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Student group advocates for diversity, multiculturalism in SDUHSD schools

Diversify Our Narrative student representatives from SDUHSD presented to the SDUHSD board on Jan. 14.
Diversify Our Narrative student representatives from SDUHSD presented to the SDUHSD board on Jan. 14.

(Courtesy)

The local chapter of Diversify Our Narrative, a national student-led organization, has ambitious goals to make meaningful changes within their schools to promote diversity, inclusion and educational equity.

The San Dieguito Union High School District students in Diversify Our Narrative (DON) hope to encourage the district to incorporate more texts by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) authors in English and literature courses and to stoke more discussion on identity bias and race in the classroom. Their long-term goals include having ethnic studies as a separate, mandatory course for high school graduation.

DON’s student-directed work was presented to the school board on Jan. 14 by San Dieguito High School Academy sophomores Joy Ruppert and Aya Jaffer, along with Canyon Crest Academy seniors Shiva Kansagara, Frances Chai, Ella Sobhani, Roxy Morris, Ema Nastic and Kylie Hayase.

“DON exists to be a bridge between the district and the school sites so we’re really excited to continue to work with the board and other district members in the future,” Kylie said.

This effort was set in motion back in August when Joy and Aya, co-leaders of the Encinitas4Equality youth group, organized a protest in front of the district office to demand that the school board address racial inequities and diversity in the district at an upcoming board meeting.

As the board focus at that time was handling COVID-19, the students were not placed on an agenda but they continued to raise their voices during public comment over the course of the next five months. In December, new trustee Katrina Young asked that the item be added to the Jan. 14 agenda.

“In the last eight months they have shown more courage, passion and understanding about the importance of diversity and multiculturalism in our schools and country than most adults I know,” said Mali Woods, the co-founder of Encinitas4Equality (E4E) of Aya and Joy.

Ella was one of the first members of the San Dieguito chapter of DON and she had been looking for ways to get more students involved. After she read an article in the Encinitas Advocate (this newspaper’s sister paper) about the summer protest she saw that what Joy and Aya were trying to accomplish was similar to DON’s objectives. She connected with them via Instagram in hopes of a collaboration.

“Ever since then we’ve been working together pretty regularly, multiple times a week and it’s been really, really awesome,” Ella said.

Since the summer, Roxy said DON has been linking up with district school groups like the No Place for Hate Club, SDA’s Multicultural Anti-Racism Coalition and CCA’s Raven Diversity Network as well as the local chapter of GENup, a nationwide student-led organization that advocates for educational policy reform.

They have been working on a project to raise awareness called “Personal Stories”, which showcases instances of racism experienced by students of color throughout the district. Aya and Joy have said there are a number of students who have powerful stories to share about feeling uncomfortable in SDUHSD schools. In a more public incident in December 2019, the SDA campus was vandalized with homophobic language and anti-semitic imagery.

DON student members also helped push for the passage of Assembly Bill 331 through the California Senate, which proposed making ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement starting with classes of 2029-30. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill in September as he said there were too many uncertainties about the content of the mandated K-12 curriculum. Newsom has stated he does value ethnic studies, signing into law AB1460 which mandates ethnic studies as a graduation requirement for the California State University system.

Looking ahead, Frances said DON’s goals include hosting multicultural days to celebrate the district’s diversity, continuing their conversations with the district and board leadership and have their weekly DON meetings be a safe space to share ideas.

“Our goal is to have participation from all of the schools in this district so we can really unite students under this common mission of promoting diversity and inclusion in our classrooms,” Frances said.

As a student organization, they have already been able to meet with trustees Young and Melisse Mossy, Deputy Superintendent Mark Miller and Associate Superintendent Bryan Marcus. In her efforts to always listen, Mossy said she bought the book “How to Be an Anti-Racist” because the students asked her to: “I’m going to read it, and I’m going to learn from it.”

Miller and Marcus said it was a pleasure to meet with the students and hear their perspectives.

“I’m very proud of these young ladies for their work ethic and their ability to bring students together,” Marcus said.

Miller said while the work to address inclusion, diversity and equity will be ongoing, the district has made some progress. The district has focused on the social and emotional wellbeing of students by making sure every student has a trusted adult on campus they can go to in the event they are harassed or bullied and they are working to ensure staff knows how to intervene.

The district has also revised board policies to address non-discrimination, positive school climate and harassment. In their internal review, they found anomalies in suspensions and expulsions for specific subgroups of students so they have contracted with the San Diego County Office of Education’s equity division to provide restorative practices training to staff.

“I’m so glad that we’re finally listening to these kids,” La Costa Canyon High School teacher Lauren Monahan offered as a written public comment. “We have not done enough to protect our minority students from subtle and very overt racism. It has only gotten increasingly malignant and some of us have been working quite hard to try to stop our students from being bathed in a culture where the ’n-word’ has become commonplace and swastikas have been normalized.”

During public comment many parents spoke in support of the students’ requests for systemic changes, making additional requests such as the formation of an equity task force. Some parents also cautioned that the district needs to be careful when developing an ethnic studies curriculum, noting that it should be inclusive, not divisive and should not single out any minority.

Encinitas resident Jody White, co-founder of E4E, encouraged the district to follow Poway Unified’s lead in prioritizing racial equity and inclusion or using the model of Encinitas Union School District’s equity committee.

“The community needs to know that the board is behind anti-racism in schools, especially in this current climate. Recognizing multicultural holidays is a starting point but what is really needed is anti-bias and anti-racism training for the board members themselves and all staff at all schools,” White said.

“Your duty is to lead our youth by example rather than the other way around.”

To learn more about Diversify Our Narrative visit linktr.ee/donsduhsd/


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