The History of USD's Ethnic Studies Program

Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego has been a full-fledged department since 2010. Unlike other universities around the country, the struggle to establish an Ethnic Studies curriculum came twenty years after the majority of other universities established similar programs.

Department of Ethnic Studies Mission

The mission of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego is to build and sustain an interdisciplinary, integrated and academically rigorous program and curriculum that examines the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality. It addresses our shared North American historical legacy of contact, conquest and resistance that has shaped the culture, politics and economics of the United States. The Ethnic Studies Major is guided by the idea of students validating their lives and theorizing their histories with creative and community-focused methodologies that can be directly applied in the local community and region.

Ethnicity at USD

The University of San Diego is a private Roman Catholic University established in 1949 that presently has close to 8105 students with 5,457 undergraduates. Precise demographic data on students of color are difficult to assess; current university sources describe the student body as 32% students of color. At any rate, the struggle for Ethnic Studies and the major exist within a predominantly white university (PWI).

United Front Muticultural Center

Concerned faculty and students began discussing the possibility of creating an Ethnic Studies program as early as 1995. The creation of the United Front Multicultural Center in 1993 and the first Irvine Grant of $1.67 million in 1991 began a serious dialogue about the meaning of inclusion and diversity at USD. The struggle for the United Front owed its strength to a student coalition; Irvine I, however, involved faculty and administration in efforts to diversify curriculum and raise awareness, but did not fund or engage with the United Front efforts.

Ethnic Studies Minor at USD Established

These events made the lack of any Ethnic Studies programs at USD even more serious. In 1995, dedicated faculty and students began the process of researching Ethnic Studies at comparable universities and then pushing through a minor. The minor was established in 1998 but with the understanding that no hires or funding would be given. The first Ethnic Studies course ever taught at USD was Introduction to Ethnic Studies, offered in 1999. During the 1996-97 academic year, USD was awarded a second Irvine Grant, but this grant did not fund or address an Ethnic Studies program. It did, though, encourage discussion among administrators about the definition of diversity in higher education and how it might be applied to the University of San Diego.

Both faculty and students were aware of the inadequacies of a minor without a designated budget and that relied on faculty and curriculum from other departments. As a result, faculty continued to research and subsequently wrote a proposal for a major in Ethnic Studies. The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences approved hiring consultants from the University of Santa Clara and Sacramento State to review the process.

Ethnic Studies Major at USD Established

In 2000, students, many of whom were Ethnic Studies minors, began a lengthy organizing project to demand the major, the hiring of a director, and a mandatory Diversity (D) course for all USD students. They met from 2000 to 2002, building a coalition with student government representatives, sororities and fraternities, and with faculty by scheduling meetings with all department chairs. They considered asking for a Chicano Studies program first, but then to honor all their members, decided for an Ethnic Studies major.

The student movement was critical to establishing Ethnic Studies in a timely manner; many doubted that it could be done. The key to their success was their brilliant organizing, reaching across campus to get the endorsements of a wide variety of students and creating understanding in a powerful summer retreat where students of color and majority culture students truly confronted their differences. Many students sacrificed time and energy to do this work, extending their efforts into the summers to form study groups and plan strategy.

The Strategy to Create an Ethnic Studies Major

They had a carefully thought out strategy that included the following events:

  • 2000 - The Walk for Consciousness, drawing over 200 students, bringing media attention to matters of diversity and hate crimes at USD, and eliciting a promise from the then provost to to create an Ethnic Studies major.
  • 2001 - The Silent March and Open Mic, followed by The Talk for Consciousness after the Human Relations workshops with Associated Students. The Ethnic Studies Student Committee is created by United Front and Associated Student leadership teams. A survey is conducted of over 500 students that determined a desire for a more diverse education at USD. In addition, the demand for an Associated Students Vice President of Multicultural Relations position to institutionalized student work is granted.
  • 2002 - The Ethnic Studies major passes the University Curriculum Committee. It easily passes the Academic Assembly. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences also approves the hire of a new director of Ethnic Studies.

Faculty Champions

Faculty had been organizing on their own; Eugene Labovitz of Sociology and Gail Perez of English championed Ethnic Studies from the beginning and met with faculty from many departments to write the proposals for the minor and the major. This interdepartmental collaboration culminated in forming a search committee from several disciplines to hire the new director of Ethnic Studies.

In 2003, Alberto Pulido became the first full time hire in Ethnic Studies when his academic line was moved from Sociology to Ethnic Studies. Since then, Perez was granted a joint appointment in the program.

In 2006, the first two full time tenure track lines were granted in African American Studies and American Indian Studies, leading to the hiring of Jesse Mills and Michelle Jacob.

A third full time tenure track line in Asian American Studies was granted in 2009, resulting in May Fu joining the department.

Addressing Inclusion and Diversity at USD

Because of the need to address the lack of inclusion and diversity at the University of San Diego, the Ethnic Studies Department has been deeply invested in changing campus climate. As with other Ethnic Studies departments and programs nationwide, USD's department is committed to a corrective and redemptive vision by linking its intellectual and academic goals with the needs of local communities and with the needs of the USD community.

Charged with filling the inclusion and diversity void, the department examines the moral and ethical inconsistencies by the powers that be within the university and the larger community in relation to the student body. The department advocates for university policies and practices that support the intellectual and emotional well being of all students with a special emphasis on students of color and those marginalized because of class, gender and/or sexuality. In addition, the department seeks to co-create with students an ongoing engagement with social justice issues both locally, nationally and globally.

Ethnic Studies student Terisha Taylor researched the History of Ethnic Studies at USD for an independent study class with Dr. Michelle Jacob during the Spring 2008 semester. Read Terisha's final paper:

History of Ethnic Studies, a student research project by Terisha Taylor (PDF)