Ethnic Studies class at North

Gabriela Cruz, Staffer

During the Jan. 21 board meeting Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) announced that Ethnic Studies would be a new high school graduation requirement starting in the 2024-25 school year. The course will focus on the history of marginalized groups. The delay of the requirement to 2025 would give schools the time to start adding the class to their curriculum, although many high schools, including John W. North, already have done so starting this school year. Schools will have flexibility to decide how the class will be taught. The class will complete either an English or Social Studies requirement for graduation. Ethnic Studies will focus on the importance of letting students delve into their backgrounds and ethnicities. 

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in the state of California. This would have allowed California to be the first state to make ethnic studies a required class. However, many schools within the state are still incorporating Ethic Studies into their own graduation requirements. 

This year at North there are new classes being taught virtually called African American Studies and Chicano Studies. Many things were covered last semester in African American Studies, including the history of Jim Crow, anti-black collectives like the Tulsa and Arkansas race riots, the Harlem Hellfighters and the story of the Black Panther Party. Some of these topics may have been distorted or left out history books altogether.  The class discusses certain topics that many U.S. history classes do not teach students. 

This current semester, Chicano Studies is being taught in the virtual program. The classes include interactive discussions and evidence and research-based projects. There is also a literary component and a focus on critical media literacy. The classes are designed to encourage students to investigate, rather than accept what has been told to them. 

“Unbeknownst to many students they engage in high levels of critical thinking that encourage them to investigate and analyze the historical factors of power and privilege and social constructs and their subsequent impact on historically disadvantaged groups’ ability to navigate and mitigate internal and external structural and institutional factors that influence their human experience…  This is in alignment with what is said by other districts in the state that currently have Ethnic Diversity as a graduation requirement,” said history teacher, Dr. Cherilynne Hollowell.

Benefits to taking the class include the fact that there are multiple opportunities to major in ethnic studies at a university and many students have not learned much about their own history or the history of others around them. Ethnic studies classes will help students to have a better understanding and more respect for others.

The African American Studies and Chicano Studies classes are just as rigorous as the regular U.S. History and A.P. classes that Dr. Hollowell teaches. The majority of U.S. history classes only cover Africans and African Americans from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement while this class covers the history of Africa and Africans before coming to America in deeper depth. 

“By no means should anyone assume that this is a class about the poor plight of people of color in America nor is it designed to beat up another group of people. It is, however, designed to correct the narrative told about many groups of people,” said Dr. Hollowell.

The class like other ethnic studies classes is meant to help students analyze political, social and economic influences that contribute to their different connections to their personal histories. Many students do not know much about Chicano/Latinx history, therefore this semester they will get the opportunity to learn more about the rich cultures of the Maya, the Aztec, and Mexican Americans and many different Chicano voices in that history. 

I think taking this class will have many benefits for us students in the future such as if we are in a political or historical argument, we could provide facts from what we have learned. We could also simply correct people who have all the wrong information as well,” said sophomore Isabella Guzman. 

In the virtual setting, the work is posted on Google Classroom and periodically on other websites. Some activities that are done regularly are check-ins, when students can talk about current events and issues or just how they are doing in general. The classes are intended to challenge and encourage students to speak up and become civically engaged in different conversations where they can inform others  in a positive way. By making ethnic studies a graduation requirement the RUSD school district will help students to recognize, respect, and understand the many different histories and backgrounds of those around them.