History & Background of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies

At UCLA, the development of Chicana/o Studies took the form of a research center established in 1969 and an undergraduate Inter-Departmental Program (IDP) established in 1973, drawing on the few faculty and courses from different departments and disciplines to constitute an undergraduate major in Chicano Studies. UCLA is also noted for being one of the first institutions to provide a doctoral specialization focused on Chicanos within a traditional discipline--Chicano History within the United States field of the department of History. The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center was also the base for one of the two significant national Chicano Studies journals--Aztlán--that helped establish the field and, for a period (1974-78), administratively supported the organization of the fledgling National Association of Chicano Social Scientists (now known as the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies).

The retrenchments in social and budget policies during the 1980s and the recession of the early 1990s left California higher education in a tight financial situation. Chicano Studies reflected this in lowered enrollments, majors, and graduates. Despite the establishment of a specialization/minor in 1992, and several attempts at re-organization of the curriculum, the Inter-Departmental Program at UCLA, like those at many other institutions of higher education, was in danger of being closed.

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Student activism has been an important component to the growth of Chicana/o Studies. In spring of 1993, students and faculty undertook civil disobedience, and a non-violent hunger strike to underscore their demands for greater support of the program and the establishment of a department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. The result of the subsequent compromise at UCLA was the development of a new academic unit--a center for interdisciplinary instruction (CII)--and six new full-time faculty positions within this unit. After campus and Regental approval, it was named in honor of César E. Chávez--in memory of his leadership for social change, fair treatment of farm workers, his support of nonviolence, and his use of the hunger strike as a tool to challenge the moral conscience of the nation and the world. This preceded along with a revival of programmatic and intellectual growth within Chicana and Chicano Studies in the late 1990s.

Chicana and Chicano Studies has continued to grow at UCLA, in size and influence. The Chancellor established a department of Chicana and Chicano Studies in 2005, after several years of review and discussion. In 2007 the department was renamed the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. In 2009, the department celebrated its “quinceañera,” or 15th year of service to the university. In 2010, the U.C. Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs approved the department’s proposal for a combined M.A./Ph.D. Program. UCLA will now be the second UC campus to offer a doctorate degree in Chicana and Chicano Studies. Now with 13 core faculty appointments and 6 joint appointments, the department is poised to welcome its first cohort of graduate students in Fall 2012.