Having more full time professors in the Ethnic and Race Studies major is ‘overdue’

Alijah Hernandez, Copy Editor

If adding an ethnic studies major to California Lutheran University is not a performative act, the school needs to continue implementing structural change and hire full time faculty members to set up a strong foundation for the program. 

“It’s important that all students have some sort of understanding of ethnic and race studies, because they’re going to have classmates that are not only LatinX but a lot of other students of color on this campus,” said Lorena Muñoz, the director of Ethnic and Race studies.

This program is overdue, and it needs to stay to benefit the cultural climate of this campus. 

Cal Lutheran has been a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016. An Ethnic and Race studies program didn’t exist until a year ago in 2020. The program looked like a group of faculty volunteering their time to look through offered courses that sounded like they could count as ethnic studies courses. 

In 2020, Governor Newsom signed off on Assembly Bill 1460  that makes all students entering the California State University system in the academic year of 2021-2022 take an ethnic studies course that serves as a graduation requirement. California is the first state to require this. The next logical step would be for surrounding universities to follow in those footsteps. 

An article published in the Phi Delta Kappa International Journal explains the presence of ethnic studies courses in public schools, stating, “Disproportionate number of ethnic studies programs are located in public colleges and universities because these institutions are more susceptible to public pressure than are private schools.” 

Peer pressure may not be the best reason to add an ethnic studies program, but by adding it, public schools are creating a space where students can think critically and be informed of these topics. Private schools are just as in need because it’s not like issues with race and ethnicity only happen in public schools. 

“Hopefully, these racial incidents that happened in the past, we deal with them differently, right? Because I’m not saying they’re not going to happen, but how we react to them, how we deal with them, and how we talk about them will be different. So that’s what I hope for,” Muñoz said. 

Muñoz said ethnic and race studies prepares students to be able to live in complex current moments by developing critical thinking and understanding on topics like race, class gender, sexuality and its relationship to the world. Ethnic studies also works to recover lost or marginalized voices. 

Cal Lutheran has taken a step in the right direction, but this isn’t where it should stop. Everyone could benefit from taking these classes. Muñoz also said in the future there will be a change to the Core 21 requirements because ethnic and race studies will have a place across the curriculum. 

She’s also working with the consortium in Ventura County to make their classes transferable so ethnic studies is also available for transfer students. 

It’s definitely unfair that Cal Lutheran did not offer this sooner to students who had interest in such a program. It would have been nice to see this sooner, but I do appreciate the presence of a program now, and I hope the university focuses on developing this program further.

Maria Kohnke, associate vice president of Academic Services and Registrar said in an in-person interview that one reason a major may take a long time to show up is because there is a long process created for people who try to add new majors or changes to courses. This can take anywhere from a year or two years to process.

Academic Services doesn’t decide what majors get to be added but Kohnke said Dean for College of Arts and Sciences Jessica Lavariega Monforti had a lot to do with it.

“It was something that was overdue. Faculty and students were interested in it. But the dean, I give a lot of credit to her being the driving force for it,” Kohnke said. 

Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer, department chair of Race, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Mills College said in a phone interview that their Ethnic and Race studies program started with the Black Student Union recognizing there was a lack of representation in people who looked like them in the content they were learning and in the people who were teaching them.

“We also know this just as being human beings, as being people of color, right, that students do better when they see themselves reflected in their teachers, and when they see themselves reflected in the things that they study,” Bauer said. 

Bauer also said she noticed that students could get a major in ethnic studies at Cal Lutheran, but the university did not have a single professor of ethnic studies until Muñoz came to be a faculty member.

“It’s a little bizarre, honestly. You can’t. That would be like you majoring in chemistry, but you don’t have any chemistry professors. Right?,” Bauer said. 

Muñoz said without understanding or knowledge people will repeat the same things that are out there. Ethnic studies is relevant to careers and graduate school too. It’s not a major that you can’t do anything with. 

I agree with Muñoz that faculty who are already here, have their plates full. The Ethnic and Race studies program merits a full two people at the very least.

Cal Lutheran needs to invest in developing their program so they can better serve all their students, not just minorities. It is important so everyone can develop a greater understanding for one another.

This is not a subject to be taken lightly where the school adds one faculty member and an Ethnic and Race studies program, slaps a bow on it and calls it pretty. It requires development, more faculty, more classes to show the university is serious about having a successful Ethnic and Race studies program.

“It’s important that the university invests in this program, not only by highlighting it, but by actually investing in people basically, having the infrastructure for this program to succeed,” Muñoz said.