At the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, California students led the nation in creating college ethnic studies programs that explored the histories and cultures of people overlooked by the dominant European-centric curriculum.

It was a time of national racial introspection and wide-scale protest. Echoes of then are loud and clear in 2020, and the state’s lawmakers were listening, voting this summer to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement for all California State University students.

The genesis of the requirement goes back to 1968, when a coalition of Black, Mexican American, Filipino and other student groups at what is now San Francisco State University demanded the school create an ethnic studies program.

After a five-month standoff, the university debuted  the first college of ethnic studies.

Similar programs spread throughout the state.

But support for those programs has been uneven, prompting lawmakers and California’s Democratic governor to require that students at all 23 Cal State campuses take at least one ethnic studies course to graduate. CSU schools should have their courses ready by fall of 2021.

Opponents argued against the state mandating what should be taught in higher education, maintaining that professors — not politicians — should decide what’s taught in higher ed.

But supporters say requiring ethnic studies will better prepare students for life in a multi-racial society and making it a required course will stabilize funding for ethnic studies programs.

Keep watching CalMatters.org for more in-a-minute videos about other new laws taking effect in 2021 — a smaller tally than usual given that the coronavirus pandemic dominated the Legislature’s 2020 session.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.