Students fight against racial inequity

The death of George Floyd on May 25 sparked national outrage against police brutality while Black Lives Matter protests became prevalent across the country. This response also sparked conversations of racial inequity of BIPOC in everyday life. Ventura County is no exception to this, and with Generation Z becoming increasingly more involved in these kinds of discussions, many local student organizations addressing racism at a community level have been established.  

 

Diversify Our Narrative 

Diversify Our Narrative (DON) is a student led campaign started in June by two Stanford University students. The initiative branched out into several smaller community organizations, including a chapter in CVUSD.

DON aims to include more anti-racist texts into the curriculum, aiding the fight for racial inclusivity in our schools. 

Catherine Xu, junior at Westlake High School, currently serves as DON’s Director of Communication for California and is the district lead for CVUSD. 

“The reason why we push for anti-racist texts isn’t because the texts we have right now like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are bad books, we hope to add more books that are diverse so that the students are able to connect with stories in the books and the experiences,” Xu said. 

After tackling English classes, Xu wants to help bring to light diversity issues in history classes as, “there are a lot of subjects in history like war on drugs and the missions in fourth grade that are very glorified or not talked about.”

Montana Woods, senior at Newbury Park High School, works under Xu in the student life committee, where she helps to promote diversity and inclusivity.

“I think that our goal is to just push this message of anti-racism and help people feel more safe and included at our schools and get the message out to our admin that this isn’t just one-offs or things that are not happening in our areas but it needs to be looked at and they need to have a more involved role in stopping racism at our schools.” 

Both Woods and Xu agree that joining DON would be a good way to help support people of color who face adversity in our schools.

“I mean we have kind of a bubble here in Newbury Park, and I think that just taking a look around you and what you are privileged to and how that affects your lens of what’s going on in the world [is important],” Woods said.

Social media helps fight this complex of living in a bubble by helping to spread DON’s message and story. 

“The main thing that they do on our social media is that they post people’s stories about racism they experience in our area. I think that it helps to push this message of ‘Ok, well here’s what’s going on and here’s ways you can help,’” Woods said.

Through school, DON hopes to get their message across: racism stops now. 

 

Justice in the Classroom

Similar to Diversify our Narrative, Justice in the Classroom is a student-led organization that aims to diversify the curriculum in Ventura County schools. 

Annika Kanugo, junior at Newbury Park High School, is the head of the research committee at this organization. She and her team work together to gather data on how they achieve the six main goals of Justice in the Classroom. These goals are curriculum change, the release of public records, diversity and inclusion, adding more educators of color, equity training and disciplinary practices.

“So far, we have been able to contact teachers and put together a teacher advisory board to help us with curriculum changes. We also worked on researching current policies which helped us amend them to fit our proposals, and our new board resolution recently got passed for CVUSD. We’re currently working on a journal submission for the CSUCI Anti-Racism journal and creating surveys to send out to students.” Kanugo said of their recent achievements.

CVUSD is not alone in this fight, Kanugo acknowledged that, “so far, Justice In The Classroom has established chapters across 6 chapters, ran 3 campaigns, including raising around $1000 to donate to United Farm Workers, and much more. We have made progress in all 6 of our proposals.” 

Neha Davaluri, senior at Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley who works as co-Operations lead, also notes accomplishments that the organization has made outside of the educational sector. “We have created partnerships with Friday Night Live and The Therapist not Cops campaign in the city of Ventura,” Davaluri said. “We recently spoke on a panel in front of the Ventura County Office of Education, talking on their diversity and inclusion forum. And subsequent to that panel, we were able to establish a ethnic studies subcommittee.”

Benecia Jude, a senior from Oak Park High School, spoke on how the organization has also tried to aid those of whom the pandemic is negatively affecting. “We are working on a campaign called ‘Remote Relief’ because especially in the pandemic a lot of equities are being disposed for those who don’t have access to technology and different resources so we’re really trying to make those resources more accessible for people in need,” Jude said.

Davaluri maintains that Justice in the Classroom has had a beneficial effect on the community. “Altogether, we have been able to just start the conversation about how much there is lacking of diversity and inclusion in the school system and just in the curriculum in general… just making the community aware of the problems in our school system and what needs to be next.” 

 

Student District Advisory Committee

The Student District Advisory Committee (SDAC) serves as a representative voice of the student opinion to the board of education and other district staff. After that, the Educational Equity subcommittee was created. Addie Craig, senior at Westlake High School, is a chairperson for SDAC. Craig mentioned that the committee was created over the summer and is a priority for SDAC this year. “Our goal is to establish a welcoming learning environment across the district, free from any form of discrimination by reforming our curriculum, altering district policies, and by creating a platform for students to share their experiences in a safe environment.”

Xu, who is also the vice chair of SDAC, explains the direction SDAC is taking in the fight for education equity. “So far, we are working on surveys and collecting data and information from student experiences so we can then work toward our goals better and meet the student needs,” Xu said. “Something that we want to focus on is creating different channels for reporting racially inflicted incidents so everyone is held accountable and also trying our best to address and finding solutions to address inequities with technology in the district.”

Craig believes that although the national concerns regarding racial, gender, and LGBTQ+ equality movements have had a strong influence on the creation of the Educational Equity committee, there is also a deeper local necessity SDAC is addressing. “The need to address discrimination within CVUSD has been a pressing issue for several years,” Craig said. “For too long our students have experienced racist, sexist, and other prejudiced comments not only from other students, but teachers, and it is our duty as students to demand change within our education system.”

 

Protestors

Outside of organizations, students in the community are trying to help in any way they can. Some are attending protests to support members of the Black community. Roshnee Moorthy, senior, attended four Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and donated art to Dark Matter Collective for an art auction. “I felt extremely passionate about the subject of the protests. I felt that when there’s one group of our community suffering, it’s our obligation to come together to support them and amplify their voices,” Moorthy said. 

Moorthy has expressed her distaste towards how Black Americans have been treated and wants to put her best foot forward to help and correct it. “It’s not a matter of why for me personally. I felt that as another human being, when there’s a systemic problem we must come together as a community to support those who are being affected by the systemic problem. In this particular instance, it was the Black community who has been subject to just years of systemic oppression and I definitely felt that this was something that I had to do, to support the Black community and be able to be there for members of our community.” said Moorthy. 

Emma Sasala, sophomore, has also been showing her support for the fight against racial injustices. “During the times of the protests, I have been driving by in support and doing my best to educate myself on what’s currently going in the world. I feel it’s important for me to join in the protests because I don’t think the discrimination BIPOC face day to day is acceptable and it’s important for their voices to be heard,” Sasala said.

Sia Joshi, junior, attended four protests over the summer and has joined Justice in the Classroom. “I will also start an organization to spread awareness about and combat injustice. For the organization, I would want it to be through a school club.”

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