A controversial ban on ethnic studies went into effect on the first of the year in Arizona, in response to a Mexican-American history program in the Tucson school system. The ban targeted classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government and resentment toward a race or class of people.” It also prohibits courses designed “primarily for students of a particular ethnic group and those that advocate ethnic solidarity rather than treat students as individuals.”
At the time, the Tucson superintendant said that the district would retain the program despite risking the loss of state funding, but the school board president then introduced a resolution that would reduce the program to an elective rather than a core requirement.
Nine Tucson students stormed a school board meeting earlier this week where the vote to decide the program’s fate would take place. They chained themselves to school board members’ chairs as protesters filled the room, chanting, “Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!”
“Nobody was listening to us, especially the board,” said student activist Lisette Cota. “We were fed up. It may have been drastic but the only way was to chain ourselves to the boards’ chairs.” The students were successful, in the short term; a community forum will now be held before the vote occurs. Some arrests were made at the school board meeting, but officials will not reveal whether those taken into custody were students, parents or community members.
The ethnic studies program has clear educational benefits: 70 to 75 percent of the students who go through the program go on to college, compared with 20 to 25 percent of a similar group. “It’s done some very important things, we believe, for an underserved population,” said the superintendant. “The students that go through the program seem to do very well.”
Elisa Meza, a student organizer, explained that the program is “completely locally relevant. And to have that relevance in a city of Arizona that has so much history with border conflict and private prisons and migra going everywhere and invading our streets and raiding our homes,” she continued, “that it is no joke that this is just disempowerment of knowledge that we need to face what is happening politically in every other aspect of migrants rights, undocumented rights, and everything. So it’s just a piece of this racism.”
It’s inspiring to see these students standing up for their rights against a piece of legislation that is so clearly necessary for their education. We’ll keep you posted as events in Tucson unfold.
Photo from Flickr.