The Education Department submitted a proposal for an Urban Education major March 3. According to Education Department Chair Clarence La Mont Terry, Sr., the department predicts that if approved by the end of 2020, the Urban Education major will be available in the 2021–2022 academic school year. Occidental currently only offers a minor in education.
According to Terry, the new major would expand on three pathways already offered within the education minor: K-12 classrooms, education policy and community organizing and activism surrounding the education system. These pathways are not mandatory, but they help structure the minor. The new major would keep the original framework of these pathways and add more courses, according to Professor of Education Ronald Solórzano.
After the major is pitched to the department chairs, it is reviewed by the dean and then proposed to the Academic Planning Committee (APC), according to Terry. If the proposal is approved, then all faculty will vote on it. The proposal will then go through the president.
Occidental offered a five-year teaching credential program until President Jonathan Veitch ended it in 2012, according to Solórzano. Under the credential program, students graduated with both a major and a teaching credential in the state of California. After the program ended, the demand from students did not disappear, according to Terry.
“Some of the first students we graduated from the college were teachers,” Terry said. “When we lost our credential programs, students lost. They were wondering, well, ‘I am committed to education. Maybe I can’t get my credential at Oxy, but I would like to major in it.'”
Recognizing the push from students, the education department proposed the Urban Education major in both 2014 and 2015, according to Terry. In both instances, the major was not approved by the APC. Until 2017, the state of California did not allow a teacher to major in education and then enter a teaching credential program. This was in fear that the teachers would be unprepared, as they would have no higher education in the subject they were planning to teach, according to Terry. Because of this, the APC had concerns that few students would want to major in education, according to Solórzano. After the state of California overturned this restriction, that fear diminished, and the department is now more hopeful about their proposal, according to Terry.
In order to solidify the support of the student body, Stephanie Howard (sophomore) created a survey asking students to reflect on the proposed major. Howard was inspired by Solórzano, who told her earlier in the year that she could be a part of making this major happen. Working with the department chairs and Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC), Howard sent out a school-wide survey Feb. 29. In the midst of midterms, Howard received 271 responses, with 37 people willing to write testimonials on their support for the program.
“Some people were just like, ‘This is the most impactful set of classes I have ever taken, Oxy or elsewhere,’” Howard said. “And these were people from all sorts of majors.”
Kayla Williams (senior) said that if she had the choice, she would have been an education major.
“I found myself really trying to push education into spaces that weren’t formally made for it,” Williams said. “I think that the amount of courses that people wanted made it become a [proposed] major.”
Entering Occidental, Williams said she was anti-education, as she was not taught well and her education was extremely white-centric. Taking Education 201: Sociocultural Foundations of Education her sophomore year, she learned that the education system as it exists needs change. Williams said she was hooked, and is now minoring in education with plans to be a teacher this fall.
According to Solórzano, it is clear that there is a need for an education major, in order to both fulfill the demand of students and Occidental’s mission. The education major will bring justice to the complicated nature of the education system in the United States, according to Solórzano.
“The education of our students in the United States needs change. Students of color are not being prepared for college. Young girls are not being prepared for college. Non-English-speaking students are not being prepared for college,” Solórzano said. “And we have to analyze and and examine why. And not just examine why but also have solutions as how to resolve those issues.”
Howard said she is crossing her fingers that the proposal gets approved. She said the department believes in its students and understands that each student can change the world.
“I think it’s just about time that it becomes a major because it is honestly one of the most dedicated and passionate departments that I have interacted with,” Howard said.