In a historic first, the UC San Diego (UCSD) Department of Ethnic Studies has added caste as a protected category. This is the first Ethnic or American Studies department in the U.S. to add caste, and in doing so, UCSD joins universities around the country who are working to address caste equity on their campuses. A key highlight of this addition is the department’s commitment to “recruit Dalit and Muslim faculty and students in the coming year.”
From Harvard and UC Davis to Colby College and Brandeis University, and many more Universities, this urgent movement continues to expand as caste-oppressed students, faculty and staff are standing up and asking to remedy rampant caste-based discrimination. They also join feminist scholars around the nation like the National Women’s Studies Association who are leading the way for creating scholarly space that examines caste as a crucial intersectionality that must be addressed.
Here are quotes from campus and community leaders around this critical win:
“The Department of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego opposes caste-based discrimination against all students, staff and faculty. Against the commonly circulated idea that only South Asians, specifically Hindus, should care about caste, we understand caste as a 2,500-year-old system of dehumanization that made Dalits, those outside the Brahminical caste system, into “untouchables,” as non-humans who could be killed with impunity. Caste is a structure of violence that affects over 1 billion people across the world. As a department committed to the relational study of race, ethnicity, indigeneities, gender, sexuality, class and dis/ability, we acknowledge the importance of caste studies to the field of Ethnic Studies.
We see our department’s recognition of caste and caste-based violence as strengthening the anti-caste movement at UC San Diego and in the United States. There are no legal protections for caste-oppressed communities in most countries (United States included) because caste is not recognized as a category distinct from religion, ancestry, race etc. Lack of legal protections allows for caste-based discrimination within South Asian diaspora, as the recent Silicon Valley company Cisco case shows us. It also allows for non-South Asians to often unknowingly but structurally participate in caste-based violence with casteist upper-caste South Asian scholars, students and administrators.
We understand that caste-supremacy is sidelined as caste-privileged people continue to circulate simply as “people of color”. Attending to the complexities of race, caste and religion, we intend to recruit Dalit and Muslim faculty and students in the coming years. We will also work with Dalit faculty member(s) and allies across the campus to have caste included in the anti-discrimination policy of UC San Diego as part of the much-needed anti-caste organizing on campuses in North America.”
Dr. Andrew Jolivétte Atakapa-Ishak Nation of Louisiana [Tsikip/Opelousa/Heron Clan] Chair of the UCSD Ethnic Studies Department:
“Casteism like racism performs systemic and structural violence through discrimination and abuses of human rights. Often enacted by colonial and imperial forces it remains a global problem that must be addressed everywhere casteism is to be found. As the chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies, Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies and Co-Chair of the UC Ethnic Studies Council, not only do I support and fully endorse the recent statement issued by our department against casteism globally, but more specifically within higher education, across the UC and at UC San Diego, but I also call on all UC campuses, CSU and Community College campuses across California and across the United States to issue similar statements. Further I call on all of us to report incidents of casteism and to create actual policies which ban casteism in higher education and elsewhere. I call on the UC system as well as other institutions of higher education to formally include casteism as a protected status against discrimination. Join us in ending casteism and caste violence in our society. The time to act and raise all of our voices is now!”
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director, Equality Labs:
“The courage of UC San Diego’s Ethnic Studies program is being felt around the country as Ethnic Studies was a discipline founded in the resistance and resilience of Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. For this department to acknowledge the civil rights movement for caste equity and be responsive to its most vulnerable South Asian members is a powerful testament to the legacy of ethnic studies and its future.
Caste violence on campuses is real. We have seen the harm caste causes and have struggled alongside caste-oppressed colleagues to be part of the solution. It is crucial that we recognize that caste exists across all North American campuses and that we need policy remedies to address the harms caste-oppressed students, staff and faculty face. Caste is found in all South Asian Diasporas and immigrant students from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and indentured diasporas are finding increasing relief the more institutions join this movement. Caste is also found in all of the faith communities that South Asians practice.
That is why Equality Labs join civil rights leaders and scholars from around the United States who celebrate this win and it is yet another reminder that caste equity is a student’s rights issue. Caste is a human and civil rights issue that impacts us all. We look forward to working with UC San Diego to implement this policy for the betterment of all of our communities.”