The ethnic studies program at Stanislaus State presented the second annual Ethnic Studies Conference themed “Community Power in the Central Valley” on May 14. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members gathered to discuss social justice and education.
The free one-day conference included creative workshops, performances and educational panel discussions with leading experts. Through critical dialogue, attendees were given the opportunity to learn about the growing movement to support ethnic studies education in the Central Valley and Bay Area.
“We want to make sure students have the opportunity to gain knowledge of the scholarship, research and theories of ethnic studies, social and cultural diversity, the history of exclusionary practices in the United States and how they can advance us as a society and as a nation,” said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn.
By participating in Conference workshops, students were able to explore and dive deeper into various issues surrounding diversity on campus and the positive impact of having supportive community inclusion through campus clubs, forums and faculty mentorship said Marissa Gonzalez, a liberal studies student.
“If it weren’t for the Conference, I would not have been exposed to the grassroots organizations that serve underrepresented people on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “Attending the Ethnic Studies Conference made me want to get more involved with our community to start an empowering movement for inclusiveness and diversity.”
“I love ethnic studies because it has helped me discover myself and my passion in life,” said Ariana Cruz-Araiza, a 2018 ethnic studies alumna. “Ethnic studies has motivated me to become an agent of change by pursuing a Ph.D. in Native American studies. It would be amazing to one day be an educational panel speaker at the Ethnic Studies Conference and a leading expert in my field.”
The importance of the Ethnics Studies Conference is also reflected in the opportunities that students have to explore and learn about the lives and intersectionalities of the people in the Central Valley in a way that brings diversity and inclusion to the campus said Natalie Vargas, a 2017 sociology alumna.
“It shines light on the history of the ethnic groups in our communities and takes us back to people’s traditions prior to colonization,” she said. “I attended this year’s Conference because I want to continue to support and be part of the conversation circling these issues. I want to continue to work and connect with other people who are constantly working to keep ethnic studies alive.”
By welcoming events, such as the Ethnic Studies Conference, Stan State fosters an environment that connects people with experts in the field, creating a platform that excites individuals to engage with one another, work for social change and enhance their own personal progress in positive ways.
At the systemwide level, the California State University Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies was formed nearly four years ago to support and encourage the community to engage in constructive dialogue and to enhance mutual understanding. Junn was a member of the task force.
“We’re a very diverse campus, in terms of our student body, and one of the first things I did when I arrived as president was to establish the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion for Stan State,” she said. The Commission is finalizing an institutional Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan to address campus, climate, curriculum, hiring and community partnerships.
Last year, Junn announced that funding had been allocated to restore two tenure-track ethnic studies faculty positions and bring the ethnic studies program back to its original faculty base.
“Over the past three years, we’ve focused on building a foundation of permanent faculty in ethnic studies and bringing new relevance to our curriculum,” said James Tuedio, dean of the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “With two new permanent faculty coming on board this fall, we look forward to expanding the course options available to students and integrating ethnic studies more fully into the academic experience of our student body. Our University is delighted to sponsor annual conferences devoted to themes and issues in ethnic studies addressing social justice in the Central Valley (this year’s Social Justice Conference will be November 13-15). Through reflective engagement with the social justice issues circulating in our society, we hope to demonstrate the critical value of ethnic studies for students and local communities.”
Social justice issues around race and ethnicity are hot-button issues and the discipline of ethnic studies has gained wider recognition. “Across the CSU system (as well as in other colleges), the field has not been supported properly since its inception decades ago and the discipline has faced many institutional challenges,” said Xamuel Bañales, assistant professor of ethnic studies. “At many campuses, the ethnic studies faculty do double duty, often representing the voice of diversity in multiple campus committees while also mentoring a higher-than-average number of students.”
Students who participated in the Conference were empowered to take action and join organizations such as Central Valley Freedom Summer, a community-action research project. By promoting the message of unity and inclusion, the Conference strengthened the importance of getting involved to have a positive impact and how the University and local community can stand together to overcome adversity.