Diversify Our Narrative

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Writing their legacy: Diversify Our Narrative petitions to change humanities curriculum in IUSD to be more inclusive.

Abby Fang, News Editor

Northwood senior Riya Agnihotri and others collected 600 signatures through a social media campaign over the summer, petitioning the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) Board of Education to increase anti-racism and representation of race in school curriculum as part of the national Diversity Our Narrative initiative.

“I’m very passionate about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement,” Agnihotri said. “I’m confident in our ability to fight for change.”

Although IUSD released a resolution supporting Black Lives Matter and racial justice on June 23, Agnihotri and the IUSD branch believed it did not clearly outline the concrete steps IUSD would take for inclusivity. They are asking for a revised pledge that specifically clarifies where and how this will be done.

Educators at Northwood recognize the need for diverse voices, as shown through the use of novels such as “Things Fall Apart” in current Humanities Core curriculum on imperialism. Northwood Principal Leslie Roach emphasizes that students analyze primary source documents as opposed to textbook readings to learn in Northwood history classes.

“This is so students can see for themselves the realities and learn to critically think,” Roach said.

Diversify Our Narrative began with Stanford University students Jasmine Nguyen and Katelin Zhou in June 2020. Since then, it has grown to involve over 1,000 organizers nationwide. Among the numerous issues the national organization has identified with the current U.S. curriculum are the glorification of Christopher Columbus, cultural appropriation in elementary school and white saviorism in high school history and literature courses. 

“For example, we want to read more books by BIPOC authors,” Agnihotri said. “In the books that I’ve personally read in my three years at Northwood, other than two, they were all written by white authors.” 

The organization recommends a new reading list for students, including “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “Catfish and Mandala” by Andrew X. Pham and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. Northwood teachers are similarly assessing new teaching strategies and content.

“We have begun to look at implementing pedagogy similar to that which you would see in ethnic studies classes,” Northwood history department chair Steve Plette said. “Ultimately, the California state requirements for World and U.S. History box us into a limited set of options.”

Teacher-led groups in IUSD, such as the Educators for Social Justice Committee, also aim to create solution-oriented antiracist lessons. Agnihotri is reaching out to them as part of the next steps for the IUSD branch of the initiative. Separately, the IUSD School Board established a school goal to apply the Social Justice Standards from the Southern Law Poverty Center in curriculum and a goal for teachers to challenge inequity in classrooms as of Aug. 18.

Despite both teacher and student agreement on the need for diversity, some criticize the petition for being too generalized and not applicable to IUSD.

“I feel like it is unnecessary to be so ardent about the issue in Irvine,” Woodbridge High junior Uchan Hwang said. “The history classes I’ve been a part of focused more on the prosperity of Chinese dynasties, Islamic Gunpowder Empires, and Grand Ancient American civilizations. In English classes, I learned so much about diversity and perspective through books like ‘Farewell to Manzanar,’ ‘Persepolis’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”

As the number of signatures on the petition increases, Agnihotri is also considering creating clubs at IUSD schools to further spread awareness. Ultimately, both educators and students have similar goals in increasing diversity.

“We encourage students to talk to their teachers about the texts they would like to see in the classroom or about populations they believe are under-represented,” Northwood English department chair Jennifer Guy said.