1.2.1: Merritt College. (CC BY 4.0; Photo by Jordan Burkart)
The Longest Student Strike
George Murray was a beloved English instructor at SFSC, who was known for his vocal critiques of racism and the Vietnam War. He also served as the Minister of Education for the Black Panther Party. After he was fired on November 1, 1968, student leaders from the BSU and Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) started a strike. The TWLF was a multi-ethnic coalition of students that were awoken to the fact that they were being taught in ways that were dominating and irrelevant to themselves (Maeda, 2012), and included a coalition of the Black Student Union (BSU), Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action (ICSA), Mexican American Student Confederation, Philippine (now Pilipino) American Collegiate Endeavor (PACE), La Raza, Native American Students Union, and Asian American Political Alliance. These movements built on intergenerational traditions of protest and advocacy that informed the emergent groups that formed, established, and nurtured Ethnic Studies (Delgado, 2016). Penny Nakatsu was one of the strike’s leaders, and her speeches emphasized the importance of connecting student oppression with U.S. Imperialism and Militarism that creates adverse conditions throughout Third World countries. Nesbit Crutchfield was also a prominent leader in the organization and the first striker to be arrested. He spent over a year in jail.
Police officers used militarized tactics on strikers, including directly assaulting students. The College’s President at the beginning of the strike, Robert Smith, was initially sympathetic to students and interested in hearing out their demands. However, the administration quickly replaced President Smith with Samuel Ichiyé Hayakawa, who represented the interests of the predominantly white California State College Board of Trustees and then California Governor Ronald Raegan. The TWLF made a conscious choice in their organizing to center the leadership of students of color. However, the strike also garnered support from white students and community members, as well as the faculty union, a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The strike lasted for nearly five months and at its peak, had halted nearly all classes and college operations. Although the protestors were met with hostility, resistance, arrests, and violence, they countered this with a strategy called the “War of the Flea,” which focused on disruptive tactics that would pressure the administration to take action. For example, protestors checked out massive amounts of books from the library, disrupted classes to encourage students to join the strikes, and staged massive public demonstrations with music and chanting (Rojas, 2010).
Outcomes of the Strike
In the end, the strikers won nearly all of their demands, including the creation of a Black Studies Department, the funding of 11.3 new full-time equivalent faculty positions, a new Associate Director of Financial Aid, the creation of an Economic Opportunity Program (EOP) with 108 students admitted for Spring 1969 in this program, as well as 500 seats committed for non-white students in the Fall of 1969 with 400 additional slots for EOP students, and a commitment to creating the School of Ethnic Studies (Rojas, 2010). The School of Ethnic Studies later became San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies, which includes Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Latina/Latino Studies, and Race and Resistance Studies. The strikers’ unmet demands included that Dr. Nathan Hare and George Murray were both denied faculty employment in the newly formed Black Studies program. Despite these losses, to this day, the strike remains the longest student strike in U.S. history and is a testament to the power of student mobilization (Delgado, 2016; Maeda, 2012; Rojas, 2010).
Black Student Union Demands
- That all Black Studies courses being taught through various departments be immediately part of the Black Studies Department and that all the instructors in this department receive full-time pay.
- That Dr. Hare, Chairman of the Black Studies Department, receive a full-professorship and a comparable salary according to his qualifications.
- That there be a Department of Black Studies which will grant a Bachelor's Degree in Black Studies; that the Black Studies Department chairman, faculty and staff have the sole power to hire faculty and control and determine the destiny of its department.
- That all unused slots for Black Students from Fall 1968 under the Special Admissions program be filled in Spring 1969.
- That all Black students wishing so, be admitted in Fall 1969.
- That twenty (20) full-time teaching positions be allocated to the Department of Black Studies.
- That Dr. Helen Bedesem be replaced from the position of Financial Aid Officer and that a Black person be hired to direct it; that Third World people have the power to determine how it will be administered.
- That no disciplinary action will be administered in any way to any students, workers, teachers, or administrators during and after the strike as a consequence of their participation in the strike.
- That the California State College Trustees not be allowed to dissolve any Black programs on or off the San Francisco State College campus.
- That George Murray maintain his teaching position on campus for the 1968-69 academic year.
Third World Liberation Front Demands
- That a School of Ethnic Studies for the ethnic groups involved in the Third World be set up with the students in each particular ethnic organization having the authority and control of the hiring and retention of any faculty member, director, or administrator, as well as the curriculum in a specific area study.
- That 50 faculty positions be appropriated to the School of Ethnic Studies, 20 of which would be for the Black Studies program.
- That, in the Spring semester, the College fulfill its commitment to the non-white students in admitting those who apply.
- That, in the fall of 1969, all applications of non-white students be accepted.
- That George Murray and any other faculty person chosen by non-white people as their teacher be retained in their positions.
The tenacity of the strikers inspired students at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) to form their own Third World Liberation Front in January 1969, who began a separate strike for Ethnic Studies at UCB (Delgado, 2016). Strikers called for a Third World College, but the administration ultimately formed a Department of Ethnic Studies. Throughout the country, racial justice and student activism were front and center, leading to a cascade of activism for Ethnic Studies programs, including the core disciplines of Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies, and American Indian Studies. In 1969, Chicana/o/x activists came together at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and published El Plan de Santa Barbara, a document that united diverse activists from around the state of California and laid out a roadmap for Chicana/Chicano Studies, as well as programs to increase the retention, engagement, and success of students from minoritized backgrounds (see Chapter 6, section 6.2: "Roots and Resistance- The Development of Chicanx and Latinx Studies"). UCSB created the first Chicano Studies department in the University of California in 1970, now Chicana and Chicano Studies; and eventually formed the first PhD program in the field in 2003. California State University, Los Angeles was also a forerunner in this area and established a Mexican American Studies program, which became the Department of Chicano Studies in 1971, and is now called the Department of Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies.
Ethnic Studies as a Site of Growth
Scholarly Associations and Degree Programs
Institutional Growth and Policies
Threats Against Ethnic Studies
The section titled Early Days of Ethnic Studies comes from the page The Beginning of Ethnic Studies is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI))