Lawrence Estrada

Lawrence Estrada


* Associate professor at Fairhaven College, where he is Director of the American Cultural Studies program
* A founding member of MEChA
* Claims that unless affirmative action programs are implemented, “a disproportionate amount of Latino students [will be] unable to continue on to a higher education.”

Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Estrada is a tenured associate professor at Fairhaven College (an interdisciplinary liberal arts college within Western Washington University), where he is also Director of the American Cultural Studies (ACS) program that he created. The ACS program features a curriculum designed around academic identity politics, with course titles running the gamut from “The Native American Experience,” to the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Experience.” Such courses are in keeping with the program’s aim to encourage “students and faculty to address issues such as race/ ethnicity, social and cultural theory, social economic class, gender and sexual orientation.” As a website for the program boasts, it “[e]mpowers [students] to examine and question such deep concepts as privilege, silence and voice.”

Estrada, a former Chair of the Washington State Commission for Hispanic Affairs, teaches a course called “The Hispano/a-American Experience, which places a special emphasis on “continuing immigration and economic stratification.” During the summer he teaches a course in Mexico, called “Contemporary Cultures of Mexico,” which focuses on “Mexican sustainable agriculture” and “environmental justice issues” specific to that nation.

Since 2002, Estrada has served as President of the National Association for Ethnic Studies (NAES), a self-described forum of “scholars and activists” that advocates for an educational curriculum where “ethnic studies” may supplant a traditional curriculum of higher education. In October 2003, under the auspices of MEChA, the militant Chicano separatist group he helped found, Estrada gave a talk to Hispanic students at Yale University in which he urged them to campaign for the expansion of ethnic, and specifically Chicano, studies on campus. Estrada explained that “there is a lack of representation of Latinos in both students and faculty nationally.” What was urgently needed, he said, were affirmative action programs designed to promote “institutional diversity.” Without ethnic preferences, Estrada warned, “We’re going to see a disproportionate amount of Latino students unable to continue on to a higher education.”

Estrada believes that American education is effectively “segregated” to the detriment of ethnic minorities. Appearing at an April 2004 NAES conference, he claimed, “Segregation is rampant in public schools, although it has been legally outlawed.” In support of this charge, Estrada pointed only to increases in the cost of tuition. “[A] hundred thousand lower income students cannot begin or continue their education because of tuition increases and reduction of state support,” he said.

In a February 2005 interview, Estrada was asked to comment on the widespread condemnation that was being directed at University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who had likened the victims of September 11 to Nazi apparatchiks. “Churchill,” said Estrada, “is really getting a bad rap for what he was trying to do, which was to explain why events like 9/11 transpired. … The far right media are trying to create a domestic scare. If we can’t find terrorists, we’ll create terrorists in our midst.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Estrada has served both as Western Washington University’s Vice Provost for Diversity, and as its Director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity. He also created the university’s Ethnic Student Center (ETC), a “cultural/ethnic” organization that offers students a forum in which to agitate for “social justice” and “social change.” Past events organized by the Center include a “MEChA social,” and presentations on “Colonialism in Native North America” and “Environmental Justice.” Members of ETC regularly accompany Estrada on his visits to other colleges, where they echo his claims that university curricula are insufficiently multicultural and urge administrators to make “diversity” a top priority on campus.

With precisely this end in mind, Estrada has established a Diversity Fund at Fairhaven to underwrite various campus initiatives. In 1995, for instance, money for the Fund went toward a focus group study called, “Assessing the Needs of Students of Color at Western Washington University.” Estrada has also played an operative role in bringing several prominent radical speakers to campus, including the late labor leader Cesar Chavez and Princeton professor Cornel West.

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