Stanford’s CCSRE celebrates 25 years of research and teaching for race and ethnic studies- Al Camarillo

When Stanford University began planning for a Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicityin the early 1990s, the nation was reeling from myriad racial issues: A video of police beating Rodney King, a Black man, had gone viral and nationwide violence erupted following the acquittal of four police officers accused of assaulting him. Meanwhile, anti-immigrant rhetoric in U.S. politics was on the rise, recalled Albert Camarillo, CCSRE’s founding director.

As the center kicks off its 25-year anniversary with an event on June 4 and a new publication on its history, these issues around race and ethnicity remain as relevant today as they were when the center launched in 1996.

“These are not new things,” said Camarillo. “These are the legacies of the past with contemporary manifestations. Almost every single one of them. What it tells us is that race is even more important today than 25 years ago when we established the center, or even in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the birth of ethnic studies.”

Interdisciplinary beginnings

When Camarillo came to Stanford in 1975 as a professor in the History Department, ethnic studies was a nascent discipline.

“We didn’t know it would have sustaining power, whether it would catch on, whether programs or faculty would survive and sustain and build,” said Camarillo, among the first historians in the United States specializing in Chicana/o history and the Leon Sloss Jr. Memorial Professor, Emeritus, in the School of Humanities and Sciences. “It was an unknown proposition because it was brand new in American higher education in the 1960s and 1970s.”

By the early 1990s, however, race and ethnic studies had gained momentum at Stanford and other universities, propelled in part by passionate faculty and students, Camarillo explained.

But it wasn’t until Camarillo, along with his colleague, the late history professor George Fredrickson, secured a grant in 1994 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to lead a two-year Sawyer Seminar focused on comparative race and ethnic studies that faculty from across campus whose research touched on the topic came together for the first time.

For Camarillo and other seminar participants, the experience was transformative, leading to new ways of understanding race and ethnicity in America.