A statement on the moral status of GE Category F and the demand to discard it

The following is a statement by Dr. Brian Burkhart, Director of CSUN’s American Indian Studies program

Why is Category F so important and why is comprising with a G.E. structure sans Category F a comprising of CSUN’s values and integrity?

To understand Category F, we must understand the history and structural reality of Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies. First, these areas of study exist because the structure of the U.S. academy is white-centric, settler colonial, patriarchal, and heteronormative. The very existence of Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies is a daily reminder to all so-called “traditional” departments and to the institution itself of this fact, a reminder of the fact of its inadequacy to some or the fact of its properness even being called into question in the first place to others. There is a structural reality within the academy and individual institutions regardless of individual intent and understanding that wants to rid itself of these special “diversity” subjects. The push is always either toward a supposedly diverse enough future where the so-called “traditional” departments will once again be enough or a push toward a past before the academy was forced to consider the realities of white supremacy, settler coloniality, patriarchy, and heteronormativity as flaws in its structure. This reality creates a certain kind of continual struggle against the academy and even the individual institution of higher learner for every Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies department, a struggle that has no end except in the eradication of this departments all together.

This is why these department were always born out of struggle. In the 1960s there were some Native scholars trying to make it in the academy. They spoke as loudly as they could in their Anthropology departments that Native people were human beings and should not be study as artifacts, as bones on a laboratory table. They spoke as loudly as they could in their History departments that Native people were human beings and should be able to tell their stories with their own voices. No one listened! And they had no real power in the structure of the academy that did not want its intentions and values questioned. Native people just like everyone else in Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies had to take to the streets. They occupied Alcatraz, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Wounded Knee. They put their lives on the line, where people bleed, died, and spent life in prison. What they were asking and American Indian Studies continues to ask is simple. We want to be treated as human beings. We no longer want to be treated as objects of study, as artifacts. We want our ancestors remains kept off the laboratory tables. We want to be able to tell our own story, to speak about our history and values with our own voice. American Indian Studies (just like every other Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies) helps us to move this request forward. It pushes open a space where we have the freedom to create our own curriculum in relation to our communities, values, and histories.

Category F at CSUN was created with a clear understanding of this history. Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies must be free to create their own curriculum within the G.E. in the relation to the so-called “traditional” disciplines. Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies must have the power of being on an equal level with so-called “traditional” A-D departments in the G.E. Category F was created at CSUN with a clear understanding of the history and continual struggle of Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies within an academy and institution that is structural antagonistic to those programs and their very purpose, which is to upset and even possibly change the narratives of the so-called “traditional” departments. Any capitulation to the removal of Category F from CSUN’s G.E. is a comprise of CSUN’s integrity. For CSUN to say that we will bring Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies on to an equal line with so-called “traditional” A-D departments in the G.E. was an expression of moral courage. To say now that we are willing to comprise that decision and once again bring Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies under the so-called “traditional” A-D departments at the request of the Chancellor will be an act of moral cowardice. We have to have the strength and courage to stand behind important and deeply moral decisions that we have made. I believe that the decision to create Category F was one of those absolutely important and deeply moral decisions that CSUN made with a clear understanding of what that decision meant. Now is not the time to lose our courage and conviction. Please stand against any compromise of the value of Category F in the light of how absolutely important it is a marker of what CSUN has been able to accomplish in creating real structural and intellectual change in General Education at a University

Brian Burkhart
Director/Associate Professor
American Indian Studies
California State University, Northridge