The Continuing Struggle: Students United for Ethnic Studies

Categories: Racism in schools

"The students, united, will never be defeated! ". This was the rallying call of students at San Francisco State University trying to save their Asian America Studies classes in 2008. 40 years after the first Third World Liberation Front protested and fought against discrimination and for their rights to have ethnic studies classes, the fight still continues. Students fought to have classes from the perspective of ethnic peoples, and not the Eurocentric point of view. In doing so, the struggle for ethnic studies from students and the community challenged and broke the status quo and construct of "race" in a Eurocentric America.

Ethnic studies in the U. S. campuses started in the 60's along with the Civil Rights Movement, opposition against the Vietnam War, the fight for women's rights, and many other fights by the people for their rights. In March of 1968, The SFSU Third World Liberation Front was created by students of different ethnicities coming together. This was the longest strike in student history, and resulted in the creation of ethnic studies at SFSU, as well as increased admissions for students of colors to the university.

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The second longest strike occurred in UC Berkeley, with the strike more violent than the first.

The clenched fist was the symbol for the strike, equality, power, unity, and change for the minority groups in America. Over the years, there have been many strikes and protest from students to have ethnic studies. California was a hotbed for the struggle of ethnic studies because it has the most immigrant and ethnic groups in the United States.

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It was a melting pot of African Americans, Asians, American Indians, Latinos, and so on. It was really only a matter of time before they stood up against discrimination. "When people of color got up in unity and went on strike, it scared them.

" Them referring to the white political leaders of the schools. The first to stand up to discrimination is usually those that are educated and realize they can make a change through their actions. Students of ethnic background fought for social justice not only for themselves, but for a larger picture going back to their communities. Ethnic students are representatives to their families and communities. Many of these ethnic students were the first to attend college because their parents or families came to America in search for a better life and an opportunity for their children at an education.

As these strikes were occurring, the community came to support them. Not only the communities of ethnic students, but white supporters as well. Supporters that understood the struggle of the ethnic groups, and came together to fight together. "Quite a few white students had come to the point of understanding, what our cause was, what it meant, and that we did not want to take over the university, take over the country, we wanted ends". When we think third world we think of people that are improvised, poor, and lacking education.

These third world people a Though they weren't really "third world" students, inadequate access to classes that represented their ethnic background meant they had no way to really learn the struggle of ethnics people that came before them. Luis Alarcon made a point that he considered UC Berkeley his university, but the president of Berkeley disagreed and said the university was for "the people of California". Although Luis is a person of California, the president did not consider the university for him.

As a race of minorities, they were trying to free themselves from being "third world" citizens in the United States. "What we got from this agreement were things that we as third world peoples deserved, and we as students, and we as citizens of this country deserved". But is there a scientific claim that makes certain people "third world", or is it a political agenda to people ethnic people third world citizens? Ethnic people living in the United States in the were often discriminated against.

As Laureen Chew said," of course I blamed it all on ourselves and our family for being born Chinese, etc". They blamed their race, instead of finding a fault in society for making them an inferior race that were mistreated unfairly. Even today, although racism is not as obvious, it is still alive and in place. "Color-blind racism serves as the ideological armor for a convert and institutionalized system in the post-Civil Rights era”. Minorities can be discriminated against their morals, values, and character without whites sounding racist. But is being color-blind

discriminating as well? By not seeing color, one fails to recognize that we still haven't reached a level where we only judge from character, and not the color of our skin. It's apparent we today, have not reached that goal yet. Tom Horne Arizona superintendent of public instruction believes in cutting off ethnic studies classes because it will divide kids up and only teach them narrowly about the race they were born into. Ethnic studies is for the empowerment of not only ethnic students, but for all students who want to learn about the history of different peoples.

It wasn't so long ago when minorities were second citizens in the United States. Many were segregated against, beaten, killed, and uneducated. But what were the terms that classified certain peoples as a different race from whites? "Race is a concept with signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies". So because people of different ethnicities have different bodies, specifically skin color they were disadvantaged in comparison to white Americans.

"The word 'domination' reminds us that the institutional racism is a type of power that encompasses the symbolic power to classify one group of people as 'normal' and other groups of people as 'abnormal', the political power to withhold basic rights from people of color and marshal the full power of the state to enforce segregation and in equality. To break this institution, learning ethnic studies brings out the truth of this country, which in turn brings out the greatness of the United States. Ethnic studies allows us to think critically about our relationship in terms of our relationship this country and our backgrounds.

