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Contact: Nicole Rosen

Santa Cruz, CA, October 27, 2020 – Alarmed that the new California State University (CSU) ethnic studies graduation requirement will “incite bigotry and harm against students,” 86 education, civil rights and religious organizations representing a diverse array of ethnic groups, today urged CSU Chancellor Timothy White and the CSU Trustees to publicly affirm how the university plans to protect its students’ free speech rights and their safety.

“Like you, we are deeply troubled by the recent passage of AB 1460 and the harmful impact that an ethnic studies graduation requirement will have on CSU students, faculty and the university system as a whole,” wrote the groups. “Although this unprecedented incursion of the California state legislature into the academic programming of an institution of higher education has raised many causes for concern, our organizations are particularly alarmed by the highly politicized, coercive and divisive nature of the ‘Critical Ethnic Studies’ courses that will form the basis for this requirement. We are extremely concerned that these required courses will be used as vehicles for indoctrinating students into a narrowly prescribed set of politically-motivated and directed values and practices that many students vigorously oppose, and will incite bigotry and harm against students based on their identities, beliefs and opinions. In light of this new requirement, we are writing to ask you to publicly state how you will protect the freedom of conscience and expression and ensure the safety and well-being of all CSU students.”

Many of these organizations had urged Governor Newsom to veto AB 1460, the bill that forced CSU to adopt an ethnic studies requirement. In their letter, the organizations repeatedly noted an important distinction between the broad field of ethnic studies and the narrow discipline of “Critical Ethnic Studies,” which the CSU classes will be based upon. This narrow understanding of ethnic studies has a much more limited focus, and, as a central part of its disciplinary mission, promotes political activism and certain political ideologies the organizations note are antithetical to an educational setting and pose a threat to all students, and particularly Jewish students.

“Unlike other disciplines in the academy, which seek to instruct students in a body of knowledge and provide them with the analytical tools to objectively evaluate that knowledge and arrive at their own conclusions, Critical Ethnic Studies starts with a set of foregone conclusions and ideological commitments that are imposed on students and must be adopted by them without question or debate. We are concerned that students who, for example, reject the anti-capitalist stance of the discipline or other ideological values espoused by its practitioners, would be penalized for expressing their views in an ethnic studies classroom, or would self-censor their expression for fear of public humiliation. In addition, requiring students to engage in politically-directed activism to advance ideologies and values with which they do not agree is nothing short of a coercion of conscience and a blatant violation of students’ academic rights,” added the organizations.

The groups noted that the one-sided, ideologically-driven and coercive nature of Critical Ethnic Studies is particularly harmful to Jewish students.

“Since its inception, Critical Ethnic Studies and its practitioners have falsely and negatively portrayed Zionism as a ‘racist,’ ‘colonialist,’ ‘system of oppression’ that must be dismantled, condoned terrorism against Israel as a justified tool of ‘resistance’ and ‘liberation,’ and championed anti-Israel academic, economic and cultural boycotts as legitimate ‘anti-racist practices,” wrote the groups. “Alarmingly, CSU ethnic studies faculty who have long used their classrooms for anti-Zionist advocacy and activism can now find justification for their politically motivated and directed behavior in the recently approved ‘ethnic studies core competencies.’ Such highly politicized and unprofessional behavior on the part of ethnic studies faculty not only deprives CSU students of accurate information about a complex topic of global importance and tramples on their right to be educated and not politically indoctrinated, it has a well-documented history of inciting hatred and harm towards Israel’s on-campus supporters, particularly Jewish students.”

Anti-Zionist advocacy and the promotion of BDS are an intrinsic part of the Critical Ethnic Studies discipline, its programming and its classes. In addition, and more alarming, several studies on anti-Semitic activity on U.S. campuses have shown strong correlations between faculty who support and advocate for BDS and acts of harassment targeting Jewish students, including physical and verbal assault, vandalism, bullying, and suppression of speech: Schools with faculty who support BDS are about five times more likely to have incidents targeting Jewish students for harm; schools with student and faculty anti-Zionist expression and BDS promotion are about three times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish hostility; and schools that host departmentally sponsored events that include BDS-supporting speakers are twice as likely to have such incidents.

Most revealing, noted the groups, is a highly disturbing quote from Kenneth Monteiro, head of the CSU Council on Ethnic Studies responsible for developing the "core competencies" that CSU students must achieve after completing their ethnic studies requirement. According to Monteiro, "We actually prepare our teachers to know that on the first day of class, or in the first week, you may have students who are sobbing. This is the first time they’ve had to be this uncomfortable."

“The fact that all students at a public university are forced to take a course that singles out some students for emotional abuse because of their identity is extremely troubling and can’t help but foment deep divisions in the CSU student body and an unsafe, toxic campus climate for many,” wrote the groups in their letter.

When a California commission released a highly political ethnic studies high school curriculum last summer, which was based on this same narrow Critical Ethnic Studies model, many of the groups on today’s letter wrote to the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education to ring similar alarm bells that political indoctrination in schools often leads to increased ethnic bigotry, including anti-Semitism. That draft curriculum was immediately rejected by Newsom and numerous legislators, and the Governor recently vetoed a bill that attempted to make ethnic studies classes based on the model curriculum a high school requirement.

AMCHA monitors 450 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. The organization has recorded more than 3,500 anti-Semitic incidents since 2015. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.

AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.

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