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California State University System Adds “Caste” as Protected Class

In January 2022, the California State University system (CSU) added caste as a protected group to its system-wide anti-discrimination policy. Dalit students of South Asian descent fought to have the protection added. The University of California campuses are not included in the CSU system. According to Inside Higher Ed, CSU was the first system to add caste to its nondiscrimination policy. Reportedly, Brandeis University, Colby College, and the University of California, Davis also include caste in their anti-discrimination policies.

Dalit students said they encountered caste discrimination on the CSU campuses. According to the Los Angeles Times, caste-oppressed people refer to themselves as Dalit, which means “broken people.” Dalits, who used to be referred to as “untouchables,” sat at the bottom of a now-outlawed hierarchical system that determined the lives of over a quarter billion people across the world. An individual’s caste was handed down through generations of families and dictated a person’s social standing. India and other South Asian countries have officially banned caste discrimination. However, the practice still occurs there and across the globe.

A Nepali Dalit student reportedly initiated organizing with other Dalit students for this protection after he faced discrimination on his Northern California campus. Equality Labs, a Dalit civil rights organization, surveyed Dalits in the U.S. It found one in three Dalit students reported discrimination in their education and two out of three reported being treated unfairly at their workplaces. Equality Labs defines caste as similar to class and race but distinct “because of its religious origins and the connections it makes between purity, profession, and skin color.”

Although 500 CSU faculty members supported the measure, approximately 80 faculty members opposed it. They believe it “will cause more discrimination by unconstitutionally singling out and targeting Hindu faculty of Indian and South Asian descent.” The term caste is generally only used within South Asian countries, according to one of the faculty organizers.