BY GOWRI ABHINANDA
Web Features Editor
After the summer of 2020, student organizers at the Bay pushed for an African American Studies class; the first ethnic studies class at the Bay. Ethnic studies courses focus on the culture and history of minority groups and aim to create more in-depth dialogue surrounding different groups. Junior Raiya Shaw said she feels that the addition of more ethnic studies at the Bay is vital in the fight for inclusivity.
“I think there is a necessity for more ethnic studies at Cypress or any high school because American history was shaped by many cultures that are all worthy of being known,” Shaw said. “Adding African American studies to our curriculum is a huge step forward because whether our textbooks want to admit it or not, African Americans played a huge role in shaping our society.”
African American Studies Honors teacher Ches Kanno said he agrees that ethnic studies are vital for understanding. He said he has taken the time to educate himself about other cultural experiences, which has helped him realize the positive impact ethnic studies courses have on individuals.
“The other day I was listening to webinars about Asian American women and it was very powerful to be exposed to those experiences; I’m not a woman but hearing what they go through makes me a better human being, listening to what Brown people go through makes me a better human being and even listening to what white people go through makes me a better human being,” Kanno said. “If we extend this learning into the classroom, we’d be able to broaden so many minds.”
While Shaw and Kanno are enthusiastic about the possibilities of more ethnic courses, senior Jacob Mark said while he understands the anticipation, he feels there is no necessity for more ethnic studies courses to be offered at the Bay as he feels it will not serve those who enroll after graduation.
“Ethnicity is an important topic, but having a class for it seems unnecessary because the information being taught here will most likely have no practical use for these students in the future, and this information will likely be biased in the favor of the American perspective,” Mark said. “Students should be learning information they can apply to their future lives, and I just don’t see why another history class like an ethnic studies class will do anything to benefit the students at the Bay.”
Kanno said he feels the new African American Studies course is the first step for an ethnic studies program in the future. He said the next course addition should be a multicultural studies class to learn about cultures that are specific to the class demographic.
“A multicultural studies class would tailor the study of the class to the composition of the class to learn about each other in that class,” Kanno said. “If we have South Asian students and Venezualan students then the class could shift to cover Asian culture and Latin cultures.”
Mark said that he also believes there are problematic areas that may surround certain ethnic studies courses as they may be triggering to some students. He said that certain components of history like slavery is a sensitive topic.
“One issue I find with ethnic studies classes is that some students may find them offensive or disturbing,” Mark said. “With the African American studies class, slavery will likely come up, and the violence surrounding the history of slavery can be very offensive to light-hearted people.”
Kanno is aware that some of the topics covered in ethnic studies like African American studies are uncomfortable, which is why his course eases into these topics and encourages future ethnic classes to do the same. He said these topics should not be glossed over.
“I started the class on pre-colonial Africa instead of the Atlantic-Slave Trade, and shifted to slavery before shifting to present-day effects on Black people and then Afro-futurism, which focuses on their power,” Kanno said. “I designed the course to make it a safe-space for my students by treating all the issues sensitivity, but I’m not skipping over anything, because covering these topics are needed to acknowledge we have to do better.”
Shaw said she hopes to see Asian American or Caribbean studies class being implemented as she’s Indo-Caribbean. She said ethnic studies should be open not only to those of the ethnicity, but also for allies as it would be an informative experience to learn about different cultures and grow to be more cognizant of issues that affect these groups.
“I’m Indo-Caribbean and would love to see my culture being studied and represented,” Shaw said. “Allies should be more than welcome to take up one or more ethnic studies classes to gain a larger understanding of those cultures and ethnicities.”
Kanno said society has a long way to go in implementing ethnic studies courses but that school districts or the state legislature could act by standardizing ethnic studies as a graduation requirement or by increasing the value of credits that is attributed to ethnic studies. He said it is necessary that the educational system be reformed to be empathetic to these different groups.
“It is structural racism to say that one class is valued over another, but I think right now we’re at the early stages and we can change that,” Kanno said. “Maybe if we take it to the state level and try to mandate that you have to take an ethnic studies course to graduate; we have the potential to make it happen, so who knows what might happen in 10 years.”