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In the first major change to general education across its system in decades, all 430,000 undergraduates attending Cal State universities must take an ethnic studies or social justice course, a requirement approved by CSU trustees Wednesday following a fierce debate that left some longtime social activists in the awkward position of voting “no.”

The board of trustees voted in favor of the requirement, which will take effect starting in 2023 in the nation’s largest four-year public university system. Five members voted against it, including State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and social justice activists Lateefah Simon and Hugo Morales. One trustee abstained.

Two questions dominated their debate: How should ethnic studies be defined? And who gets to decide: faculty, trustees or state lawmakers?

The new requirement, advanced by the office of the chancellor, creates a three-unit, lower-division course requirement in “ethnic studies and social justice.” The requirement could be met by a traditional ethnic studies course or by courses focused on social justice or social movements.

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