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In Historic Civil Rights Win, the Cal State University System Adds Caste to its Non-Discrimination Policy

Equality Labs congratulates the Cal State University System for adding caste to its non-discrimination policy and applauds the inter-caste and interfaith coalition of students, faculty, and staff who helped usher in this historic win. The Cal State University system encompasses over 23 campuses and eight off-campus centers enrolling 485,550 students with 55,909 faculty and staff, and is the largest four-year public university system in the United States.

Adding caste as a protected category ensures that all 23 of CSU campuses are able to be a place of access and equity for all students. We commend the CSU system for making history by supporting the rights of caste-oppressed students, staff, and faculty with a policy that ensures a caste equitable safe for all. We look forward to working with the CSU system to help implement this historic win.

Quotes from student leaders and key stakeholders:

Joseph I. Castro, CSU Chancellor “The entire California State University aspires to uphold the values of Inclusive Excellence by creating an environment where all of our talented and diverse students and employees are welcome and encouraged to succeed. I commend the incredible work and dedication of the students, employees, and other partners whose efforts ensure that our policies align with our bold aspirations.”

Krystal Raynes, CSU Student Trustee “The students, allies, and especially the leadership from Dalit students and Dalit feminists of the caste protection movement are truly incredible.

For months, they used their voice to illuminate their stories and data to bring attention and movement in California higher education: beginning on a campus level with Associated Students Inc. at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Academic Senate at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and East Bay, the California Faculty Association, the California State Student Association, and finally organizing with myself to the Chancellor’s Office. I saw firsthand how those opposed to protecting the rights of caste-oppressed students used the opportunity for public comment on this critical issue to belittle and minimize the lived experiences of people who encounter caste oppression daily. I was moved by the stories from Dalit students and the bravery they exhibited in the face of oppressive action, and I knew that California State University (CSU) had to recognize these harms towards its own student body.

I thank these student leaders for educating all of us in California higher education about this important civil rights issue and allowing me to be a part of their movement at CSU, and making a lasting mark on the statewide institution’s anti-discrimination policy.”

Prem Pariyar, Nepali Dalit Social Work student at CSU East Bay and Lead Organizer “The recognition of caste and caste-based violence in the CSU system is very personal and historic to me. The CSU East Bay Social Work department added caste as the protected category first based on my sharing of personal experiences of discrimination and now the entire CSU system has added it. I take this step as strengthening the anti-caste movement at 23 CSU Universities and in the United States. Lack of legal protections allows for caste-based discrimination within the South Asian diaspora. When I faced caste discrimination within the campus and outside in the community, I felt very disappointed and low. I thought I had left caste discrimination behind in Nepal. But I was wrong. I have been experiencing caste discrimination in every sphere of my life even in the US. Many caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff members at CSU campuses will now feel safer and report any incident of harassment or discrimination by the dominant caste students and co-workers. This policy strengthens our society. Diversity without including caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff is incomplete. Diversity in the CSU system makes better citizens and results in a more vibrant and prosperous society that benefits everyone.

This recognition is huge but not enough. The CSU system should now have a plan to effectively implement caste protections and create trainings and curriculum for awareness among South Asians and non-South Asians on campus. They should mobilize funding to promote research and scholarship on caste and also invest in advancing the careers of caste-oppressed students. Lastly, the CSU system should bring in culturally competent leadership from caste-oppressed backgrounds to encourage the implementation of caste protections and sensitize the university environment.”

manmit singh, San Francisco State University student and Lead Organizer “This victory in getting caste protections is, though long overdue, also very historic. It isn’t just the end result that is historic but the process itself. For months, students, staff, faculty, and community partners have been working under Dalit feminist leadership to advocate for this policy change. This has been despite a very violent opposition that has continued to fight against caste equity, using tactics such as gaslighting, misinformation, and blunt casteism to shut down this movement. An example of this was at the California State Student Association’s open forum, which lasted for over 2 hours as people not even affiliated with the CSU joined the call, using violent and discriminatory tactics in attempts at shutting down caste protections.

However, this victory has shown the power of an interfaith, inter-caste, and multiracial coalition. Operating within these systems that seek to divide us and prevent community formation, this initiative led by Dalit students had the transformative impact of pulling together such a historic, powerful, and diverse coalition, whose impact has now set a precedent for university systems across the nation. With the largest four-year public university system in the nation now adding caste protections, it is time that public and private universities across the nation join this growing movement and renew their commitment to justice and equity, including towards their caste-oppressed students, staff, and faculty.”

Prof. Dr. Sarah Taylor, Chair, Department of Social Work, CSU East Bay “Adding caste to the mission statement for the Department of Social Work at Cal State East Bay was incredibly personal for our professors. One of our students brought our attention to caste discrimination as not being something that is happening far away, but something that is being dealt with daily by some of our students in their personal lives. We want to honor their lived experiences and advocate against caste discrimination.

The mission statement for the Department of Social Work for Cal State East Bay is our compass. It defines who we are and the direction we are going. We want students, faculty, staff, and community partners who come to our department to see themselves represented. We are constantly advocating and creating a just environment for our community to connect and thrive.

For so many of us, caste is not yet part of our regular lexicon, but it needs to be. This has to be part of the lens our students, staff, faculty, and community draw on when they think about intersectional identities, experiences, and oppressions.

I hope students who experience caste discrimination know they are not alone and have someone safe they can confide in, be it a professor or someone on staff. At Cal State East Bay and at all institutions of higher education, we need to be advocates, to raise our voices when it comes to caste discrimination and the impacts on all people who suffer under it.”

M Bangar, Anti-caste Dalit Community Organizer & Educator “California universities have a casteism problem. As a Dalit student, I did not feel safe disclosing my caste and had to hide this in shame while caste-privileged students and faculty made disrespectful casteist remarks against my people and my ancestors. I felt unwelcome, unsafe, and excluded from important opportunities. We have experienced violent push-back from caste-privileged adversaries who do not want caste to be added as a protected category. I always struggled to believe that accountability against casteism was feasible in such a violent climate. However, the CSU system has shown that accountability is not only feasible but also vital in protecting students that attend any of the CSU campuses. This historic decision to add caste as a protected factor in the anti-discrimination policy creates a safer academic environment for myself and other Dalits pursuing education. This is a decision that is on the right side of history and liberation. The CSU is leading by example and I hope other academic institutions follow this lead to protect their Dalit students from experiencing further caste-based trauma and discrimination. Jai Bhim, Jai Savitri.”

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs “This win is historic. The Cal State system is one of the largest in the United states and because of the tireless efforts of the student-led interfaith and inter-caste initiative we now have 23 new campuses who are joining the civil rights movement to protect caste-oppressed Americans. We are so proud of the leadership of CSU students, faculty, and staff who worked to make this happen. We also want to thank the California Faculty Association, led by the Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDA) Caucus, who worked to add caste as part of their contract negotiations. CFA is one of the largest faculty contracts to do so in the country, extending caste equity protections for over 29,000 faculty members. The movement for caste equity in the United States is growing exponentially as caste-oppressed Americans and allies bravely organize for our rights. We look forward to working with CSU campuses to help implement this historic win.”