SJCC Umoja Students

Why African American Studies is Essential to Equity

Earlier this year, California became the first state to approve a model curriculum for Ethnic Studies for public K-12 schools. And not too long ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that required all CSU (California State University) students to take an Ethnic Studies class.

These are important steps for educational equity. Students of color have long deserved to see themselves reflected in their school’s curriculum. 

We are proud to report that Ethnic Studies Department at San José City College is a state-wide leader among community colleges. It is thriving and growing ever year.

Today we’ll be exploring one of our newest offerings — the Associate’s Degree in Social Justice: African American Studies. And how it gives students the opportunity to learn our erased histories, transfer to a 4-year university and make an impact on our society.

“As students personalize and contextualize their learning, it impacts self-image, self-identity, and self-esteem. Once the inner self changes, all relationships and interactions with others change as a result.”

Dr. Khalid White, SJCC faculty
San José City College's African American Graduation Celebration at the eBay Newsroom in 2018. Photo Credit: Jonathan Knox.
San José City College’s African American Graduation Celebration at the eBay Newsroom in 2018. Photo Credit: Jonathan Knox.

Ethnic Studies is Critical to Educational Equity

You may remember the grassroots history of Ethnic Studies from our coverage of Asian American Studies at SJCC, but let’s refresh.

What is Ethnic Studies?

Ethnic Studies was born out of the Third World Liberation strikes of 1968 — a significant moment in Bay Area history that changed higher education forever.

At that time, different student ethnic groups in San Francisco and Berkeley joined together to demand curriculum that taught the repressed histories and identities of minority groups in the United States. They succeeded, urging their universities to found Ethnic Studies as a discipline. 

More than 50 years later, UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies Department says it “is the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States.”

Since its founding, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of Ethnic Studies. It is an essential tool to be utilized in our efforts to achieve equity. Especially in our education system. But what’s equity?

What is Equity?

Equity sounds like equality but goes further.

“Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.” (Milken Institute of Public Health, 2020)

Wondering what that looks like? Illustrations like this or this are often cited to explain the nuanced concept. Now, let’s talk about African American Studies and its role in educational equity.

Why You Should Choose African American Studies

The health inequalities brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic, persistently horrific police violence against black communities, and a myriad of other factors make African American (AFAM) Studies as important as ever. 

“Without doubt America was, and still is, shaped by the contributions; the blood, sweat and tears of Black people,” said long-time AFAM Studies faculty at SJCC, Dr. Khalid White. “To learn history and culture through that lens and that perspective is an urgent and necessary eye opener for students of all races, genders, faiths and walks of life.” 

There are so many pressing reasons, not to mention benefits of choosing the Associate Degree in Social Justice: African American Studies.

Learn Untaught Black History

Social Justice and African American Studies bring Black history into the narrative in a system that typically excludes it.

AFAM Studies offers “a chance to focus on American history from the African American perspective and experience.” Said Joy Sledge, faculty at SJCC. To cover topics that “are not widely known or taught in history classes, especially American history classes.”

Sledge emphasized the importance of teaching the contributions of Black inventors, Black Wall Street, Black towns, among so many other topics. So that students know more than just Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Sledge also highlighted the importance of teaching it all alongside the more prominent narrative that students are likely more familiar with — the euro-centric one they’ve been taught in their K-12 education before now. 

That way, students can put together the missing pieces and make sense of the past.

“I amplify the marginalized voices that are hardly heard or shared. The students express to me that they appreciate the information that I provide, otherwise they would not know about it at all,” Sledge said.

This was something that all AFAM Studies faculty highlighted when interviewed. 

“I often get students who tell me things like, ‘I never knew that’,” Dr. White said. “The most common phrases I hear from students in my African American History course are, ‘wow I never knew that,’ or ‘it’s frustrating we don’t learn the truth about the history of the country until college,’” said Brandon Miller, also faculty of the Ethnic Studies Department at SJCC.

“With the recent events around race issues and equality, there is a real need to instill this knowledge to not only minorities but across the whole demographic.”

Brian Obiri, SJCC graduate
SJCC alum, Brian Obiri at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which he visited during the Umoja HBCU Tour with San José City College.
SJCC alum, Brian Obiri at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which he visited during the Umoja HBCU Tour with San José City College.

Make Sense of Your Present

Learning this neglected history is essential for everyone, but it’s especially important for black students and how they view themselves.

“As students personalize and contextualize their learning, it impacts self-image, self-identity, and self-esteem. Once the inner self changes, all relationships and interactions with others change as a result.” Dr. White said.

