The nation was infuriated by the horrifying truths of the recent assaults against the Black community. One central occurrence was the brutal attack on George Floyd. A case that aggravated the appalling issue which sparked protests around the globe to demand fair treatment for all African-Americans, because “All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.”
Inspired to action by these events, seven passionate students from Poway Unified School District (PUSD): MC juniors, Tamara Alsaied, Jessica Malvin, Inbar Schwartz, Sonia Somasundaram, and Katie Schwenker, plus Rancho Bernardo High School seniors, Claire Chung, and Aditya Mavalankar were tired of the injustices made and demand change within schools. They joined forces to form the executive team for a student-led organization in PUSD, Diversify Our Narrative (DON).
DON PUSD’s purpose is to promote diversity by advocating racial identity within schools and to encourage students to be open-minded in classrooms.
Alsaied, the co-president of DON PUSD, wanted to bring change to the district after scrolling through an Instagram page for DON, a nationwide, student-run organization led to groom the next generation of students through a diverse curriculum and to be actively anti-racist and anti-prejudiced in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality. She soon realized that the education system was highly Eurocentric and decided to apply for a branch at PUSD.
“It was at the peak of everything going on and to see the new generation and the students take charge of their education, their experience was inspiring to me and I knew that I wanted to bring that to our school district,” Alsaied said.
Alongside Alsaied was co-president Malvin who participated because she wanted to see more of her culture and women being represented in the curriculum.
“I just would love to see more diversity with that and of course, being able to see students represented is my thing,” Malvin said.
A part of their organization focuses on ensuring that publications written by Black and Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC) are woven in the humanities curriculum. While one could argue that there are books written by white authors about racism and discrimination, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Chung, the Director of Logistics, thinks otherwise. She believes the novel does not bring justice to racial diversity and states that there are better stories out there to portray representation.
“We’re focusing on having main characters that are BIPOC and LGBT, so we can have that genuine representation and experiences of these people,” Chung said.
She also states that the book does not solve racism, thus recommending The Hate you Give, a novel written by Angie Thomas because it portrays a better light on racial inequality.
“That is a person, the main character, a person of color, someone can read it and not only say ‘hey that’s me,’ but ‘hey I understand this person and I resonate with them,” Chung said.
Alsaied hopes that in the future, reading BIPOC literature with BIPOC main characters is nothing foreign to students.
“It’s not like a special literature group thing that we’re like, ‘Oh wow I relate to that person’, it’s more just like ‘Cool here’s another great book that we read and it’s nothing new’,” Alsaied said.
The Director of Academics, Somasundaram, states that the organization also stresses the importance of pushing for less Eurocentric classes such as A.P. World History, A.P. Human Geography, and ethnic studies courses to debunk the inaccuracies and outdated facts in PUSD textbooks. She believes that it is crucial for future generations “to be aware of the mistakes that people made in the past and the present and how we can strive to fix them,” And suggests that schools should utilize the time in class “to educate kids on what’s really happening.”
“In the textbook [AP US History], for example, it tries to justify the genocide of Native Americans and calls them Indians instead of Native Americans,” Somasundaram said. “And teachers aren’t addressing these problems and so people read it, they think it’s true and we start thinking of racism and mass genocide was in the past,” Somasundaram said.
Since mid-June, the team has been working diligently to produce quality results for students in these past few months. The Director of Outreach, Schwartz, reveals that DON PUSD has produced some much-needed change by expressing their views and conversing with the staff of different schools in the district.
“We’ve been meeting a lot with the different principals and administrators of different high schools so we’re trying to get that kind of backing with the heads of English and history departments, potentially setting up meetings with teachers throughout the school to talk about our mission throughout schools,” Schwartz said.
In the organization, Executive Secretary Schwenker states that the members have created subcommittees to divide the workload with the volunteers. To get the perspective of a larger student body by “conducting interviews with people from all different grades in all different classes and talking and asking them what they have been reading and what they want to see change.”
Besides having diverse classes and literature, they have been allying with other similar clubs like Black Student Union (BSU) and South Asian Cultural Club to spread the word within the district and providing a “safe space for every minority” by involving different cultures in school activities.
According to Schwartz, Westview High School replaced the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, to Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou this school year. She strongly believes that their vision is “very possible for what we’re asking for” if they persevere towards their goals.
Overall, Malvin hopes that even though students might not want to volunteer and participate in this revolutionary cause, one should take the initiative by “planting the seeds of discussion and ideas” to talk about racism.
“As students, we want this change. It’s not just the small little people over this group of people over there. Its grassroots is what’s gonna make it happen.” Malvin said.
Even though DON PUSD is starting small, they hope to make a ripple effect towards future generations of racial representation in literature and history.