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Ethnic Studies 1a: Introduction

Learning about cultures outside of our own is important when it comes to understanding the human condition. In this course, you will learn about the histories, experiences, cultures, and issues of different racial and ethnic groups all living within United States. You will examine the concepts of identity, dominant culture, and perspective including bias, stereotyping, discrimination, and prejudice. You will also study key events that shaped the nation’s history to help you build a better understanding of the United States’ varied cultures and their point of view. Let’s work to develop a deeper understanding of our peers and embrace our diversity.

Review Course Outline

Units at a Glance

Unit 1: Exploring Identity Through the Lens of Ethnic Studies

Back in elementary school, a common assignment at the start of a new school year was the “All About Me” activity. Answering the question “Who am I?” probably felt pretty simple back then. After all, you were an expert on yourself, and your world was the only one you knew. But now you are older, and you’ve figured out that the world is not just your own personal universe. There are all kinds of different people who live in it, many of whom are very different from you! This doesn’t mean “Who am I?” is some tired old question, though—quite the opposite. It’s time to level up your answer so you can represent who you are in this moment. Once you understand and can speak about your own identity better, getting to know and understand people very different from you will flow naturally. Now that you’re grown, there’s an even more important question to consider, one that you need to be asking the other folks who live in this world: “Who are YOU?” It’s all about connections these days! So let’s help you get as connected as possible through the process of understanding yourself, and others, and how to talk about it all in as open and respectful a way as possible.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Construct a working timeline of the field of Ethnic Studies overall, incorporating accurate use of terms specific to the discipline
  • Define the term “ethnography,” including how the process of gathering and sharing information about a community affects its members and is affected by the unique identities of individual researchers
  • Describe components that comprise a person’s identity and use those terms to explain your own identity–in the past and now
  • Differentiate between personal and social identities, applying the concept of “intersectionality” to each
  • Distinguish between examples of dominant culture and self-determination

Unit 2: Bias and Perspective

Have you ever seen one of those elaborate domino setups? Maybe the dominos start out just lined up one after another, like usual, and then next thing you know they are going up and down ramps. Before long they are interacting with other elements you didn’t even notice were part of the arrangement, making balls drop or bells ring. The entire arrangement has essentially taken on a life of its own, generating all kinds of results you never would have imagined at the beginning when a simple flick of someone’s finger tipped that very first domino. The exact same thing is true about bias. Everyone has it, and it’s a completely natural part of brain development. You can find it woven into so many aspects of society. If we’re not aware and intentional about how we engage with it, though, bias can take on a life of its own and cause unintended outcomes no one ever anticipated.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Describe types of bias people naturally experience
  • Define “historiography,” including how it affects the way we understand history
  • Differentiate between prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping
  • Explain the origin, nature, and purpose of counternarratives

Unit 3: Overview of the US Civil Rights Movement

When investigating an aspect of history, society, or culture such as the founding and unfolding of the field of Ethnic Studies, it is often very helpful to ask one specific question: What happened before that? Knowing what events took place before a shift or new beginning can offer significant insight into not just what took place but also why. Why does Ethnic Studies even exist as a discipline today? We’ve learned it is because university students of color in California wanted the histories and counternarratives of their people to be taught by their own community members. But what had let up to this being so important to them? What happened—or didn’t happen—before the student protests and strikes of 1968-1969 that made it seem like any of this was necessary in the first place? The years, and activity, leading up to all of this are generally referred to as the civil rights movement.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Summarize the origins of the civil rights movement, including the community most involved in these actions and what they hoped to gain
  • Analyze events and legislation that expanded rights and access related to social and community participation
  • Compare and contrast events related to the desegregation of educational institutions
  • Discuss the progression of events leading to desegregation in the context of public transportation
  • Describe the desired outcomes of the March on Washington, D.C., the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, including why each was deemed necessary at this point in the civil rights movement
  • Explain the shift from the civil rights movement towards the Black Power movement and the effects of both still seen today

