Education influencers: How 2 SoCal teens’ push for ethnic studies blew up on social media

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Students who want to urge their school districts to add ethnic studies can get tips and resources from the nonprofit Diversify Our Narrative. Photo by Shutterstock.

When the Black Lives Matter movement swept through the nation last year, then-high school seniors Jasmine Nguyen and Katelin Zhou felt helpless. To brainstorm how they can be allies for racial justice, they hopped on a FaceTime call — without knowing their little grassroots effort would gain massive traction and blow up on social media.

After sharing their experience of not learning enough about racism and ethnic oppressions in their classrooms, the two friends decided to push for multicultural education at schools in California and launched a nonprofit organization called “Diversify Our Narrative.”  

Zhou claims history classes in her Ventura County high school “glossed over” the not-so-proud moments in U.S. history and provided “a white perspective” when it comes to racism and oppression. “When reading my history book about immigrants, including Chinese immigrants, it was almost told in the way of the other,” says Zhou, who now attends Stanford.

“It wasn't until I got to college, started reading into my own research and taking more high level classes, that I realized there are tons of stories about Asian excellence and powerful activist figures. There are people of Asian descent who have done monumental work with activism and lobbying and who really have a place in United States history.”

Nguyen, who grew up in Orange County, also felt her high school curriculums failed to tell the stories of immigrants and minorities in California. “The Vietnam War was my history. That's how my parents came here,” shares Nguyen, who is now a freshman at Stanford. 

The pair then started circulating a petition at their former high schools, demanding that every K-12 student be required to read at least one book about a person of color, written by a minority author. That petition was shared with their friends in different parts of the country before eventually gaining nationwide traction both in schools and online. 

Now Diversify Our Narrative provides resources, such as petition templates and organizing tips, to students who want to urge their school districts to add ethnic studies. The nonprofit's website offers learning materials on race and ethnicity, including lesson plans for critical race theory.

Although the two founders are not certified educators, they say the nonprofit also offers model curriculums on multiethnic studies that were reviewed and approved by their professors at Stanford. 

Nguyen believes her native Orange County, where the debate over whether to include ethnic studies in the K-12 curriculums has become a hot button issue, could benefit from incorporating multicultural studies. She explains she felt during her childhood that some members of her community lacked racial sensitivity.

“I normalized that I'm not learning ethnic studies, not learning about race, and not talking about race. That was kind of the culture. … I definitely think there were a lot of microaggressions present not only at my high school, but a lot of high schools in Orange County.”



Matt Guilhem


Tara Atrian