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When Nate Tan, a professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University, logs on to virtually teach his 8 a.m. class, he sees several dozen students sitting at desks with laptops, some framed by towering bookshelves. But these students aren’t Zooming in from campus dorms. Instead, they’re taking classes in three different youth prisons scattered across California.

Ethnic studies is having a moment in California — it’s now required learning for students at California State University, community colleges, and, soon, the state’s high schools. Now, San Francisco State University is pioneering the first ethnic studies program inside youth prison.

The educators involved say it provides culturally relevant curriculum to incarcerated 17- to 25-year-olds, inspiring them to envision themselves in higher education and check off the first few requirements toward a Cal State degree.

In today’s class, students discuss a reading on the role of Black women in the Black Lives Matter movement, then watch a five-part docuseries showcasing the 1Love Movement, a campaign against the deportation of Cambodian Americans. (The CalMatters College Journalism Network was able to sit in on the class after agreeing that students’ full names would not be used to protect their privacy.)

One Asian American student says watching clips of the movement not only uplifted him, but made him reflect on the United States’ role in deporting Asian families.

“I just feel like the US government ain’t doing enough,” he says. “Just deporting families like that, separating them from their families, is just messed up.”

Ethnic studies — the social and historical study of race and ethnicity — was born in the Bay Area in the 1960s as a response from students of color who demanded increased access to higher education and new academic programs that centered their identities.

San Francisco State’s ethnic studies department offers concentrations like Africana studies, American Indian studies, Asian American studies, Latino/Latina studies, and a comparative major called Race and Resistance studies. With its new collaboration with California’s state juvenile justice division, which began this past fall, university officials want to broaden that mission to include youth directly impacted by the justice system.

It’s the first time a four-year university has offered a certificate program in California’s youth prisons. The state has required juvenile…

This content was originally published here.

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