The Ethnic Studies Now Coalition held their third annual block party at La Casa de la Raza on May 26. The event kicked-off with workshops on ethnic studies in academic settings, followed by food, art, and bands. The coalition is working to make ethnic studies coursework a requirement for high school graduation in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Currently, the district offers electives in Chicano studies, Mexican-American literature, and a class on societal power structures called Social Dialogues.
However, not all students are aware that these courses are offered, said Faby Gonzalez, the coalition’s founder in Santa Barbara, adding that offering such coursework as electives “doesn’t guarantee money will be allocated . . . or that teachers are going to be properly trained.” Gonzalez launched the Santa Barbara chapter in 2015 after attending Cal State Northridge, where she majored in Chicano/a Studies. “Every student deserves that opportunity to be exposed,” said Gonzalez, who was unaware the courses were being offered when she attended Santa Barbara High.
Gonzalez sits on the High School Graduation Requirements Committee and is working with the district to develop an Ethnic Studies program. When the proposal is ready, Gonzalez and the coalition will present the proposal to the district’s Board of Education as a voting item.
The coalition cites multiple studies showing the positive impacts that ethnic studies courses can on all students, including improvements in GPA, school attendance, civic engagement, and student body cohesiveness. “There is a need [for students] to see themselves in what they’re doing,” Gonzalez said, adding that students are not calling it ethnic studies by name, but are talking about courses that are more inclusive and reading literature that includes characters like them. “We don’t represent the community, we are the community,” she said.