When I was in the tenth grade, my Honors English teacher assigned Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was the first time that a book written by a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) author was used in my instruction, and more to the point, the first time anti-racist literature was used educationally to further my understanding of the Black experience in America.
While some high schools incorporate BIPOC authors into their curricula and place the same emphasis on the educational value of their corresponding texts as those penned by white authors, the harsh reality is exposure to these narratives can often be limited for students before they get to college. The Diversify Our Narrative campaign hopes to rectify that.
Co-founded this past June by two Stanford rising sophomores, Katelin Zhou and Jasmine Nguyen, the DON campaign fights for the inclusion and integration of “anti-racist and diverse texts in English and Literature classes” within the United States. Galvanized by the nationwide protests that arose in response to recent waves of racial injustice, Zhou and Nguyen questioned where they learned about racial intolerance and the systems that are in place that perpetuate these inequities. They soon realized that it was not until they reached college that their education touched on these topics. From there, the idea for Diversify Our Narrative was born.
The DON campaign is student-led and hopes to target school boards across the nation by mobilizing organizers and facilitating the lobbying process by providing the blueprint to take action. Regardless of whether a student attends a public, charter, or private school, those looking to get involved will find everything they need to get started on the Diversify Our Narrative website. The site features various resources ranging from action guides that carefully array every crucial step in organizing district appeals, to their recommended reading list, and all necessary templates for a myriad of petitions.
Conducive to their chief objective, the first proposition that the group makes in their primary petition to diversify curricula mandates that “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).” Not stopping there, the petition reinforces DON’s cognizance of the anti-Blackness rhetoric and sentiment within our nation and desire to address the ever-present racism through education by advocating for “at least one of the mandated books [to] be about the Black experience.”
In addition to the strategies the DON executive team employs to simplify petitioning school boards, a lot of their success in organizing can be traced to their social media presence. In just under three months, their Instagram page alone has reached over 108K followers. While Zhou feels that part of the reason they have gained such traction is due to the sharable nature of their calls to action and the accessible language used in the educational posts, she attributes a lot of their success to the “momentum created by all the Black activists.” Correspondingly, Nguyen notes that “now that there’s all this conversation, we can take this power and change our school systems thanks to the Black and Brown organizers that have paved the way for this to happen.”
When asked about the posts on the page, Zhou explained the aim of their graphics extends past simply trying to get people involved in DON’s mission; they try to “create any sort of educational content that relates to something in the education system… and to race.” From their debriefs on certain books to their posts about specified microaggressions, this practice is exemplified by the diverse topic sets featured on their account.
Now, as with any large social media presence, the group has also faced backlash in the comments section from students and adults not in favor of the proposed changes. Opponents often contend that the books read in classrooms should not be about the race of the author, rather the quality of the writing and that the “classics are classics for a reason.” Some even assert that the initiative is attacking white authors.
However, in response to those critics, Zhou wants them to know that DON is “not trying to eliminate authors because they’re white, we’re trying to expand the scope of what we’re reading in the classroom.” Failure to incorporate texts written by BIPOC into our education means that “we’re missing a fundamental component of our understanding of the world we live in,” Zhou elaborated.
“Failure to incorporate texts written by BIPOC into our education means that ‘we’re missing a fundamental component of our understanding of the world we live in.'”
Addressing the classics argument, DON’s Co-Director of Communications and Yale rising sophomore—Katherine Matsukawa—wants people to consider that “who defined them as classics in the first place has a lot to do with white normativity… we’ve been trained by the systems in place that white equals normal, but there are books that are equally good and insightful that offer a different perspective.” Ultimately, the team is incredibly intentional about the language they use to avoid misconceptions. Even so, to help dispel these errors, they often further clarify their position by interacting with followers on Instagram live, answering direct messages and producing more educational content.
With the campaign gaining so much traction, it is unsurprising that DON has already seen some of the fruits of its labor. This past July, organizers were able to get on the official board meeting agenda of the Manteca Unified School District. Moreover, there have been a “handful of districts speak at their board meetings during the general public comment section and a lot of them have hit 1,000 signatures” on their petitions, said Matsukawa. Nevertheless, the initiative is still well on its way to accomplishing its primary directive.
As the implementation of this initiative ultimately happens in the classroom, support from educators is pivotal. Fortunately, Zhou notes that “for the most part, a lot of the teachers the school districts have reached out to have been supportive,” even going so far as to sign the petitions themselves.
While DON has yet to get a school board to approve its proposed changes, its reach, solidified in such a short period, represents the importance of timing and intersectionality when it comes to racial issues. Sandy Nguyenphuoc, DON’s Director of Design and incoming UCSD freshman, was one of the people “inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement… it helped [her] see that [she] needed to step up and take action,” sparking her involvement with the campaign.
