Two weeks ago, Melissa Moreno spoke to the Davis School Board about the need for ethnic studies during their discussion of the LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan). At the time, both the board and district acknowledged general support for the addition of ethnic studies, but they seem to want to wait until Spring 2020 when state guidelines come down.
On Thursday of this week, Ms. Moreno was back, but this time she had a whole host of community members with her pushing for ethic studies. The diverse group ranged from elected officials like Lucas Frerichs and Gloria Partida, to parents, community activists and students.
Tracy Tomasky said that that morning she was talking to a friend saying she was coming to support ethnic studies, and “she quizzically looked at me and said, they don’t already have it?” She talked to another friend who said, “Why not, why don’t they have a comprehensive ethnic studies program?”
She noted that both in the district’s “We Belong Program” and its Mission Statement it seems to prioritize the goals of ethnic studies. She said, “From my perspective Ethnic Studies rises to a critical priority as it is aligned with all the things that you espouse.”
Blair Howard, a teacher in the district, said he teaches at King High, and said that he struggles as a history teacher to teach the broad scope of everything that happens in US History. “For many of my students, what actually excites them is when they can see themselves in the curriculum,” he said. “Even with a revised (curriculum) for the framework of social studies that recently came… World History is basically Western Civilization, it’s very Eurocentric.”
That leaves it to the teachers to balance out the material, he said, “which takes a lot of work sometimes to decenter the history instruction.”
Anoosh Jorjorian noted that when she went to school decades ago in Sacramento, “I was one of the few brown kids at the school. The question I would get consistently is ‘what are you?’ Which is not a very nice question to get. I would have to explain that I’m Armenian and Filipino. 1980s Sacramento, no one knew what an Armenian or a Filipino was.”
She said, “It would have been clearer if I had said I was a Martian.” She said, “I would have anticipated that by this time, that that knowledge would be more widespread. We live in California, we’re an incredibly mixed state… This is incredibly important for all our students.”
Emily Henderson said, “I acknowledge that over the years many people have worked in our local classrooms to come together in this room to further the goals of racial equity and inclusion in our schools. Tonight I’m asking you to help us take some next steps.”
She said, “Ethnic studies is critical to the well-being of our students, our community, our country, and our world.” She works with Acme Theater Compnay students from across the district and “I’m sad to say that almost every day I hear stories from these youth about the hurtful actions and statements about race that they experience on DJUSD campuses.
“It happened last week, it happened today at lunch and it happened halfway through sixth period,” she said. “I struggle with what to say to them. The best I can come with is sorry, most adults are like me, we are terrified to talk about race, we are scared, we are miseducated, and a lot of (us) pretend that history didn’t happen and that awful stuff isn’t being perpetuated.”
Juliet Beck said that she’s organized two workshops in Davis to help parents learn to talk to their kids about race and racial differences. “There was a huge demand for these workshops,” she said. “It is clear that there is a demand and a need for these types of discussions and trainings that can serve as a catalyst for ongoing conversations and ultimately a shift in an overarching culture of white privilege and implicit bias that is here and operating in Davis.”
Lupita Torres said, “Our communities are invisibilized in the dominant culture. We don’t get talked about unless something really big happens.” She said that she didn’t learn her history until she was 19 years old. “I didn’t know I had a history and I don’t want that to happen to my daughter or anybody else’s children.”
Her daughter spoke as well: “I feel it is not right that the schools teach about Columbus and don’t teach a single thing about native history or Chicana or Chicano history. Schools only teach about white history – I’m not saying that it is bad, but please teach other history.”
Lolita Echeveria-Grecco said that at her daughter’s school, Cesar Chavez, her daughter’s friend was “saying something racist.” “He was saying something about Brown people,” she explained. “I know this child and I know his family. They’re not racist at all.”
She said but the child is very smart, “he’s picked up that we brown people are not represented at all in any of the school curriculum makes it easy to objectify us and make it easy to equate us to something of our color.”
She said, “It exemplifies the fact that we all need ethnic studies – not just the people who would be affected because of the color of their skin and because they’re not represented, because we all need to learn about each other. It will help us move away from xenophobia.”
Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald was among the parents and community leaders who originally met with the district a year ago to push for ethnic studies. She said they need to incorporate “ethnic studies into the everyday teachings” of the school district.
She told the board, “We know that you are committed to having an inclusive environment in our schools.”
Grace Bassett said, “We all need ethnic studies. We should all be learning much more as far as the contributions of all communities and all peoples of this country. Children of color, they want to see that their teachers are truly seeing them for their true potential and to see role models who look like them and who they can relate to.”
She called for both implicit bias and sensitivity training for all teachers and staff.
Lucas Frerichs said that, while he’s not a parent, “I am a proud product of the Davis Joint Unified School District. I also care about what our children are taught and also what they should be taught.”
He said he was adding his voice for an ethnic studies curriculum across DJUSD.
A student at the high school said that when he heard about these ethnic studies courses, “I was really surprised. I thought we already had them.” He didn’t realize that they didn’t have them until the RSJ (Race and Social Justice) symposium they recently had.
“We are being limited and no one asked us students about how we felt about this,” he said. He said that students at DJUSD are really smart, but they get too much credit for how smart they are. “I’m white and both of my parents are white, and I haven’t ever faced racial discrimination but I see how my friends suffer from this. I just had to come to the meeting and speak about this.”
He told of a student that came up to him with a racially insensitive joke. “I’m white but it still affects me, it still affects everyone at our school,” he said. “We have a white majority of students (at DHS) and we don’t have enough information on this.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting