Is it possible for one university office to expand interdisciplinary collaboration, increase faculty retention and broaden a sense of belonging across communities on campus? The Office of Interdisciplinary Ethnic Studies Teaching and Scholarship at Cal Poly Pomona plans to do just that.
The new office aims to support faculty and university initiatives related to California Assembly Bill (AB) 1460, legislation passed in 2020 that requires all California State University undergraduates to complete a three-unit course in ethnic studies. Although AB 1460 only mandates one ethnic studies class for graduation, that one class can have a tremendous impact on all students, not just underrepresented minorities, according to the office’s two directors, Anthony Ocampo, professor of sociology, and Jose Aguilar-Hernandez, associate professor of educational leadership, and ethnic and women’s studies.
“What scholars have found over and over again is that just one course in ethnic studies has a major impact on students not only because they learn about themselves, but they also learn about others,” said Aguilar-Hernandez.
“For high school students, for example, studies have shown that it has a huge impact. Grades, GPA and going to college increase. We’re working on measuring the impact on college students. What we know is that it can affirm one’s place and quiet down imposter syndrome and culture shock in the classroom. It did for me when I was a student.”
The office, funded by permanent monies appropriated by the state to implement the measure, also will help in supporting and retaining faculty.
“The office will be a second intellectual home and community for scholars who do work across disciplines,” Ocampo said. “Interdisciplinary spaces are often very generative, pedagogically and intellectually. We want to make faculty feel valued for what they’re contributing.”
It will provide professional development for new tenure-track faculty hired as part of the ethnic studies cluster; facilitate learning communities through programming, including academic colloquiums, workshops and conferences; and offer financial support in the form of research grants, developmental editors, book manuscript workshops, conference attendance and more. The directors are available for one-on-one meetings to support faculty and are looking forward to more programming and opportunities for folks to come together around teaching and scholarship.
“By design, ethnic studies is a learn-by-doing practice,” Aguilar-Hernandez said. “It inherently bridges the classroom to communities and that counts as knowledge. We have a strong responsibility to teach in a way that resonates with our students.”
Other positive benefits of the office and course requirement are increased awareness and understanding of ethnic studies across the university, and more room for faculty to show their intersectionality.
“Minoritized faculty’s service historically has not been valued. Now it will be considered for reappointment, tenure and promotion,” Ocampo said.
The directors said they are feeling hopeful and energized, especially having just welcomed the incoming cohort of 44 tenure-track faculty, the university’s largest in six years, which includes an ethnic studies cluster made up of scholars “who are bringing so many great ideas and research topics to the university.”