The Origins of Ethnic Studies

       In the late 1960s, students in the United States were fighting for free speech on campuses, protesting the war in Vietnam, and participating in the second wave of the women's rights movement. Against this backdrop of protest, students of color continued to enroll in colleges and universities in record numbers, as a result of Civil Rights era educational reform. These students brought the struggles of their communities with them onto campus. Beginning in 1968, under the slogan of self determination, a group called the Third World Liberation Front, comprised of African American, Latino, Asian American, and American Indian students at San Francisco State, went on strike for an education they felt would be more relevant and accessible to communities of color. In addition to requesting increased admissions of minorities, the students called for a School of Ethnic Studies to be founded within their insititution. When the strike ended five months later, student demands had not been fully met. However, the administration promised the establishment of the first Asian American Studies program, a significant victory. In 1969, the movement spread to nearby University of California at Berkeley, where that year the first department of Ethnic Studies was born. UC Berkeley remains the only United States college or university to offer a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies.

     City College established the first east coast Latino Studies program in1973, and the first east coast Asian American Studies program in 1978. Nevertheless, the struggle for Ethnic Studies didn't find widesread success in the East and Midwest until the late 1980s. Although various proposals were submitted to administrators throughout the 70s and 80s, it wasn't until the 1990s that the struggle in the Ivy League, and at Columbia in particular, was fully underway.