Introduce: Diversify Our Narrative
Updated: Jan 21
“To Kill a Mockingbird. “Lord of the Flies.” “Catcher in the Rye.” “The Grapes of Wrath.” “Of Mice and Men.”
These novels are recognizable in most high school classes in America. Less noticeable are works such as “The Joy Luck Club,” “Beloved,” or “The House on Mango Street.”
Why the difference? The first set of books were written by white authors and have been the standards for years. The second set of books were written by BIPOC authors and they are examples of the change some students want to see in their education.
Diversity Our Narrative aims to make these changes happen.
Diversify Our Narrative (DON) is a student-led national organization that opposes the white-washed narrative of high school curricula and pushes for anti-racist viewpoints of history.
Founded last June by Stanford University students Jasmine Nguyen and Katelin Zhou, DON wants “a minimum of at least one book in every English/Literature and Composition class be by a person of color AND about a person/people of color’s experience(s), according to its web site.
The co-founders created their own recommended reading list that teachers are encouraged to choose from for their classes.
This campaign has spread across school districts nationwide, including the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) in Contra Costa County. Northgate High School seniors Kristina Co and Olivia Yoshii founded the local chapter. There are 43 members, including six from Clayton Valley Charter High School. The chapter’s goal is to integrate a more diverse authorship within the district’s curriculum.
The MDUSD chapter of DON has been working since July to get a meeting with the district board in hopes it will approve the proposed curriculum. They are working closely with the board president, Cherise Khaund and the superintendent, Adam Clark, according to Co.
“Our history classes are oftentimes eurocentric,” said Co, adding that students across MDUSD have realized this and are now “standing up for more diverse curriculums.”
“When surveying MDUSD educators, many of them discussed how these texts have the power to humanize their protagonists and that certain minority’s experience,” Co said. “These stories allow readers to sympathize with a group they could be unfamiliar with and build awareness about oppression. Literature is powerful and opens up worlds that we don’t get to experience in our own lives, so why use that power to only explore the perspective of those who are in power?”
“Mount Diablo Unified School District, like many school districts, does not implement diverse literary works throughout its schools,” she said. “This sadly leaves teachers without the resources to spread anti-discriminatory texts and oftentimes, students only get to read such books due to a specific teacher actively raising their own money to purchase novels.”
Co is “asking that MDUSD supply these books to schools and provide the list of teacher resources made by our branch to their school faculties to make it easy to teach these materials.”
Yoshii said, “I understand that processes like this take time, however, I am confident that this program will create an inclusive, contemporary curriculum that adequately represents the student body. Student activism is so important and I am ecstatic to see how involved students have become in these matters.”
In support of their efforts DON has created a petition for students to sign who agree with the mission of Diversify Our Narrative.