In a historic meeting of the California State University System’s Trustees voted unanimously to ratify the California Faculty Association’s collective bargaining agreement which historically demands caste as a protected category to all of its anti-discrimination clauses for all contract. This win further flanks the CSU’s earlier announcement that caste was added to it’s university-wide non-discrimination policy. This win also impacts all the CSU system’s 23+ campuses and eight off-campus centers enrolling 485,550 students with 55,909 faculties and staff. Cal State is the largest four-year public university system in the United States.
To affirm the critical importance of the CSU system’s decision that was under discussion at a recent Board of Trustees meeting, Cal State faculty along with nearly 500 allied academics, numerous civil rights organizations, Ambedkarite Dalit Civil Rights Organizations, trade and labor unions submitted letters of support for the addition of caste to the Cal State Non-Discrimination Policy and to urge the Cal State Trustees to ratify without delay the historic California Faculty Association’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that includes caste protections and furthers caste equity for millions of CSU students, staff, faculty, and workers.
Below are excerpts from these uncompromising letters and the electrifying Cal State Trustee Board Hearing
**Charles Toombs, CFA President
**CFA members are in the process of voting on the agreement between CSU management and CFA. This agreement includes the inclusion of caste as a protected category. We strongly support the inclusion of caste. It is about non-discrimination, not discrimination. As of this morning, we have received almost 100 letters and emails of support from across the state and across the nation in support of caste as a protected category.
Ruvani Fonseka, Assistant Professor, San Jose State University School of Social Work, Former Lecturer, CSU East Bay Social Work Department- Signatory to the Faculty Letter
As a caste-privileged Sri Lankan-American woman of Sinhala-Buddhist descent and a CFA member, I support the addition of caste to the anti-discrimination statement in the tentative agreement. In the 2020-2021 academic year, I had the opportunity to learn from a student in the Social Work department at CSU East Bay who bravely disclosed their experiences of caste-based discrimination in California. Throughout that year, the department, the East Bay Academic Senate, and the Cal State Student Association all voted to define caste as a protected category against discrimination. Just a few weeks ago in January 2022, the CSU added caste to their non-discrimination policy. Following these decisive actions, the inclusion of caste in the tentative agreement is another important move towards equality and non-discrimination for some of the most vulnerable members of the CSU community.
Marilyn Tseng, Chair of Academic Senate Diversity Committee at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
The CSU is to be applauded for recognizing caste as a protected category in its revised non-discrimination policy. This important step is the result of organizers and educators who recognized the experience of an oppressed group, then worked to bring this experience to light. That cases of caste discrimination have been and continue to be documented elsewhere indicates that this is a real issue. The fact that many of the organizers are themselves of Hindu, Indian, and South Asian descent also suggests that the issue is neither false nor theoretical, but one with real emotional, social, and economic consequences. Addressing unfair treatment on the basis of caste falls squarely within the scope and the spirit of the CSU’s non-discrimination policy, and explicit recognition of it within the policy is well warranted.
APALA: Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA), which is a labor constituency group and nonprofit organization of API workers affiliated with the AFL-CIO, national federation of labor unions.
APALA unconditionally supports protections for caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff within the CSU system and beyond, whose tireless organizing made this historic civil rights win possible. Freedom from caste discrimination is inextricably tied to workers’ rights. In 2021, APALA passed a resolution condemning caste discrimination and added caste to our own list of protected classes. We have also publicly supported the listing of caste in the protected classes in the public sector for unobstructed access to good jobs, quality education, social benefits, and representation at the federal, state, county and city levels including school districts. The urgency of this issue is high, given the seriousness of caste discrimination complaints arising from multiple industries including tech, university, construction, and domestic workers.
Will Jamil Wiltschko, Director of the California Trade Justice Coalition
The California Trade Justice Coalition, an alliance of labor unions, environmental, public health, immigrant rights, and human rights organizations, commends the California State University (CSU) system for adding caste as a protected category. Our coalition stands in support of the caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff within the CSU system and beyond, whose tireless organizing made this historic civil rights win possible. We stand in solidarity with caste oppressed communities who continue to face segregation and discrimination. This type of discrimination is wrong and stands against the values we continue to strive towards as a country
As institutions like CSU and CALFAC begin to ensure accountability for the discrimination and harassment that caste-oppressed students, staff, faculty, and other members face within their spaces, we encourage the CSU Board of Trustees to swiftly ratify the negotiating committee’s hard-won agreement and continue to uphold the democratic union processes principled on the safety and equal rights of all workers, especially of those who are the most vulnerable.
