More than a half century ago, community and campus movements for justice gave birth to the field of Chicana/o Studies. The Intercollegiate Department of Chicana/o~Latina/o Studies at the Claremont Colleges is itself the outgrowth of these movements, efforts that challenged the very purpose of higher education.
Our roots extend earlier than the mass mobilizations of the late 1960s, to early organizing efforts seeking to forge credible links between our campuses and local communities. In the 1965-66 academic year, students and professors at the Claremont Colleges began volunteering at the Teen Post Program, a federally-funded, afterschool center for neighborhood teens located in the Mexican American barrios of East Claremont. In addition to providing academic tutoring and youth mentoring, volunteers from the Claremont Colleges also pressured their campuses to support a broader effort to blur the lines between “town and gown.” First, they secured the donation of a baseball field from Pomona College to the community. They also negotiated for tickets to Scripps theater productions and the free use of basketball courts at Claremont McKenna College, all for barrio youth involved in the program.
The students and professors involved in the “barrio program” modeled an early form of “service learning” or “community engagement.” Through their work, they fostered a community of alliance at the Claremont Colleges which also evolved into a specific organizational unit, the Volunteer Service Center, or VSC. By 1968 the VSC was moving in a more activist direction. As one student coordinator put it, “One operating principle for the Center is that a college student’s education is not complete until he develops an awareness of and concern for the world beyond the campus, and translates it into a laboratory for learning effective action.” Increasingly mindful of the larger critique of whites “solving” the problems of poor communities of color, the VSC sought to implement a more collaborative vision. “Central to our work with every community is this effort to respond to indigenous leadership rather than trying to impose direction from outside.” 
These educational and community mobilization efforts helped foment a growing effort by the Colleges to admit more students of color from the surrounding areas. The Center for Education Opportunity (a 5-College effort under the Claremont University Consortium) piloted their Program for Specially Directed Studies in spring 1968. The goal of increasing the number of admitted local youth of color framed this “special admit” program which served students with an educational bridge curriculum taught at the Colleges. Other efforts included a campus visit program, a high school equivalency program (part of larger, local network of GED instruction), and the Claremont College’s first Upward Bound.
These institutional developments were largely focused on the surrounding Mexican American and African American communities. In creating a model of community partnership, they also served as a home for a small but increasingly politicized community of Mexican American and African American students. In 1968, a growing movement culture gave further purpose and institutional inertia to their efforts.
The birth of Chicano Studies at the Claremont Colleges is inseparable from the efforts of African American students to institutionalize Black Studies. Late sixties movements within the Black Freedom Struggle—namely, those projecting a “Black Power” analysis—proved instrumental in elevating African American student campus activism in a short period of time. The spring 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the jailing of Black Panther Minister Huey P. Newton, both served as catalysts for their efforts on campus.
In May 1968, students from the Black Student Union issued a ten-point plan to recreate the Claremont Colleges under a model of inclusion. Their plan actively sought to attack what they called the college’s “power structure.” As Danny Wilks, leader of the group, put it “educational institutions can and MUST play an important role in the re-structuring of our society.” In addition to demanding administrators to serve as recruiters, their plan also called for the admission of “marginal minority groups” the next fall, scholarships and other aid, and an agreement that no students would be allowed to reside in off-campus housing that practiced racial discrimination in its selection of tenants. Tellingly, they presented their demands to the campus community in a rally held to free Huey Newton. 
The campus reaction was quick and supportive. In May 1968 the Deans Council approved their demands and created a Committee on Minority Student Relations to implement the proposals. In fall, the academic and admission interests of Mexican American students were included in the committee’s goals.
Chicano students had helped bring that attention to center stage. Mexican American issues filtered in to the Claremont Colleges via the local community, a population that served as the primary source of service employees at the Colleges as well as the growing target of involvement on the part of left-leaning students at the Colleges. The campaign of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Cesar Chavez also played a part. Chicana and Chicano students had actively supported the grape boycott through picket lines at local markets. Campus support was so widespread that all five directors of campus dining services were actively respecting the grape boycott in fall 1968, even though no campus had passed a policy respecting the boycott.
Chicana and Chicano students grew increasingly politicized through their involvement inthe UFW campaign, as well as their co-curricular efforts connecting Mexican American communities to the Colleges. The larger movimiento—propelled into the mainstream of Southern Californian politics via the March 1968 walkouts in East L.A.—also inspired them. While the connections between the political organizing in Los Angeles and in Claremont are hard to uncover, ever more vocal calls for curricular recognition help suggest the extent to which students at the Claremont Colleges framed their efforts squarely in line with Chicano movement politics taking shape in late 1968 and early 1969.
In April 1969, one month after the historic “Plan de Santa Barbara”—the movement document calling for the creation of Chicano Studies—Claremont College students and faculty hosted a four-day conference titled “The Chicano Movement, the Challenge of Urgency.” Organized by Chicano students affiliated with a student group called United Mexican American Students (UMAS), they had logistical support from Eduardo Quevedo, w recently hired staff member supporting Chicano students at the 5-Cs. Though the Claremont Colleges combined enrollment was only 4,500 students (only about 80 of which identified as Mexican American) the conference drew an attending crowd of more the 700 to Bridges Auditorium. Rubén Salazar, a noted Los Angeles Times journalist, reported on the conference as well the keynote address delivered by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez.
The conference came at the same time as the official agreement by the Colleges to create a Black Studies Center and a Mexican American Studies Center, both in fulfillment of their earlier agreements and a demonstration of the success of the local student movement. Two courses marked the beginning of Chicano Studies at the Colleges. “The Mexican American in Modern Society” was taught by Philip Montez, who had worked as an instructor at San Fernando State University (later renamed to CSU Northridge). The other class—“ Contemporary Politics of the Southwest”—was taught by Carlos Muñoz, an M.A. candidate at Cal State Los Angeles and one of the “East L.A. 13,” the group of students indicted for their role in organizing the East L.A. walkouts. Both classes were part of the spring 1969 curricular offerings; both were taught at Pitzer College.
In the fall of 1969 the Mexican American Studies Center was formally opened. Ronald Lopez was hired as Executive Director in that first year. The Colleges cobbled together the center—the original institutional formation of our department—in a piecemeal fashion, making use of graduate students as instructors and already existing staff and institutional programs. Though the Colleges celebrated the center in campus literature, and early students found an academic and cultural home in the staff, a full-time tenure track line did not come to the center until the late 1970’s when Raymond Buriel was hired in Psychology at Pomona College in 1977. A line in Literature at Scripps and in Sociology at Pitzer followed. All three faculty were hired at a single Claremont College and appointment into a traditional department but also held a joint appointment in the Intercollegiate structure.
For more information on the history of IDCLS, see visit The History of Chicana/o Studies at the Claremont Colleges.
1. David Hay, “VSC: A New View,” Claremont Collegian, September 23, 1968, 8.
2. y Chazen, “BSU Pushes Slate of Demands,” Claremont Collegian, May 6, 1968, 1, 6.