Miller (who is also an SJCC graduate) quotes one of the most influential Black authors of our time. “The great Maya Angelou once said, ‘If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going’, AFAM Studies will show you where we as Africans in America have come from.”

But AFAM Studies is also extremely revelatory for non-American and non-black students.

“I can honestly say that the ETH 020 class changed my perspective on the definition of democracy.” Brian Obiri, an SJCC graduate, said. “After this class I was very aware of what was going on around me rather than the naivety I walked into SJCC with. Academically, it made me feel like I must really take this opportunity as seriously as I could.”

“With the recent events around race issues and equality, there is a real need to instill this knowledge to not only minorities but across the whole demographic.” Obiri said. Another SJCC student, Victoria Martinez, agreed. “I just think people need to be educated and learn about it.” 

Make a Impact in Your Career

Dr. White pointed out that a Social Justice: AFAM Studies Degree “is applicable to whatever path you choose professionally.” Because it causes our society to “become more equitable across the board.” 

But if you’re interested in the more obvious African American Studies careers in: law, policy, government, social work, journalism, teaching, or non-profits — this degree is a great choice.

Obiri, who is African, hosted his own show for SJCC radio called “Debunking Myths About Africa” during his time on campus. He also worked for the Kinesiology Department with students with disabilities and fought to illuminate access issues at the SJCC gym. 

Obiri said he hopes to focus on “working for the betterment of the African people back in Africa and all over the globe.” He’s currently working on a B.A. in Political Science and plans to pursue a law degree as well.

“Social justice degrees arm our students with the knowledge and confidence to step out into the world and be the leaders of change we desperately need.” Miller said.

African American Studies at San José City College

Here’s what you can expect when you choose the Social Justice: African American Studies Degree at SJCC.

You Can Choose from Extensive Black Studies Courses

San José City College currently offers or is developing the following courses.

  • African American History
  • African American Culture
  • African American Cinema
  • The African American Family
  • The African American Male Identity

Check out SJCC’s catalog for all Ethnic Studies offerings, which include additional courses in Asian American Studies and Chicanx/Latinx Studies.

“Social justice degrees arm our students with the knowledge and confidence to step out into the world and be the leaders of change we desperately need.”

Brandon Miller, SJCC faculty
Dr. Khalid White with Keto Brown (left) and (right) Akil Douglass (right) in Summer 2018. Both students were White's mentees while at San José City College and have since transferred to and graduated from 4-year universities.
Dr. Khalid White with Keto Brown (left) and (right) Akil Douglass (right) in Summer 2018. Both students were White’s mentees while at SJCC and have since transferred to and graduated from 4-year universities.

African American Studies at SJCC Engages with the Community

The AFAM Studies faculty know the importance of civic engagement. Historically they have collaborated with the following groups.

  • SJCC’s Service Learning Program
  • Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
  • Umoja Community
  • San José State University’s African American Studies Department
  • Frequent Guest Speakers

Faculty also make a point to stay engaged with community groups and individuals in Santa Clara County. Connections with black professionals, students and professors of HBCUs, and local activists allow faculty to act as important links between their students and the broader Bay Area (and beyond).

When the pandemic allows, Sledge hopes to encourage students to explore the connection between academics and policy in the field. “I would like to collaborate with local schools and programs to highlight academics and how they can be involved with policies that affect them (school board meetings, local measures, and state propositions.” Sledge said.

African American Studies faculty at SJCC strive to go beyond the theory to apply their teachings outside the classroom.

Save Money & Transfer as an African American Studies Major

If you’re interested in transferring to a 4-year University to continue your education in African American Studies (sometimes called Black Studies or Africana Studies), you’re in luck.

Like all our Associate’s Degrees for Transfer (AD-T), the Social Justice: African American Studies Degree at SJCC is part of the Degree with A Guarantee Program. This means that when you finish your general and major requirements with a 2.0 or higher, you’re guaranteed a spot at a select number of California State Universities (CSUs). 

So choosing this route, and starting your education at a bay area community college will drastically reduce your education costs if you want to get your bachelor’s degree. It will also safe-guard your future.

Discover Social Justice & African American Studies Today

African American Studies was critical before, and it’s critical now. 

“This degree is part of the work needed to understand social justice and learn from what has been established so we do not duplicate efforts, or erase what has been put in place by other organizations and people,” Sledge said. “We need to build on the foundation that has been laid out by previous generations, but we cannot do that if we do not know where to look or the history behind it.”

If you’re interested in pursuing the Social Justice: African American Studies Degree at San José City College, check out our Ethnic Studies Department and all it has to offer. You may also be interested in our other social justice degrees in Asian American Studies and Chicanx/Latinx Studies.