Famed union activist and UC Regent Dolores Huerta joined UCSB’s Chicano Studies Dept. Monday to celebrate the world’s first Ph.D. program in that field.

About 500 people heard the 74-year-old Huerta speak in a reception held at Corwin Pavilion to celebrate UC’s recent approval of the program, which will begin accepting applications in the fall of this year and begin classes in Fall 2005. The curriculum will consist of three core courses covering history, narratives, cultural texts and social processes.

Huerta, who worked alongside Cesar Chavez with the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) in California in the mid-1960s, said the Ph.D. program would contribute to the fight against continuing racism and inequality.

“We have to make sure that … these ethnic studies programs become mandatory – that they’re not electives,” Huerta said. “That every single person that comes into our public school systems in our United States of America will have to take these classes so that they can understand why it is that racism exists in our society, and that the only way to overcome this is by education.”

Huerta said the majority of farm workers still endure the same poor conditions they have dealt with since the UFWOC went on strike in 1965.

“I remember when we first started [the strike], a farm worker said, ‘They will put a man on moon before a farm worker gets unemployment insurance,'” she said. “And we did [put a man on the moon] – and now we’re talking about putting a man on Mars, but farm workers throughout the United States don’t have unemployment insurance.”

Claudine Michel, acting Chicano Studies Dept. chair, said the emergence of ethnic studies departments mirrored a social movement.

“The ethnic studies movement arrived with force on campuses across the nation in the late 1960s to address issues of exclusion, marginalization and oppression of people of color within and outside the academy,” Michel said. “Because higher education mirrors the social conflicts, political tensions and economic backlash, the ethnic studies movement was born.”

Michel thanked Chancellor Henry Yang for supporting the program. Yang said that when he came to UCSB as chancellor in 1994, he promised Chicano student activists there would one day be a Ph.D. program. “And now, here we are,” he said.

Huerta is still continuing her activist involvements. Yang said she has been arrested 23 times, each for nonviolent union activities. Huerta said her most recent arrest was last week while supporting Los Angeles grocery store strikers.