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Ethnic studies, multicultural studies offer nuanced perspective on campus

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AUGUST 22, 2019

The UC Berkeley ethnic studies department and multicultural major programs have historically struggled to maintain their funding in the face of campus budget cuts. 

In 2011, $500,000 in cuts were made, affecting the ethnic studies, African American studies and gender and women’s studies departments. In 2016, all of the major area studies programs under the umbrella program of International and Area Studies were coalesced into one single global studies program. In 2018, the acclaimed peace and conflict studies major was retired and absorbed into the global studies major.

UC Berkeley is a campus that has perpetually struggled to invest and maintain reliable funding in its cultural education programs. But recently, UC Berkeley has increased the budget for ethnic studies, African American studies and gender and women’s studies, signaling that the campus recognizes the need for such fields.

Fostering inclusion and appreciation for other cultures is significantly aided by classroom exposure to those topics. And while the American Cultures course requirement encourages students to explore ethnic studies, the requirement doesn’t mandate specific exposure to the topic. As a result, students who are not majoring in ethnic studies topics are limited in their exposure to this field of study. 

This is a shame because UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies department provides critical and interdisciplinary courses that expand the student body’s exposure to the perspectives of people of color. And while this is one of the more diverse departments on campus, there is still room for the program to grow. That growth should start with the development of regularly offered ethnic studies courses specifically related to the field of mixed-race and multicultural studies. 

From slavery to Japanese American concentration camps to today’s southern border politics, many political and social issues are multicultural ones. If UC Berkeley is to be a leader in teaching its students how to approach multicultural issues, its students must be better equipped to informatively and sensitively handle cross-cultural sociopolitical issues. 

And with such a large community of mixed students on campus, the lack of classes related to mixed-race and multicultural topics becomes an issue of representation. Many students use their collegiate education to learn more about the history of their cultures and ethnic identities. When there are almost no classes that cover the mixed-race experience, these students are left having to learn about their ethnicities in isolation from one another. 

Allocating funds to the creation of comparative ethnic studies and culturally intersectional courses would allow these students to explore the nuances that come with intersecting cultures and would offer professors the opportunity to explore and pioneer a field of study that is largely underdeveloped. 

UC Berkeley has an opportunity to turn a page when it comes to ethnic studies and to be at the forefront of developing multicultural courses. It is imperative that campus commit financial and human resources to these fields for the good of its faculty and students and for the diversity of education.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editors.

SEPTEMBER 02, 2019