UCLA celebrates ethnic studies anniversary

The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies mural.
The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies mural. ucla.edu

UCLA’s Fowler Museum hosts a family festival and art exhibit today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ethnic studies at the university.

The fervor of the civil rights movement four decades ago encouraged UCLA students to agitate for courses that focused on the experience of ethnic minorities.

UCLA Dean Claudia Mitchell Kernan says that then-Chancellor Charles Young was sympathetic and helped start the university’s first ethnic studies center. "The first one was the center for Afro American Studies. It’s now called the Bunche Center for African American Studies."

Soon after, Asian American, American Indian and Chicano centers opened their doors. Unlike today, she says, instructors were hard to find. The centers have developed into leading incubators for research in their fields.

Conservative academics argue that ethnic studies compromise the university’s main purpose — teaching the fundamentals of Western civilization. Mitchell-Kernan says the opposite is true. "The very fact that Africans are spread throughout the western hemisphere has to do with the expansion of Western civilization too."

She predicts a long future for the field, as academics explain and describe the global movement and transformation of ethnic communities.

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