Features Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 2

Tackling Racism Through the School Curriculum

by Katelyn To

The name says it all. Diversify Our Narrative, a national initiative striving to make all US high schools anti-racist through diverse texts. Specifically, the people behind Diversify Our Narrative are demanding that every English classroom in the US requires “A minimum of at least one book in every English/Literature and Comprehension class be by a person of color AND about a person/people of color’s experience(s),” as stated on their website. And now, two Las Lomas seniors have jump-started the movement in our very own district. 

It all started with Dina Mirmotalebisohi, one of two co-leads of Diversify Our Narrative at the Acalanes Union High School District. Mirmotalebisohi commented, “I realized that every student has a voice. Every person, no matter their skin tone, no matter their ethnicity, religion, gender…and by putting yourself so low that you start to doubt yourself and think that you as the person you are are not perfect is the worst thing that you could do.” She continued by saying, “So the reason I started the initiative in our district is because I knew that there were other students…who have experienced this to whatever degree, who have been silent about it, [and] who haven’t discussed it much because they can’t. I want students to be able to speak about their issues…and whenever they’re ready, to start tackling it headfirst on how we can eliminate these issues.”

By her side is Kyla Watkins, also a Las Lomas senior. “When Dina texted me and proposed the idea, I decided that I wanted to join because I’ve seen it firsthand,” Watkins said. She continued, “Listening to people, especially people of color, kind of talk about the things that we learn in history and English—they’re uneducated about their own history, and that’s not fair…We don’t learn about a lot of Asian-American history, we don’t learn about Mexican-American history, we learn snippets of it…and if i could do anything to change that, then I would. And it starts with education.”

While the AUHSD sector is fairly new, they have consistently worked to accomplish big things. After California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 331 that would require all high school students to take an Ethnic Studies course in order to graduate, the co-leads speculated that AB-331 likely will not pass for another few years and knew that they would need to keep pushing and do whatever they could at the current moment. “We need to make sure that our schools can be inclusive during that time. So things such as making sure students are educated is our biggest priority right now. A lot of the stuff we are doing revolves around how we can get students involved,” said Mirmotalebisohi. 

Regarding other plans for Las Lomas, Watkins said, “There’s this web series that I wanted to try…It can be personal stories, it can be anonymous, or I’m willing to just tell my story flat out. Just that sort of thing, using that and trying to figure out a way to distribute that to get teachers to show them in class. Because those are things that students want to learn, [and] those are things that we need to teach them.”

In addition to the group of high schoolers working to accomplish the goals of Diversify Our Narrative, students involved with DON have also talked with Las Lomas teachers along the way who want to emphasize the importance of racial equity just as much as they do. “History is the study of the human experience. I think it’s important that everyone should be able to relate to what’s being studied in history class,” said Mr. Speir, a Las Lomas US History teacher. 

Ms. Gunnison, teacher of English 4: Deconstructing Race at Las Lomas, takes a look at the bigger picture: “I don’t think this is just about adding texts by people of color, but it’s also about making sure that whiteness does not stay at the center, because whiteness is our default setting.” In regards to her own classroom, she added, “I feel like I am often lulled in this idea that the work I do is somehow antiracist, but still, my own whiteness is very present. If I’m still considering my class as a place where whiteness is the dominant narrative and including voices of people of color into that big ol’ white circle, that’s not anti-racism…It might be interesting to go and look at the percentage of teachers in the US who are white, because I think that has a huge bearing on why our curriculum doesn’t change that much.”

Las Lomas in particular has already moved one step closer in their attempt to be more inclusive for students of color. Principal Tiffany Benson said, “Our English Department in particular has been focusing on refining their reading lists, and every teacher is committed to teaching texts by authors of color and women every year and in every level of English.”

Want to learn more about how you can get involved? Check out @diversifyournarrativeauhsd on Instagram or the Diversify Our Narrative website.