‘Hear us out’: School offers courses to highlight important minority voices


Social studies. A subject that teaches about history and culture. A subject that allows one to understand the world from multiple perspectives. A subject that shares stories you may never have heard before. A subject that lets one truly appreciate all cultures of the world. At least, this is what social studies strives to be.

However, prior to high school, some students have felt voices were not heard equally.

Our high school gives students the opportunity to choose various social studies courses, which allows students to hear many different perspectives.

Neha Kulkarni (9) felt that throughout elementary and middle school, her social studies classes had a tendency to be heavily focused on the European standpoint and only briefly addresses the history and hardships of minority groups.

VHHS has been working to combat this and include minority voices throughout their social studies curriculum.

Charles Mann, social studies department supervisor, said “We have tried to include a multitude of perspectives of different students and people throughout history, whether it’s United States history or world history. Not just ethnically, but also through religion and gender roles.”

According to Mann, the school has made efforts to encourage diversity by hiring equity coordinators, Amy Christian and Tara Young, by doing full day workshops to implement the Diversity and Inclusion Policy, and by offering courses that highlight minority groups.

A new course that will highlight important voices in United States history is African American Studies.

Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, VHHS will be offering the 1 semester course to take a deep dive into African American history for those who are interested.

Kulkarni will be taking this course to learn more about African American history and to learn more about the culture, joys, successes, and struggles of African Americans throughout the history of the United States.

Kulkarni’s own experiences being Indian have made her more interested in learning about other minorities, since she feels that her culture isn’t represented properly in the social studies courses she has taken in previous years.

“I’ve been brought up in a way that makes me think about my country and my history in my own way. Seeing it written out in a textbook in a bland description makes me annoyed because there is so much more history to go into,” she said.

These experiences have made her want to know more about other minority cultures, as well.

“That’s why I think being diverse and focusing on the diverse aspects instead of how [events in minority history] affected European growth is important, like taking [their history] for what it is,” Kulkarni said.

In an email, Shawn Woodie, who will be teaching African American studies next year, explained that the course will give an in-depth understanding of African American history and will challenge negative stereotypes and biases.

In this course, students will also learn about how African Americans have resisted oppression through activism, democracy and protest from the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade to present day.

Woodie said that the class will be discussion and project-based, and will offer opportunities for community service to learn about problems in society today.

Mann said a student brought up the idea of offering the course at VHHS.

“A student talked to a few people in administration and said, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve seen a few schools around that have an African American Studies course, is there any chance we get that?’ That really started the process [of creating the course], which was really cool since it was student driven,” he said.

According to Mann, courses such as African American Studies potentially have more time to dive deep into diverse perspectives, as compared to some of the AP courses, which have a lot of content to cover in a short amount of time.

However, he said that diversity is included and is important in both AP and college prep courses.

“I think both courses and course teams certainly look at diverse perspectives and diverse experiences, making sure that they are highlighted throughout the entirety of the courses,” he said.

While African American studies will be a new course, another course which has been highlighting important voices is American Studies.

American Studies is a unique course that combines language arts with history.

The course is taught together by two teachers, Siobhan Szabo, who offers American Literature expertise, and by Amanda Carroll, who offers history expertise.

Szabo said she and Carroll were very mindful of including minority voices when designing the course. They shared that since they designed the course, they had more flexibility to include a multitude of perspectives in the class.

“We felt in the past, students have learned a sanitized, white version of history, so we wanted to make sure when designing the course and teaching it, we were representing all of the American voices,” said Szabo.

Carroll said that the student population of the course itself has become more diverse due to the increasing diversity in the school, but also due to the incorporation of diverse perspectives.

“The students start to hear, ‘We’re going to study this part of history, and that’s my voice, and I want to learn about it.’ They tell their friends about it, and that brings in diversity,” said Carroll.

Linore Greenberg (12) took the course last year and said she truly enjoyed going to the class and loved how the course entailed group work, which she found more fun and helped her learn better.

“They did different projects, they taught it in many different ways, it wasn’t just reading from a book and talking about it. We also had a lot of freedom in picking our groups and topics,” said Greenberg.

She said that the class did a great job of including diverse voices.

“We learned a lot about different groups living in America. We did a whole unit on the struggles of different minority groups, which is interesting to learn about,” she said.

Szabo shared specifics on how the course highlights different minority groups.

“In our Justice and Oppression unit, we do a deep dive into indegenious Americans, African Americans, and the Latinx community. We look at women, gender, and feminism. In our Conflict and Comprimise unit, we look at the Japanese internment during World War II, anti-muslim sentiment and Islamaphobia after 9-11,” said Szabo.

Szabo shared that while learning about Brown v. Board of Education, the course highlighted a Latina student who had been the first to challenge segregation.

“We are looking for ways to add new voices to American stories that we think we know,” said Szabo.

Carroll agreed with Szabo.

“Our focus is on the hidden voices in history — the idea of, you usually hear the same stories and learn about the same people, but who are we missing in our study of America, And that’s who we really try to focus on,” she said.