Students applying to any of the University of California's 10 campuses soon may soon be required to take ethnic studies courses taught through an "anti-racist and anti-colonial" lens, following a faculty board vote meeting last week.
The University of California's Academic Senate on March 30 considered "course content guidelines" for ethnic studies courses that high schoolers will be required to take before applying to the school system. The guidelines mandate students learn about "the impact of systems of power and oppression," such as "empire," "white supremacy," "anti-Blackness," "xenophobia," and "patriarchy" in the courses.
This is the latest step in a years-long battle over ethnic studies in California, where the State Assembly and Department of Education have in recent years proposed several controversial drafts of course standards. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) vetoed a State Assembly Bill in 2020 that would have implemented an earlier draft of the model ethnic studies curriculum—which drew ire from conservatives for including chants to Aztec gods and excluding Jews from discussions about oppressed religious and ethnic minorities. After the department rewrote model standards, Newsom signed a separate bill last fall to require high schools to teach ethnic studies by 2025.
In November 2020, the University of California's Academic Senate added the one-semester ethnic studies as a course requirement for high schoolers graduating in 2030. The proposed guidelines discussed during last week's meeting would force high schools—including charter or private schools with students seeking entry to the University of California system—to "center anti-racism and anti-racist solidarity" in their ethnic studies courses.
In addition to making land acknowledgments, high school ethnic studies classes should "honor anti-colonial and liberatory movements that struggle for social justice" and "critique histories of imperialism, dehumanization, and genocide to expose how they are connected to present-day ideologies, systems, and dominant cultures that perpetuate racial violence, white supremacy, and other forms of oppressions," the guidelines state.
It's unclear how students from outside California public schools could meet the ethnic studies requirement.
More than 1,200 University of California students, faculty, and alumni signed a petition against the proposed guidelines, saying a group of "activist" faculty members behind the changes are trying to evade state law and "unleash hatred and bigotry, especially anti-Semitism, into California’s public, charter, and private schools."
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the director of AMCHA Initiative—a group that tracks anti-Semitism on college campuses—said she believes the University of California's proposed guidelines force high schools to adopt a radical and anti-Semitic form of ethnic studies. Lessons on "anti-colonialism," Rossman-Benjamin said, often lambast Israel and Jewish communities.
"There is no way that it can come out in a way that is not directed against Jews and the Jewish state, and that’s the scary thing." Rossman-Benjamin told the Washington Free Beacon. "It is really unconscionable that this very small group of activist educators have been allowed to completely hijack the education system in California."
The earlier form of the California Department of Education's curriculum, which Newsom vetoed, referred to Israel's treatment of Arabs as "apartheid." Additionally, it sided with the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, likening the Palestinian activist group to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.
The petition's signatories believe that the University of California is attempting to push those types of standards on high schoolers.
"We firmly believe this proposal … is the direct result of a small group of activist-educators determined to circumvent state law and manipulate the [University of California's] governance process to push a widely rejected and anti-Semitic curriculum for their own political and financial gain," the petition reads.
Though the education department scratched those standards and removed its support of BDS, Rossman-Benjamin said she still finds the current model curriculum "problematic." One lesson in the state's model curriculum asks students to consider whether "light-skinned" Jews experience "conditional whiteness" because they would have "safer encounters with law enforcement."
Undergraduates in California State University schools—the state's other public higher education system—are required to take ethnic studies during their college studies, pursuant to a bill Newsom signed into law in 2020.