Beyond that, Diversify Our Narrative represents a victory for mobilization in the digital era. In an age where social media activism is quickly gaining momentum, ensuring the success of any given cause requires easing the burden for those looking to get involved. Getting people to take that initial action can be heavily dependent on steps like reducing the time constraint or creating a link tree for easy access.
For some, sharing an educational post might be the extent of their advocacy. Others might want to become further involved but are not necessarily equipped with the knowledge on how to go about doing so. That is where Diversify Our Narrative truly shines; it encourages activism on all levels and lays the roadmap to serve as a guide. Skarlette Castejon, Co-Director of Communications and UCLA rising sophomore, explained that “many students of color experience real life issues within the education system, but don’t know what measures to take to change them, and this campaign gives them a way to do that.”
Moving forward, Zhou stressed that organized efforts to combat racism through education bring us “just one step closer to having more empathy and understanding for different groups of people.”
Fortunately for me, my teachers in high school were always extremely cognizant of that. They knew that knowledge is not limited to a single source; they could give us John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald while also exposing our minds to the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Isabel Allende. Learning from one text was never mutually exclusive to learning from another.
As a biracial student, I knew the world looked different than the one painted solely by the classics, but analyzing the work of BIPOC authors helped contextualize that reality. More importantly, it made me feel grounded in the realm of academia, where often so many students of color can be made to feel as if they are on the outside looking in. It was a bridge between my education and my ethnic background, one where I felt the pages of my narrative represented.
While there is an inherent power in that, there is also no denying the general benefits of being exposed to anti-racist and diverse texts early on in your education. It will indisputably focus the lens through which you view the world, make you more receptive to perspectives that differ from your own, and shed light on realities that you might have otherwise been oblivious to. We should all want a future where the way people think of racism has nothing to do with where they fall on a political spectrum, where a history of oppression is not something to be debated or simply acknowledged, but remedied. Although calling for the inclusion of these texts is still ways away from the finish line, it is a necessary step in the right direction.
If you are looking to get involved with Diversify Our Narrative, I encourage you to visit their website to learn more about how you can help change the literature curriculum in your district.
April 16, 2014: A large number of members from the Latino Greek Council (LGC) attended the General Body meeting of MEChA de UCLA today in order to voice their concern regarding their underrepresentation in their Annual Raza Day. Raza Day is an opportunity for admitted Latinos to start to get involved and be aware of all of the organizations that exist at UCLA. In a way, it’s the start for the admits to approach their new familias. “Raza Day is a welcome event held every year for newly admitted self identified Chicana(o)/ Latina(o) high school students.” (MEChA de UCLA)
A moist and heated room had a few members of MEChA and all members from the Latino Greek sororities and fraternities fanning away. The conversation was a constant miscommunication that reflects the current relationship that MEChA and LGC have had for the past years. After a passionate two-hour discussion on the similarities and differences regarding the principals in academic success for the Latino community that each organization has, there was a collective decision on starting crafting the logistics on the Raza Day work-party. Though there was no direct decision on whether or not Latino Greeks will be allowed to wear their letters during the MEChA event.
Only 13 members from MEChA will take a vote tonight whether or not there should an affiliation with LGC or not, of the countless students that were present in the meeting.
Both organizations essentially work for one purpose: the future of the Latino community that are today struggling to get into college. Although there are strong differences among each of the philosophies, there should be a conversation with all Latino organizations so there can be a solid Latino voice that UCLA deserves to have.
Every Wednesday’s at 7:00 p.m. the Movimiento Estudiantil [email protected] de Aztlán (MEChA) holds their general body meetings.
MEChA de ucla FB: www.facebook.com/mechadeuclaztlan
RAZA DAY information: mechadeucla.weebly.com/raza-day.html
On Wednesday November 20th AFSCME 3299, a union representing more than 22,000 campus service workers and patient care workers from UC Universities and hospitals, along with the UC Student-Worker Union UAW 2865, students and other allies, marched, picketed and rallied at UCLA’s BruinBear, the Hill and the Ronald Reagan Medical Center.
This sympathy strike was the result of the wage and benefit cuts that many UC workers are facing along with unfair labor practices at a time when tuition costs keep increasing, but ironically budget cuts have created under-staffing on the jobs.
Undergrad and Graduate students as well as T.As, professors and employees in general were encouraged to support the strike by not eating in the dining halls, not teaching, not buying at any of UCLA’s student stores and most of all, joining the picket lines and rally.
For those who are looking for a princess that your daughter, sister, niece or yourself, can praise more for her ethical principles than her appearance, the Guardian Princesses Alliance offers a handful of princesses that provide an alternative paradigm to the Disney Princess market.
By focusing on teaching young children about current global issues and how to approach them through a nonviolent philosophy, the writers of a princess series hope to bring together an alternative perspective on what a princess should look and act like. In hopes that they can fundraise money and get some feedback from the community prior to the publication of the first series, Ashanti McMillon and Setsu Shigematsu gave a lecture discussing and promoting their organization, The Guardian Alliance, this past Sunday November 17th at Cal Poly Pomona.
