Ethnic Studies: From a student perspective

Hello, valued members of our community. We are a few of the student Griffin Coalition Organizers. As students in favor of the Ethnic Studies course, we believe the implementation of this course and the social justice standards was a necessary step towards a more inclusive and tolerant school environment.

Although some opponents are Los Alamitos parents concerned about the optics of this curriculum change, much of the opposition comes from outside political interest groups with controversial and ill-willed agendas. These groups include MassResistance, the Orange County Classical Academy, and the Proud Boys (as well as Capital Insurrectionists from January 6th). In the rest of this article, we will simply refer to these groups as the opposition and right wing extremists. In the words of District Superintendent, Dr. Andrew Pulver, “It is shameful and deceitful to imply that Los Al Unified is attempting to pit students of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds against one another.”

Ethnic Studies is an elective course intended for Los Alamitos High School juniors and seniors. This class is designed to teach the history and traditions of historically marginalized ethnic groups who are often unmentioned in euro-centric curriculum. This course is incredibly important; 57% of our district’s students are non-white or biracial, and they deserve to learn about their history. In a similar attempt for inclusivity, the district is also adopting social justice standards, which will give teachers better tools in which to confidently address insensitive racial comments. Though these social justice standards are directed to protect historically marginalized groups, this training would help instill respect in students for any and all cultural differences. Both of these are being implemented alongside culturally responsive instruction, which mandates sensitivity training for teachers to cultivate classes that are more culturally aware.

Despite Los Alamitos’ diverse student body, ethnic minorities within the district continue to experience racism and all manner of xenophobia on a daily basis. This includes racial, homophoic, and transphobic slurs, sexist statements, Nazi and white supremacist imagery, repeated harassment, and even students attempting to re-segregate the drinking fountains as a ‘joke’. The personal stories and heartfelt speeches from students shared at previous board meetings also exposed a series of unsettling experiences that minority students have faced in the Los Alamitos school district. Clearly, we are a district in need of change. Our efforts to make ourselves and our classmates feel welcome and validated is proving successful as the board continues to vote in favor of this course. 

Hello, I’m Nio. As a Mexican-American senior who has gone through almost all of my education at our Los Alamitos School District, I have witnessed and experienced blatant racism, microaggressions, and prejudice. I could describe these uncomfortable moments, but people of color should not have to recall the times they were racially disrespected in order to be taken seriously. Our voices are just as important as the rest. Furthermore, being promised that our school is a safe and inclusive space for all, led me to believe that these ignorant comments would lead to consequences and lessons learned. But I was wrong. Most of the insensitive comments and jokes said aloud on school grounds, even within earshot of multiple school staff, are not corrected. Freedom of speech is welcome, though when what is being said is emotionally damaging, a line must be drawn. Bullying is not freedom of speech. I, along with many other students of color, have had no choice but to endure continuous disrespect. Our differences are not a threat. I am not a threat. 

My name is Jackie Bond and I am also a senior at Los Alamitos High School. As a white woman living in the upper-middle class neighborhood of Rossmoor, I lead a sheltered life. I am and have always been in support of equality and inclusion for all, but I never understood the depths of racism and discrimination within our community until attending the district board meetings and actively supporting ethnic studies. I was one of several students harassed for my perspective. I, like several other minors, was boo´d at, insulted, and confronted for my beliefs. 

I can only imagine that Los Alamitos students of color experience a similar form of harassment, only this harassment is constant. These students deserve to feel safe, to know their history, and to be proud of it. Unfortunately nothing can remedy the pain of racism or ensure that discrimination will not continue to burden kids and their education, but this initiative is a promise for improvement- that we as a school and as a nation are trying to know better, to do better, and to be better to our fellow Americans.

Hi, I’m Hunter. I’m a straight white cisgender guy, so I haven’t experienced individual and systemic oppression the way many others have (besides the occasional homophobic slurs and misogynistic comments made by other insecure white teenage guys). I can’t speak to my own experiences, besides the slurs, comments, and harassment I’ve witnessed being made against minority students, so I will instead focus on dispelling some myths surrounding what has been going on lately:

Is Los Alamitos going to require this class for all students?

Los Alamitos is making this an ELECTIVE (not required) course. It is possible that in the future, the state of California will make this course a requirement for all high schools. Our school district has no control over state level decisions, so if you have any concerns, direct them to Gavin Newsom, not Dr. Pulver. 

Is our school district going to teach Critical Race Theory – which is meant to teach that all whites are the evil spawn of Satan?

No. First off, the curriculum does not contain any mention or explanation or teachings of Critical Race Theory, which is merely an “academic concept [with] the core idea … that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies,” according to an Education Week article by Stephen Sawchuck.

The school board is entirely white, as is the majority of our district personnel and a good portion of our community. None of them are going to implement a curriculum that teaches the students to hate them. Furthermore, the district superintendent has repeatedly stated at board meetings for the last several months that Critical Race Theory is not a component of or a basis for the curriculum. Thus, not only is Critical Race Theory not the “evil, anti-white, communist, satanist, zionist space-laser boogeyman” that right-wing extremists make it out to be, it is not even being taught by the school district.

What is the purpose of these programs?

To educate students about the histories of marginalized Americans, and to help create a better learning environment for every single student. Stanford University did a study that showed that high schools that add an ethnic studies course increased school attendance, GPA, and credits earned. 

How can I help?

This isn’t just a one-and-done.For some unknown reason, the Orange County Board of Education (which has no approval power over the curriculum or authority over the school district) is attempting to host two anti-ethnic studies town halls in Rossmoor, inviting right-wing extremists back into our community in an apparent attempt to create a Scopes Trial level fracas. Writing to our RCSD and other departments to stop them or to request their movement to a different location is incredibly important, so we can avoid public safety issues. We still have a long way to go, but I’m confident we can continue to work to make our community a better place for everyone.