Thought Piece: The Need For Ethnic Studies

Pin@ys in Bay Area Higher Education:
The Need for Ethnic Studies

By: Jeren Penalosa

Why do I think Ethnic Studies is so important for higher education, and most especially for Pin@ys?

The Bay Area is a melting pot that includes a widespread of Asian Americans, African Americans, Latin@s, immigrants, and many more. Although there are many colleges such as San Jose State University, Cal State East Bay, and San Francisco State University, the educational system lacks opportunities for college students to take Ethnic Studies classes. This is an issue that can be explained by a number of reasons: lack of funding, low enrollment in classes, and an absence of professors to teach these courses.

San Francisco State University(SFSU) is the epitome of what other colleges need: a department dedicated to teaching Ethnic Studies — an Ethnic Studies Department. It is not an easy battle to have these classes either. In 1968 and 1969, organizations, faculty members, and communities of color from SFSU and nearby colleges fought against systematic discrimination, arguing misrepresentation, a lack of opportunities, and a neglect of the needs of people of color, in higher education programs and curriculum. Known as the, “Third World Liberation Front”, students, community members, and advocates rallied and mobilized to send a strong message to SFSU’s administration. Following this actions, SFSU created the college of Ethnic Studies that consists of Asian American Studies, La Raza Studies, and Black Studies.

As a second generation Filipino American born and raised in the Bay Area, I have never felt more intact of my identity as a Filipino until college. I am currently a 4th year Social Science Teacher Prep, with a double minor in Sociology and Asian American Studies at San Jose State University, and I aspire and dream to teach Ethnic Studies one day. With the help of the Filipino organization on my campus, Akbayan SJSU, and taking courses for my Asian American minor, I was able to find who I was as an individual, and grew by learning about my culture, heritage, and especially the struggles of my people.

Although I am a minor in Asian American Studies, SJSU definitely lacks courses within the department. I have only taken 3 classes and had to substitute 2 non-Asian American courses due to the lack of professors to teach the other courses offered. So I feel like my growth in learning more about Asian Americans have been subdued due to the lack of opportunities that my college provides me.

The purpose of Ethnic Studies is for students to be aware and educate themselves on the history, culture, heritage, and struggles that people of color have gone/still go through in today’s society. Beyond the content, ethnic studies allows students to develop their own identity, in a sense of who they are, their culture, their struggles, and what it means to be a Filipino-American. I believe that Pin@y’s should be open-minded to taking an ethnic studies classes that is either Asian American or Filipinx curriculum based. College is about self growth and development, when it comes to figuring out what they want to major in, or what career they want to pursue, and tend to try finding their identity. I believe that ethnic courses would support the growth of Pin@y’s in the community and would be such a positive impact on their lives and surroundings.

The need for Ethnic Studies in higher education should be very apparent and an important issue that the community should work to have. I believe college students should have the opportunities to learn more about their culture and who they are through these courses. A great opportunity in the community has been LEAD Filipino, who has provided free educational services of Ethnic Studies through the Awareness in Action Program, a Filipino Ethnic Studies & Community Leadership course. This program has developed strong knowledgeable individuals as well as creating leaders in the field of education, public service, and social work. The program runs from June to August in Eastside San Jose.


Jeren Penalosa is a current SJSU student, studying Social Science: Teacher Prep, and intern for LEAD Filipino. He wrote this reflective piece in light of his research into local data made available by the CSU system that shows decreasing enrollment rates in Ethnic Studies.

LEAD Filipino
LEAD Filipino

We are a nonprofit that organizes for FilAm civic participation, grassroots leadership and direct community action out of San Jose, California.

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