Unit 4: American Indian, Native American, and Indigenous Communities

Scientific radio-dating analysis of remains found in what is now Canada’s Yukon Territory indicates that humans were living in North America as far back as 24,000 years. Around 12,000 years ago, this original group of people had spread to cover all of what we now call the United States. So the land on which we now live was their home long before it was anyone else’s. The information that follows, by nature of its scope and structure, will offer a high-level overview of one of the four founding groups of the Ethnic Studies movement. This content serves as a foundation for deeper learning as you question issues like whose perspective of history has traditionally been presented, and why, and what other narratives have begun to emerge as we examine the past from different points of view.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Explain the different names, and their origins, ascribed to the focal community for this unit
  • Describe the location, residents, and other details of the distinct culture areas
  • Identify events and their impact on the Native American peoples in key timeline periods
  • Analyze current challenges faced by the American Indian community and the resulting impacts of those challenges
  • Compare and contrast different approaches to Indigenous activism across causes and time periods
  • Argue for the need to seek information from a variety of sources, both Native-centered and authored by the dominant culture, when learning about Indigenous peoples

Unit 5: Latino, Hispanic, and Chicano Communities

When we think of non-dominant-culture, or minority, communities in this country, we often assume they are immigrants who made their way here from faraway places. What if instead of people coming to this country, their entire land suddenly became part of the United States? That phenomenon happened in what we now call North America with not only Indigenous Peoples but with Latino Peoples as well. In addition, other individuals and groups already living elsewhere in the Americas have journeyed to the United States as well. How does learning more about these diverse histories and experiences help us to understand the range of Latino identities present in this country today?

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Differentiate between the meanings of the terms Latino/a/x, Hispanic, and Chicano/a
  • Describe Latinx spaces beyond/within the United States
  • Identify attributes of earlier civilizations/societies that contributed to the nature of interactions with Europeans who came to what is now North America
  • Explain examples of prejudice and discrimination experienced by the Latino community
  • Discuss examples of activism and resistance within the Chicano/a, Latino, and Hispanic communities
  • Argue for the need to seek information from a variety of sources, both Latino-centered and authored by the dominant culture, when learning about Latino people

Unit 6: Black Communities

Each of the four marginalized communities within the discipline of Ethnic Studies has experienced oppression in their own way. Oppression of Black people, both in the past and today, plays arguably a greater role in the formation and development of this country’s identity than does the oppression of any other group. Understanding Black identity, space, struggle, and power will deepen not only your familiarity and skill within the field of Ethnic Studies but also your perspective and critical thinking about the history of the United States as a whole.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Describe factors from the past and present that contribute to descriptions of Black identity
  • Identify Black spaces and the purposes they serve
  • Compare key events and contributors in the history of the Black community
  • Explain how aspects of the Black struggle affected members of this community
  • Discuss examples of activism and resistance seen within the Black communities
  • Argue for and against centering Black voices when learning about experiences of the Black community

Unit 7: Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are a highly diverse group of people spanning a huge geographic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and social range. This is the marginalized group within Ethnic Studies that has been arriving, and making its voice heard, in the United States for the shortest period compared to the other three communities. It is also the community growing at the most rapid rate. There have been questions in the past, and some remain even today, about where membership in this community begins and ends. No matter where you draw the line, the representation and activism of this group are evident and expanding.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Understand who is described by the identifiers “Asian,” “Asian American,” “Pacific Islander,” and “AAPI”
  • Describe the relevance of physical and non-physical AAPI spaces to the community
  • Identify key events that shaped the experience of AAPI community members in this country
  • Explain the impact of challenges affecting the AAPI community in this country
  • Name outcomes of resistance and advocacy within the AAPI community
  • Argue for and against centering Asian voices when learning about the ongoing process of self-determination within the AAPI community

Unit 8: Who Else Should We Discuss?

Not everyone whose self-identity falls outside the range of the dominant culture can be categorized into one of the four historical groups represented within the discipline of Ethnic Studies. There are many people who—while not white—are also not Native American, Latino, Black, or Asian. Communities outside of this list are in different places concerning organization and activism. In this unit, we will take a look at four groups already taking action to be included in the discipline of Ethnic Studies as this academic field expands.

What will you learn in this unit?

  • Explain recent growth and change in the field of education as related to Ethnic Studies
  • Describe accurate attributes of Arab/Arab American identity including common misperceptions
  • Differentiate between various expressions of Jewish/Jewish American identity
  • Compare and contrast social perceptions and realities of Sikh/Sikh American identity
  • Outline challenges related to the Armenian/Armenian American identity

Required Materials


  • Word processing software



  • Art supplies
  • Audio recording device
  • Digital camera
  • Graphic design software
  • Presentation software
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Video recording device
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