Our History Matters
PSU'S CAMPAIGN FOR ETHNIC STUDIES
How it started
Of our textbook’s 1,192 pages, fewer than 100 pages are dedicated to people of color. That’s less than 10% of our history curriculum, in a district where 91% of the students are people of color. —Providence student Afaf Akid
This quote sums up the gravity of the problem that students of color in Providence have been facing: despite being overwhelmingly students of color, Providence high schoolers found that the history they were learning failed to account for their experiences and backgrounds. Inspired by the similar fights in Arizona, California, Oregon, and Texas, students decided to bring the fight for Ethnic Studies classes in high schools to Rhode Island.
Students worked with the school department to create a curriculum that was reflective of the community. Through a series of student-facilitated meetings with different constituent groups, PSU addressed the lack of representation and covert racism in our school's history curriculum. Together, students, community members, teachers and school department officials continue to work collaboratively to bring about a new vision for education in Providence. Through pushing this conversation forward PSU hopes to bring the community into the classroom, and to give every student the visibility they deserve.
Actions so far
PSU members kicked off 2016 with the first big action around this campaign. On January 20th, over 75 students and other supporters students rallied outside the Providence School Department around the slogan #OurHistoryMatters. Students made their desires of creating a curriculum relevant and compelling to non-white populations known. They urged district administrators to create a full-credit course where students could analyze history from multiple angles and learn about their histories. A petition aimed at the Providence School Board, titled "Ethnic Studies for Providence NOW!" gathered over 750 signatures.
Over the course of the next six months, PSU members and district representatives collaborated in committees to develop a proposal for a full-year, credit bearing ethnic studies course open to all Providence high school students. Committee members designed four units, covering Un-learning Your History, Communities Histories, Oppression & Power and Community Organizing/Social Justice.
PSU's advocacy and partnership with the Providence Public School Department led to the piloting of Ethnic Studies in 5 high schools during the 2016-2017 school year. The courses focused on engaging students in personally relevant discussions, activities, and hands-on projects. In the Fall of 2016, students formed the Ethnic Studies Task Force. Consisting of 8 students, the Task Force began regular bi-monthly meetings with teachers to inform their teaching process and review the curriculum. These student leaders, along with community members, continue to work on Ethnic Studies courses today.
In the Media
The #OurHistoryMatters campaign has been covered by local news, like the Providence Journal, Motif RI, WPRI, and RI Future. Providence Student Union was also mentioned in an article in The Atlantic in a piece covering the fight for ethnic studies nationwide.
See featured photo and video coverage of the first #OurHistoryMatters rally below: