For almost four years now, I have read the staff editorials in the Daily Nexus and found many of them to be provocative, informative and entertaining. But on Nov. 14, 2002, with the editorial entitled “G.E., I Wonder,” the Nexus editors showed their bias and insensitivity toward the importance of ethnic studies to our academic and everyday lives. The Nexus Staff showed wisdom when pointing out the fact that “the proposed changes reek of a bigger issue at hand besides old white men wanting to perpetuate their old white history.” However, they failed to realize just how important the issues raised in our ethnic studies classes are to our identities on this campus and in our society. I have never heard any of the controversial, thought-provoking and life-changing issues discussed every day in these classes raised anywhere else on campus. We must realize that most of us will never need to synthesize plastics or find the area under the curve, but whether we like it or not we will all be faced with race and ethnicity.
It is probably accurate to say that most white UCSB students feel, at least in the abstract, that ethnic studies classes are a good thing for our campus to have. Most probably do not feel that it diminishes their learning experience to have to fulfill the current ethnicity requirement. And, no matter what class they take, most will have to reckon with issues they never even noticed before and how that changes their personal place in America’s heated ethnic climate. The honest reality is you don’t have to talk about white skin privilege in most other departments – you do in ethnic studies.
I do not necessarily believe that the push to eliminate the non-Western culture requirement in favor of Western Civilization is a conspiratorial action to eliminate ethnic studies altogether, but it does communicate something very sad about the set of values used to make that decision. Ethnic studies are just not important. It basically says that you don’t have to learn about non-white people except from the point of view of those who have done all the conquering in the past 500 years, and even then, non-Europeans are just a blurb – side characters and never major players.
As ethnic minorities, our knowledge, history, music, art and institutions are always seen as “other”; not part of the mainstream. I heard a white UCSB student ask once, “Why can’t we have white studies classes?” to which a friend replied, “Well, you can take all your classes over again if you want.” In other words, most of the education we receive is already a lesson in white studies. UCSB, listen up: From the time we are old enough to watch and understand TV, through elementary, middle and high school we are taught the history of white America. We learn English often times before we learn the languages of our own people, as in my own case. White American culture and history is everywhere. It is the canvas on which everything else is painted. It is not difficult to learn white history in America; it is difficult to learn the history and importance of ethnic minorities. That is the whole reason students of color worked so hard to see ethnic studies departments started in the first place. It is the reason all students of UCSB should take at least one class that deals with the historic forces that have made our world what it is today.
Ethnic studies are vital and cannot be treated as being any less important to a university’s general education program than physics or biology or mathematics. As a multiethnic student at UCSB, I do not think it unreasonable to require of all our students to learn about the accomplishments, histories and perspectives of ethnicities other than those from Europe. I encourage all students on our campus who feel the same to speak up.
Brandon Bravo is a senior biology major in the College of Creative Studies.