It gives us a basis to deal with historic racial issues such as the Zimmerman trial. "Ethnic studies departments in the CSU are at the forefront in leading students to balanced, critical, and open discussions of racial and ethnic matters that, unfortunately, have yet to be resolved in the US". It's important to have a format in educating students so that we may form our own educated opinions and learn facts on the history of our ethnicities. People gave up their bodies for their right to have ethnic studies. "I wanted to give you a poem, but I give you my body instead".

As she finished her speech, her fellow supporters agreed with her with loud applause. She was only one of many proponents in decades of struggle by students to fight for their ethnic studies departments. The protesting for ethnic studies was intertwined with the opposition against the war, civil rights, and other social issues going on at the time. In 1999 the issue was California becoming increasingly wary against immigrants, using them as a scapegoat for the economy failing. Protesting at Berkeley meant defending affirmative action, defending the rights of immigrants".

The protesting in SFSU was the longest lasting student protest. Their cries for "we want the puppet! " meant they wanted to discuss ethnic studies with S. I. Hayakawa who did not rally with the students even though he was Asian American. These students were subject to police violence, who went into the cafeterias to harass and attack the students. At Valley State University, Latino students with the black students protested in order to have more representation in and open up classes for Chicano studies and Black studies. So what role does race really play in all of this?

We know that even if it's not about race, it's always about race. You can say that the student protests were all about race. When you ask people about which "race" they are, one normally gets a response like, asian, black, white, or so on. The two schools of thought, Primordialism and Instrumentalism, are opposing forces in which the former believes that "races existed, that races are biologically determined and distinct from one another. " The latter believes "race as a man-made, human created reality. It is an instrument that was constructed sociohistorically in order to allocate resources".

An outcome of the struggle for ethnic studies is that it challenged what the racial norm really was. By fighting for their rights, the protestors inadvertently chipped away at what really defines race; "a racist invention" to divide and allocate resources'. But can we really ignore that our race has nothing to do with our genetic makeup and the way we look? Discriminatory and prejudiced behavior towards minorities was the cause of the student unrest, as well as gaining support from non-ethnical students and community.

Jesus Rodriguez realized "people can be so quick to attach certain characteristics to a person's race". The characteristics we attach to minorities are they're lazy, they don't want to leave the bottom, they're slow learners, etc. With this in mind, white people in power discriminated these minorities, saying they don't belong in their universities. Many white people believed in the status quo or race at the time and opposed the ethnic protestors. But what about everyone else that eventually sided with the protestors? Especially during the 60's and 70's, people began to fight for each other's rights.

The division between races between people were lessening, and the thought of a human race were expanding. They fought for their own rights and they fought for each other's rights, because they realized all minorities at the time were going through the same struggle. " I believe that it is important for every American to know their history, even if it has nothing to do with their color or ethnicity: since events such as the Third World Strike influenced some of your fellow Americans, these same events indirectly influenced you as well".

Where would we be without ethnic studies today? Without the efforts and sacrifices of those student protesters, someone like me might not even appreciate and understand the struggle that so many went through. We stand on the shoulders of those who dared to challenge injustice and discrimination, and broke the barriers of race and racial equality.

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  2. "Ethnic Studies Ban Racist? " YouTube. YouTube, 13 May 2010. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. "CSUN Student Political Activism 1960's/70s "The Storm at Valley State"" YouTube. YouTube, 27 Jan. 2009. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
  3. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. 3rd ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. Print. "SF State Third World Student Strike. " YouTube. YouTube, 22 June 2007.
  4. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. "Save Our AAS. " YouTube. YouTube, 09 Nov. 2008. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. Leon-WIlliams, Teresa.
  5. "Lecture Notes on "The Historical Origins of Race"" CSU Northridge: Login to the Site. N. p. , 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. "Student Unrest at SF State College and S. I. Hayakawa. " YouTube. YouTube, 19 Apr. 2008. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
  6. Leon-WIlliams, Teresa. "How the Blind Perceive "race". . . " CSU Northridge: Login to the Site. N. p. , 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Oct. 2013. Rodriguez, Jesus. "Re: Race & the Working Field. " Weblog comment. N. p. , 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.
  7. Leon-WIlliams, Teresa. "Prejudice & Discrimination. " Moodle, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.
Updated: Mar 22, 2023
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The Continuing Struggle: Students United for Ethnic Studies. (2016, Dec 24). Retrieved from

The Continuing Struggle: Students United for Ethnic Studies essay
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