Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Image: News_Miguel_Ceballos_1: Dr. Miguel Ceballos via Dr. Ceballos of West Chester University

The Institute of Race and Ethnic Studies at West Chester University offers critical reflective skills as a requirement for students to graduate. Other Universities in Southeast PA are still wondering whether that is something they wish to require of students. 

The first Institute of Race and Ethnic Studies (IRE) at West Chester University was founded in 1974 and was originally named The Ethnic Studies Institute until 2020. “Ethnic Studies and Human Relations” was the institution’s first course in the curriculum at West Chester, according to Dr. Miguel Ceballos, Assistant Director of the Institute for Race and Ethnic Studies at WCU. 

The inception of the Ethnic Studies program nationwide was implemented after the prominent student strikes during the late 1960s. While no student strikes of that size occured at WCU around that time, in 1970 the Evening Journal reported that there was a significant protest in West Chester. Most of the protest members were reportedly from the Puerto Rican community in West Chester. 

James N. Catagnus, the priest assigned to the St. Agnes Catholic church on Gay St. said that there was “a general unrest about unequal conditions and opportunities.” Although the protests were not carried out for the sake of their education at WCU, the tension around mistreatment of ethnic groups was still felt on and off the campus, even in West Chester.  

The Quad was given the chance to speak with Ceballos in a follow-up interview after The Quad’s previous article, “How Violence and Protest Founded Ethnic Studies Departments in Modern U.S. Academia.” When asked what he thought the impact of the institution had on the University, Dr. Ceballos stated that Ethnic Studies “remains relevant to WCU students today as a discipline that offers a critical perspective for understanding structural and systemic racism.” 

The University’s first course on the curriculum that focused on issues of race and ethnicity was titled the “Ethnic Studies and Human Relations” course in 1975. Initially, the course was a requirement for all first-year students at WCU and was intended to be a space for students to “address incidents of racial discrimination on campus,” said Dr. Ceballos. 

Although the course no longer exists as a requirement for students to take, Ceballos explained that the 1975 course was the precursor to the current Diverse Communities General Education requirement. This graduation requirement asks that students take three credits of coursework that focus on a historically marginalized group. 

As for the mission of Ethnic Studies as a movement, the broader goal is still to address the issues of underrepresentation and inaccessibility of racial and marginalized groups — Ceballos said that  “issues that continue to resonate today.” The Institute encourages WCU students to “organize outreach programs and activities that are directed towards exploring and understanding the social and historical experience of racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.,” Ceballos explained. 

Issues revolving around the teachings and requirements of racial and ethnic studies have remained a current topic of discussion on some campuses in Southeast PA, especially in the months and years after nationwide demonstrations in 2020.  

According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) has not mandated an ethnic studies requirement for their students as of Sept. 7, 2020. While classes about cultural diversity exist within Penn’s College of Arts and Wharton School, specifically the Nursing School, Applied Science and School of Engineering do not have a similar requirement. 

Gary Purpura, the Associate Vice Provost for Education and Academic Planning at Penn, told The Daily, “Penn has a number of courses and opportunities for undergraduates across all of the schools,” but, “[a]t this time, there is no discussion of a university-wide requirement of ethnic studies across all of the schools.”  

Located on the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)’s website, both WCU and Penn are accredited universities. MSCHE is a regional non-profit organization that evaluates public and private universities on behalf of the federal Department of Education.  

Accredited institutions are evaluated every eight years and must follow standards put forward by MSCHE. Standard II, titled “Ethics and Integrity,” lists nine regulatory practices that the institution must show to become accredited. One of the practices requires institutions to demonstrate policies, services or programs that “promote diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and “promote affordability and accessibility.”  


Gaven Mitchell is a third-year History major with a minor in Journalism.

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