Does inclusion lead to safety? Oakland is filled with all types of people but the classrooms don’t always embody that diversity. One can see that there are voices missing in Oakland schools whether it’s through the identities of protagonists being read about or the way they get talked about. When voices get ignored, the struggles of those who are oppressed, but still powerful, become disregarded. Although OUSD has become more inclusive over the years, the necessary improvements it continues to make will lead to youth feeling more safe and comfortable with their identities.
A large number of people identify as LGBTQ+ in America but not all of them feel safe. According to the 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report, a survey done by the Human Rights Campaign which was taken by 12,000 LGBTQ teenagers across the nation, “Only 26 percent say they always feel safe in their school classrooms — and just five percent say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people” (Hrc.org). So the question is, are schools doing anything to change this undeniable fact?
One place it’s necessary for LGBTQ+ youth to feel safe in is the Sex ED curriculum. Healthy Oakland Teens, the Sex ED curriculum for OUSD, provides information about anatomy, how to have a healthy relationship, and the spectrums of sexuality, gender, and anything in between. This means that students in OUSD schools talk about more than just one gender and sexuality. But is this enough representation to feel safe? In an interview with Ilsa Bertolini, the organizer for Healthy Oakland Teens, she emphasizes that queer youth deserve healthy relationships and healthy bodies equal to everyone else. However, they need to see themselves represented more or else they’re going to “block out” what they’re learning. So, she is trying to involve youth voices more when creating the Sex ED curriculum. She does this because she believes Sex ED has the power to decrease homophobia and transphobia because it is normalizing the idea that there is more than just straight and cis youth (Bertolini). Although Bertolini is queer herself, including the voices of queer youth is still necessary because no one understands the struggles of this demographic more than themselves. Also, the term LGBTQ+ is always evolving which means that the definition of LGBTQ inclusion is always changing as well. Because of this, hearing from multiple and different people is necessary in the process of debunking heteronormative norms in classrooms and therefore, creating a safer space.
Similar to the Sex ED curriculums, there are many new steps being taken to erase the homophobia and transphobia in schools but for some, that harm is immutable. Sometimes the violence comes in the form of teasing and bullying, other times it’s not taking the time to understand the different identities. An article written on June 26, 2018 titled, “With California in the lead, LGBTQ History Gets Boost in School Curriculum” by James Hilton Harrell, a previous OUSD teacher and director of instructions, explains this harm in more detail. James Hilton Harrell writes, “ Though there has been social progress in recent history, disparities in how often LGBTQ youth are victimized have not improved since the 1990s. In fact, there has been an uptick in hate crimes in our schools” (Harrell). Queer youth don’t deserve to receive antipathy towards their identities because soon, that hate can become internalized. With Sex ED, youth, queer or not, will learn to understand that the differences within communities aren’t something they should be ashamed of but instead, embraced.
Intersectionality In Our Class Lessons
According to Young Whan Choi, the head of the Ethnic Studies department for OUSD, Ethnic Studies is not just a class, rather an experience. It is where the goal is to actually understand different histories instead of just the dominant one. But is this experience actually being fulfilled?
In an interview with Young Whan Choi, he illustrates the importance of Ethnic Studies for youth who don’t always understand their identities. Young Whan Choi explained that when he was growing up in high school, “The dominant culture was sending messages that being white is the only way to be successful… so it was difficult to be comfortable in my own skin” (Choi). Because of this, he wants Ethnic Studies to be “a way to protect ourselves in a hostile world that attacks us” (Choi). Growing up, young people of color will have to constantly prove their worth not only to themselves, but to those around them too. A high school student at Life Academy and a resident in West Oakland named Mica Smith-Dahl, elaborates on this in an interview where she discussed the role power has on writing and learning. Mica emphasizes, “The people who are defining what knowledge is are telling people from all these backgrounds that you’re knowledge is not important … They belittle us and tell us our knowledge is stupid” (Smith-Dahl). Because of the similar struggles youth go through, Ethnic Studies is necessary because it teaches them that although they will go through difficult challenges because of their identity, the way it gets represented, isn’t what defines it. Ethnic Studies not only provides positive representation of multiple and different identities, it also allows youth to create new representations. Therefore, youth get a stronger sense of the power they have on the community and how they identify.
Why does inclusion lead to safety?
More inclusion in OUSD matters and leads to safety because it allows youth to explore the beauty of the diversity not only within their communities but within themselves as well. Because they feel safe to explore the complexity of their identities, they won’t have the need to hide who they are. Also, youth won’t feel alone because they’ll understand that although everyone in the community is different, they are all connected through the intersections of their differences.
Bertolini , Ilsa. “Interview with Ilsa Bertolini .” 12 Dec. 2018.
We discussed the Healthy Oakland Teens curriculum. I asked questions regarding how it’s created and what possible changes she wants to see. Ilsa Bertolini is the one who creates the curriculum.
Choi, Young Whan. “Interview with Young Whan Choi.” 13 Dec. 2018.
We discussed OUSD’s Ethnic Studies curriculum. Young Whan Choi is the head of the Ethnic Studies department for OUSD. This means he’s the one who created the curriculum.
Harrell, James Hilton. “With California in the Lead, LGBTQ History Gets Boost in School Curriculum.” EdSource, 26 June 2018, edsource.org/2018/with-california-in-the-lead-lgbtq-history-gets-boost-in-school-curriculum/599626.
The article talks about how LGBTQ youth are negatively impacted in schools. Multiple statistics are included. The author of this article used to be a teacher and director of instruction for OUSD.
Human Rights Campaign. “2018 LGBTQ Youth Report.” Human Rights Campaign, www.hrc.org/resources/2018-lgbtq-youth-report.
Results from a large survey taken by teens from all 50 states ages 13-17. The Human Rights Campaign is a large advocacy group. It is an organization that fights and protects for the LGBTQ= community.
Smith-Dahl, Mica. “Interview With Mica Smith-Dahl.” 12 Dec. 2018.
We discussed how oppression plays a large role in the type of writing we do in schools and the need to have more teachers of color. Mica Smith-Dahl is a high school student at Life Academy. She is also a resident in West Oakland.