UC Berkeley’s department of ethnic studies commemorated the 50th anniversary of its founding with a two-day symposium Thursday and Friday, which included panels presented by ethnic studies scholars.
The department was founded in 1969 by student activists organized under the Third World Liberation Front, according to the department of ethnic studies chair, Juana Rodríguez. These activists and other community members at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University demanded that universities start programs focusing on understudied minority communities such as Black, Native American, Asian American and Chicanx people.
Since its inception, the department has expanded with the establishment of a doctoral program in 1984, the first of its kind in the nation, and the creation of a comparative ethnic studies focus. Additionally, African American studies became its own department and Asian American studies became Asian American and Asian Diaspora studies.
“As Ethnic Studies scholars, we have been dedicated to making visible racial legacies through our investigations of settler colonialism, slavery, immigration, and social movements, both locally and transnationally,” Rodríguez said in an email.
For the department’s 50th anniversary, co-chairs and campus professors, Lok Siu and Laura Pérez, helped bring back more than 30 ethnic studies alumni including LaNada War Jack, one of the first graduates of the ethnic studies program and the first Native American student to enroll at UC Berkeley.
The symposium began Thursday evening, during which a panel of speakers reflected on the founding of the department. This panel was followed by a reception hosting poets and comedians who were graduates of the department.
Ethnic studies graduate students also presented a prepared statement on the cost-of-living adjustment strikes and ethnic studies faculty signed statements supporting the strikes, promising no retaliation against striking students, according to Rodríguez.
On Friday, speakers gave panel discussions touching on various ethnic studies topics. The topics included social performances and visual cultures; decolonial spiritualities, philosophies and religion; gender; militarism; labor; violence; prison industrial complex and governmentality; women of color feminism and queer futures and popular culture, music and social media.
In addition to the symposium, the Ethnic Studies Library celebrated the department’s 50th anniversary by hosting an exhibit on the Third World Liberation Front strike of 1969, including historical photos and archival documents.
The department of ethnic studies has advanced new paradigms to analyze marginalization and exclusion, developed theories and methodologies to empower communities and furthered work toward social justice, according to the symposium’s program.
The department currently consists of 14 full-time faculty members and more than 12 continuing lecturers. The department also has more than 150 majors and teaches more than 5,000 students a year.
“Ethnic Studies—the histories, perspectives, insights, and analysis we bring to a whole range of subjects—is absolutely necessary to becoming an educated and informed member of society,” Rodríguez said in the email.