Meet Chair Melinda L. de Jesús

The Diversity Studies program at California College of the Arts was founded amid the historic Third World student strikes of 1968–9 that led to the establishment of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, and to the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline across the country.

I’m honored to be a part of this important legacy, and strive to ensure Diversity Studies remains mindful of its activist history even as it continues to transform itself to address 21st century concerns such as power and privilege, social justice, racism, sexism, homophobia, citizenship, and globalization.

Please read more about the program’s institutional founding, as recounted in my welcoming remarks from the 2010 Diversity Studies conference.

Diversity: Making it or Faking it?

The Black Studies Department, the precursor to both Ethnic Studies and Diversity Studies at CCA, was founded in 1970 in the aftermath of the successful Third World student strikes at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University that established ethnic studies as an academic/activist discipline on those campuses.

The document below, "Institutional Overview: A History of Diversity at CCAC" (circa 2002), provides the following background to this important event.

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As a progressive institution, CCAC realized the need to question its offerings in General Education (today, Humanities and Sciences) and set about determining how to accomplish this through faculty and student institutes where a set of topics were established and discussed in workshops . . . 1969’s institute was organized around the theme of “Integrity” and was the first to include faculty, staff and students.

Tomas del Solar, student body president, and Daphna Yervin and Robert Rainey of the Black Students Union set the workshop’s agenda.

Questions for the integrity workshop discussion:

  • What is an art school?
  • What is our art school?
  • What is the school’s relationship to society in general?
  • How are we responding to the needs of racial minorities within the college?
  • As a school, are we providing the optimum for all students, in all respects?

Moreover, the integrity workshop notes state: “An understanding of the vital significance of minority contributions to the spiritual and artistic life needs to be more widely understood and appreciated, otherwise we are in danger of having token minority students, faculty and administration.

"Black reality and white reality are different, and it is the responsibility of both Blacks and whites to comprehend and understand that difference.

"That comprehension is more available to artists than to other members of the community since artists share a great deal of the Black’s alienation from the status quo. In this sense, black liberation is related to the liberation of all Art."

These queries from over 40 years ago, in addition to emphasizing still-salient questions about the relationship of CCA to the larger community and the needs of students of color at CCA, underscore the artist’s responsibility to engage with and respond to the realities and consequences of racism, racialization, white privilege, and social justice -- all issues made more pressing today in so-called postracial America.

Indeed, reflection upon the history of Black/Ethnic/Diversity Studies at CCA demands our critical assessment of how far we’ve come as an institution in terms of addressing the questions outlined in the Integrity Workshop.

We must ask ourselves: How are we teaching for liberation and invoking integrity and social justice in our classrooms and our art?

In short, in our approaches to “doing” diversity today at CCA, are we making it or faking it?

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Diversity Studies seeks to help each student grapple with these crucial questions and issues. We look forward to working with you.

Melinda L. de Jesús, Chair
mdejesus@cca.edu
Diversity Studies