Students at Sacramento State protest the plan to replace a history requirement with an anthropology course

Historians in the News
tags: anthropology, American History

HNN Editor:  This open letter was sent by Vanessa Madrigal, a graduate student at Sacramento State, to the chair of the faculty Senate.

Related Link Historian chastises Sacramento State for substituting anthropology for American history

Mr. H. Reza Peigahi, Faculty Senate Chair
6000 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95819

Dear Chairman Peigahi,

My name is Vanessa Madrigal, and I am addressing you on behalf of Antoine Johnson, Peter Eden, Shannon Smith, Saeeda Islam,  and Margaret Janssen. I also address you with the support of undergraduate and graduate students, Students for a Quality Education, as well as the professional historians at California State University, Sacramento, and across the country.

We come here today to express our dissent of the approval of Anthropology 101 (ANTH 101) as a course alleging to satisfy the American Institutions graduation requirement. We further wish to express our utter disappointment in the disrespect, politicking, and gossip that has risen as a result of this process.

An analysis of the syllabus of ANTH 101 clearly reveals that the course does not comply with the state mandated guidelines for administering a comprehensive knowledge of American history (Title V, Section 40404). While ANTH 101 offers interesting insight to American culture, issues of race, ethnicity, class, and gender, the course fails to meet the American History, Constitutions and Ideals requirement by omitting entirely or insufficiently addressing fundamental historical shifts, events, and people, including the following:

  • The impact of the Industrial Revolution and urbanization

  • Women’s Suffrage

  • Events leading up to, during, and following both World Wars

  • The Great Depression and the New Deal

  • The Civil Rights Movement

  • McCarthyism

  • The Vietnam War

  • The Iranian Hostage Crisis

  • 9/11 and subsequent policies and wars

A comprehensive education on American institutions is the cornerstone to building citizenship and fosters understanding of how this country has come to be what it is. I have spoken with international and immigrant students that have relied upon these standards to help form their social, political, and cultural awareness of the roots of this country. Placing Plessy v. Fergusson in a lecture discussing Nazism, slavery, eugenics, and Thomas Jefferson thoroughly muddies the reality of Jim Crow and the struggle for Civil Rights. An abstract analysis of “Rosie the Riveter,” even placed in historical context, should not replace the reality of the genocide of millions of European Jews, homosexuals, and German state “deviants.”

We would lastly like to address the faculty regarding the tense situation around this process. There has been gossip about interdepartmental strife. A few in the committee are sowing seeds of discontent by asserting that the request for reconsideration of ANTH 101 is a “turf war.” This is inaccurate. A few administrators within a small committee have chosen to ignore suggestions of professionals in both fields. Historians, anthropologists, and students agree that this course does not comply with the expectations that a university in the state’s capital ought to meet. Furthermore, this process was kept quiet, and many historians on campus did not know about the decision until it was made. The entire History Department, their profession, expertise, PhDs, and students have been disrespected. We take this personally. We stand for quality education at Sacramento State, and we as the student body disagree with, disapprove of, and are disappointed in the way this process has unfolded.

With such broad opposition to this decision, we ask, as a public university, paid by citizen taxes, why is the General Education/ Graduation Requirements Policies Committee ignoring the rights of the students to an education in American History, Constitutions, and Ideals? Why is the General Education/ Graduation Requirements Policies Committee choosing to ignore or circumvent integral requirements and policies that it is intended to uphold?

We respectfully demand a faculty-wide vote for the approval or disapproval of this course in its current form. If the course eventually earns approval, we respectfully insist upon interdepartmental collaboration to ensure adequate coverage of requirements and policies.

We are asking the Faculty Senate to advocate for an undistilled history.

With great respect,

Vanessa Madrigal

Graduate Student

CSU Sacramento 

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