The authors of the series that will contain three books are still working on the logistics of the publication, but anyone interested in pre-purchasing, finding out more about the parables or becoming a member can check out their official webpage at www.guardianprincesses.com.
The community of scholars, professors, teachers, and parents demonstrated good reception to the books and its strategy in offering a different market for parents and girls ages 2-13 that want a princess to emulate or who share cultural identities and values that resemble theirs.
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) is a national community organization led by undocumented youth who seek to create equality for all immigrants regardless of their undocumented status. NIYA’s most recent campaign happened this past summer where nine undocumented students who had voluntarily left the country or had been deported to Mexico, attempted to cross the U.S. border through Nogales, Mexico. Known as the Dream9, these students, dressed in cap and gowns, were arrested and detained at the Eloy Detention Center in Texas and where released after two weeks. The #BringThemHome Campaign successfully allowed the nine students to reenter the country legally while waiting on their asylum visas or immigration court cases.
Luis Leon was born in Veracruz, Mexico and at the age of 5 migrated to North Carolina with his family. After his graduation, he realized that going to a college was not an option if he stayed where he lived. Luis moved to Washington state with the hope of continuing his educational career. After not being able to enroll in any college, Luis decided to move back to Mexico leaving his family behind. When he heard the news about Deferred Action, Luis consecutively tried to cross the border, but failed. On his fourth try, he was banned from the country for 20 years. Luis got the opportunity to be part of the Dream9, and thanks to the #BringThemHome Campaign, Luis is now back into the country with his family.
Above is a price list for a recent Affirmative Action Bake sale. Clever. Very clever, or so you thought. I take a few issues up with you cookie sellers: What would you charge a mutt like me? Would I get a 40% increase because I’m about 1/4 Caucasian? Or would I pay a combination of the Caucasian and Latino prices? What if I brought a few of my friends, would I get a Friends of Color super discount? I’m curious that if you truly wanted to be original you would’ve thought of expanding on the idea that you ripped off from another school (or two, as a matter of fact) and added a more colorful array of payments. Would you offer a special “America Unlawfully Stole My Land and All I Got Was This Stupid Cookie?” Maybe you should’ve included a portion that said “We Accept EBT” if you wanted to also target those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, which is also a part of the UC admittance process. If so, I think you might want to adjust those prices because a high number of Caucasians receive welfare—higher than that of Latinos and Asians. Possibly a “Free Cookie to any Orphan or Victim of Abuse,” being that a personal struggle and story also played a part in the process.
If you were going to go out of your way to offend and attempt to facilitate conversation about the issues at hand with the UC Admittance process you might want to do some research and really facilitate a constructive debate on all the issues at hand. Don’t simply focus your attention on the easiest subject in the book: Race. Get over it; it’s getting a little played out at this point. Guaranteed you won’t hesitate to cheer for all the athletes of color though. Newsflash! Affirmative action affects them too. Maybe instead of trying to polarize the issue in such a way that makes you all appear as though you may be bordering on bigotry, you might want to pick up a book or get on a computer and do some research.
Your argument and frustrations are not with other students but with the Supreme Court who ruled on this many a moons ago. You think they’d like some cookies?
Article by Tlaloc Vasquez
The strike is set to go from 4am Tuesday until 4am Thursday in front of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The strike is a last resort for UC Patient Care workers after negotiations with the University of California (UC) failed to produce a contract that both sides could agree on. UC Patient Care Workers strike for safe staffing and respect on the job; they want a just contract that supports pensions, living wages and job security.
According to the Facebook Group entitled Student Solidarity for UC Patient Care Workers’ Strike!!, “The UC Patient Care worker strike will be taking place May 21st and 22nd! We are asking students to gather at 4:30PM ON TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY to join workers on the picket line in front of Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Then we will be having a rally at 6pm!”
UCLA is not alone in this action. 13,000 patient care workers at the 5 UC Medical Centers (Los Angeles, Davis, Irvine, San Diego and San Francisco) will be going on strike. They will be joined by over 8,500 service workers and another 3,400 hospital technical workers across the UC system. Students and workers are asking people to wear green in solidarity with UC Workers on Tuesday and Wednesday.
These workers are the heart of the living organism that is the University of California. They are vital to the vast functions of each UC campus and hospital as they maintain the aesthetic beauty of our campuses and care for thousands of hospital patients year after year. Simply put, without these workers the UC system would not exist.
The paid spokesman for the UC that you will see on the TV or read in the paper will say things like, “We respect our workers, but we think it is inappropriate for them to demand to keep their benefits. We have a worker appreciation day, isn’t that enough?” But I know the truth. At the end of the day, this is a fight for the working people. This is for my friends. This is for Olga in the Student Activities Center. This is for Chris in Covel Dining Hall. This is for Mauricio cleaning the halls of Campbell. This is for all the workers that make UCLA feel a little less like a cold institution and a little more like home.
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