Prem Pariyar, MSW Alumnus of CSU East Bay and Lead Organizer’s testimony from the CSU Trustee Meeting
Respected chancellor Dr. Castro, Board of Trustees and everyone, today I am here to support caste protections. I am a Hindu Nepali Dalit and alumi of CSUEB. Adding caste to the CSU system has nothing to do with my religion. People opposing caste protections on this call are diminishing the importance of democratic negotiations that took months to get caste added as a protected category into contracts and policy documents. I hope they are able to understand that caste protections are only an additive layer of support for students like me. Changing the policy now, simply in the face of pushback, is undermining workers’ rights itself. I know what I experienced, and it is hurtful for dominant caste people involved in advocating against caste protections to take that away from me. Recognizing the Caste in the anti-discrimination policy, the CSU system has proved that how they are worried of their caste oppressed marginalized faculties, staff and students. Thank you for creating welcoming environment for dalit student
When the Social Work department of CSUEB added caste as the protected category for the first time, I started to talk to other caste oppressed students at CSUEB and asked them to come forward. They were not ready for that. They were concerned about their safety issues. They didn’t want to expose their real caste identity. They didn’t want to lose their friends circle after exposing their caste identity. They had fear of revealing their caste identity. But they were ready to support me for this campaign. When they told me that, I was very committed to fighting for this. There is a gap and someone has to fill this gap. Being silent is not the solution. This is the 21st century and educated people (students) are not feeling safe to talk about their lived experiences. As I am fighting for caste protections, I am fighting for my human rights. I am fighting for all Dalit students and caste oppressed communities who experience discrimination and violence. The wait has been very long but finally, we are seeing the very positive and encouraging results of adding caste as the protected category in the CSU system. It took months and months to get the results and there was and continues to be resistance from other dominant caste students and their families who never wanted to see caste as the protected category. However, I am hopeful that the CSU Board of Trustees will see through their fragility and stay committed to policies focused on created safe spaces for all, including caste oppressed students, staff and faculties.
Maya Kamble, Ambedkar Association of North America
On behalf of all the Ambedkarite Dalit Civil Rights Organizations in the United States we thank the California University System’s Board for Trustees for affirming caste equity and leading the nation for how this can be done similarly at other universities. Caste is in every university in the United States. As a survivor of casteism in education I have witnessed the caste segregation in student housing and supported in our organizational capacity students that suffered from caste discrminiation This is why all twenty of the leading Ambedkarite Dalit and caste oppressed civil rights and religious organizations came forward to flank this movement and we look forward to the day when caste will be a protected category across the United States.
Sonja Thomas- Signatory to Faculty Letter and her testimony from the CSU Trustee Meeting
My name is Sonja Thomas and I am a tenured associate professor, and Women’s Studies department chair at Colby College. In October 2021, Colby became the second college in the nation to add caste to our non-discrimination policy.
I have published numerous peer reviewed articles and an academic book on caste in Christianity. To say that recognizing caste is “hinduphobic” is misguided and such a charge fails to understand how casteism functions in many different religions including Christianity. By recognizing caste as a protected category, we protect those who may experience this discrimination in any religion. It is unfortunately the case that those with the most amount of privilege voice anger and convoluted arguments when oppressed peoples ask for mere equity. I applaud this board for standing up to such fragility. And for seeing caste as a human rights issue. I am happy to talk further with the board about how casteism functions in Christianity. And I thank you for your time.
**manmit singh chahal, lead organizer, San Francisco State University and their testimony from the CSU Trustee Meeting
**My name is manmit and I am a student at San Francisco State University, as well as one of the co-writers of the CSSA Resolution that passed last year where the official voice of the CSU students voiced support for caste to be added as a protected category. I want to thank the CSU administration for listening to the CSU student voice and adding caste protections. I urge you to stand firm in your commitment to the students, staff, and faculty, especially the most marginalized, who collectively stand with you in this historic move, and pass CFA’s collective bargaining agreement today with the caste clause. A small group of people against caste equity are feeling discomfort by this move towards equity, just like there has been such opposition protesting civil rights when each and every civil rights legislation has been passed in US history. But I urge you to not be swayed by them. History is our witness today as we come here to speak, history has been our witness as we have fought for this for the past year and half, and you must choose the right side of history. You must stand firm to protect us all, especially the minorities within the minorities. And I stand in solidarity with the calls by SQE for defunding and demilitarizing the police and redirecting those resources in generative ways.
This victory truly is exemplary of the power of an inter-faith, inter-caste, multiracial coalition of students, staff, faculty, and community leaders committed to equity and justice. It has taken months and months of immense labor, constant education, advocacy, and community building on the part of students, staff, and faculty across the state to reach this point where caste protections now exist for over 55,000 staff and faculty and over a half a million students. As a queer and trans Sikh, I know how important this fight for caste protections has been. Even though the addition of caste is merely an additive approach and a simple single step of recognition towards numerous more needed to bridge caste equity gaps, this single step has brought so much vitriol and threats.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs, a National Dalit Civil Rights Organization
This was such a loving and joyous win. Caste oppressed students, community members, and the labor movement stood shoulder to shoulder to tell our truths and secure this win. As an alumni of the UC Systems and with family in the CSU system I know what happens to cate oppressed people without these protections. We face caste slurs, microgressions, discrimination in housing, and gender based violence like sexual harasstment and assault. This aligns with our research which found 1 in 4 dalits faced physical and verbal assault, 2 in 3 workplace discrimination and 1 in 3 discrimination in education. That is why this win matters.
The California State University (CSU) system has already added caste as a protected category and the undemocratic efforts of opponents who are opposed to caste equity cannot derail this movement. Dalit workers, students, and communities are being flanked by unions, scholars, and governmental bodies as Americans stand fast to address the growing problem of caste discrimination. Despite the disinformation and gaslighting, caste oppressed communities and allies are unified in continuing to build our movement and we will meet every unprincipled attack with integrity, evidence, and a commitment to our freedom and dignity. No special interest groups or hatemongers can match the determination of caste oppressed people to be free. We have already won and we will defend our win even if we have to go to the highest court in the United States. Justice will not be denied. We now look forward to implementing these policies.