By Rodolfo F. Acuña
(Editor’s Note: The following is a presentation Prof. Acuña gave at California State University East Bay on May 16, 2012 at its Third Annual Diversity Day.)
It is only the second time I have been to California State University East Bay, formerly California State University Hayward. I am not going to be so presumptuous as to assume that I will speak about “diversity” on this campus, knowing that I am speaking to the choir and that the people on this campus that believe in diversity are in this room.
Diversity from my experience is an ideal of equal justice that was defined by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that has been perverted by the Supreme Court Justices and society. In my presentation, I use the title of a book by Rudy Rosales, a San Antonio colleague called aptly, the “Illusion of Inclusion.”
We all buy into the numbers game and assume that because we can go to the school of our choice, go to college and become a Greek by joining a fraternity that we are being included. Numbers have become an obsession and everyone looks to numbers as a justification for that inclusion.
Things are not as clear as in the 1960s when our numbers could be ignored and we were openly greasers to many. The need to include blacks and Latinos was clear to groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the inclusion became part of the Civil Rights Movement. Youth picked up on the injustice of being underrepresented and there were school walkouts in California, Texas and other parts of the country.
Because of the enormity of the problem, diversity became associated with “access” – the numbers game. In order to understand the reasons one must look at the times. When I arrived at San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge) there were only 50 students of Mexican extraction on campus. Today there are about 11,000 Latinos.
Today, based on numbers there is the illusion that we have attained a diverse campus.
CSUN has the largest Chicana/o Studies Department in the nation. We offer some 166 sections of Chicana/o Studies per semester; employ 27 tenure track professors (18 are female) and 42 part timers. It could be argued that this has made CSUN diverse.
Visibly it is. Visitors always remark that it looks like a Latino campus. However, let’s look below the surface.
The ratio of Latinas to Latinos is approaching 70/30 which has implications for the future. The administration does not give us a breakdown of the various nationalities within the Latino category so we cannot ascertain the percentage of Mexican Americans and Central Americans.
These are very important statistics because Los Angeles is segregated to the degree of which follows the lines of educational opportunity. Fifty percent of LA is Latino but go to the upscale malls and this reality is not reflected in the colorrace of the shoppers. For that matter, look at the CSUN Website and you develop colorblindness–it’s snow white.
You can also look at the hiring patterns and most of the professors are white and the groundsmen and janitors are brown. Over 75 percent of the academic departments do not employ a single professor of Mexican origin and 90 percent do not have a course drawing from that corpus of knowledge. Curricular changes have been superficial if they exist.
Worse of all, let’s look at the interaction of students.
Integration is supposed to be part of diversity. When I was growing up the highest rate of interaction and intermarriage occurred as a consequence of parochial schools. I guess we all thought that we would have to deal with each other in the afterlife.
I like to go out into the quads and see the students interact. What I see is that most groups hang with their own.
The Armenians eat with Armenians, the Asians with Asians, Mexican Americans and Latinos with their own. Like in the case of the web site the administration does little to promote real diversity. It employs two full-time coordinators to work with the Greeks to promote their interests but expend almost no resources to integrate students.
For this reason, the Chicana/o Studies Department has raised funds to send students to Arizona. We have taken three trips to Phoenix, Tucson and Nogales. In the last two trips we have included students from Asian American Studies and students have held joint fundraisers. On June 2 they will be sponsoring a run.
As CSUN follows a “one fits all” model, we should ask, is CSUN an aberration? I don’t think so!
Our inclusion is an illusion because no substantive changes have been made in terms of power relations. At CSUN we are just more visible.
What is going to happen?
Change will come slower in the future. Real diversity only comes about when people are discontent or offended and upset by a lack of justice. Truth be told, the Occupy Wall Street Movement would have been dead in the water if the occupiers had been able to get jobs in the one or even the 25 percent and had been able to pay for their tuition.
Similarly it is difficult to motivate alumni from minority community when they achieve middle-class status, and have access to better housing and schools for their children.
The issue of diversity may become mute in the future, however. In 2006, “Nearly 10,000 African-American students graduated from high school last month in Los Angeles County. This fall, only 96 of them will attend one of the state’s most prestigious universities, the University of California, Los Angeles…The number of black students at UCLA has been falling for years, partly due to a ballot measure that ended racial preferences in admissions.”
Looking at who has been included is an eye opener. A glimpse at the Greek societies tells us that those admitted generally come from the ranks of the upper third of the Latino community.
This will become the rule as we all become Arizona and universities screen out barrio applicants. Today, the EOP (Education Opportunity Program) admits applicants whose parents earn $100,000 annually, an adjustment that was partially initiated to recruit more whites and “better prepared” or “the better type” minorities.
Even this is becoming mute and the budget is wiping out or consolidating equity programs. Exorbitant tuition fees are wiping out many of our most needy students. The administration presses for salaries commensurate with those in private industry and just recently we hired a new president. The system promptly spent $345,000 to renovate her home.
The union is pressing for higher salaries when already 50/60 percent of this sum comes from student fees.
In the end, diversity today has nothing to do with equal treatment or justice. Just so we can keep up the numbers and we can create a caste system similar to that under the Spanish Crown in Mexico.
The irony is that white students are crying reverse discrimination when they should be demanding power. Like all of us, they are under the illusion of inclusion.
Dr. Rodolfo Francisco Acuña, called the “father of Chicano Studies,” is a historian, professor emeritus, activist and the author of 20 titles, 32 academic articles and chapters in books, 155 book reviews and 188 opinion pieces. Currently, he teaches Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge.