Ethnic Studies, Tribal history and culture curriculum, from Alcatraz to Seattle

My term as SCPTSA President is up in a few days, and for my last communication here, I wanted to share a piece presented to me by Shilalat Shega, a freshman at Roosevelt High School. You will read, as I did, her reference to the Third World Liberation Strike in 1969 which led to the establishment of the only College of Ethnic Studies in the United States at San Francisco State. Among the participants in the 1968 BSU/TWLF Strike and College of Ethnic Studies was Woesha Cloud North—my grandmother—who taught Native Art and Studies at SF State.

My grandmother lived on Alcatraz Island for six months during Natives’ occupation starting in 1969 and ending in 1971—a pivotal historical moment that contributed to the Red Power Movement and well-informed the founding of the American Indian Studies Department at SF State.

So now, fifty years later, Shilalat Shega hands me her letter to US Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, requesting mandatory Ethnic Studies. In it, Shega honors the strike that led to creation of Ethnic Studies at SF State and states, “having ethnic studies would give student of color inspiration and a sense of hope in their background and tells students of color and marginalized students that their lived experiences are complex and worthy of study.’”

As my grandmother writes in her essay “Living on Alcatraz,” regarding All Tribes Elementary School, which she helped found for the children of the occupation,

We wanted to help the children realize their ethnic identity as American Indians… Alcatraz is now halfway through its second year of occupation. The elementary school still goes on. Its mere existence has won recognition in many quarters that ethnic studies with a base in authenticity are important for school curricula on all levels.

Shilalat had no idea my personal connection to the story. She only wanted her voice to be heard. I was honored to receive her words and hope you will:

  • Read Shilalat’s words

  • Act on her plea by showing your support for ethnic studies in Seattle Public Schools.

Let’s do this for Shilalat and every other student that does not see themselves or their story in our curriculum.

Since Time Immemorial Curriculum will finally be formally adopted at the June 26 Seattle School Board meeting. Let’s get there with Ethnic Studies, with Black and Latino studies, with Asian studies. Let’s show Betsy how it’s done. Our children shouldn't have to wait another fifty years.

Chandra Hampson, SCPTSA President 2018-2019

Dear Betsy Devos,

Throughout your lifetime have you ever heard about how minorities/people of color ever fought back and tried to resist against the power of the colonizer? Yeah, we’ve learned about France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and England but have you ever dived deeper into learning about the ethnic backgrounds of people other than the Europeans? I understand the connection that the United States has to these nations is very authoritative, but it wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge the existence of other major countries. Having Ethnic Studies would help us learn more about the history of different ethnic backgrounds from a different perspective and gain inspiration to fight against the differences that lead us to discriminate against each other. Ethnic Studies should be a mandatory class to graduate from high schools so that students all have the chance to learn history from a non-whitewashed perspective.

Many students of color in the U.S are not getting the education they really need to be taught. From a young age, history has been taught to students in a way that portrays minorities as inferiors compared to Europeans. Students have been taught the only parts of history where their ethnic background has failed to thrive which also fails to inspire students of these backgrounds to have pride in the place they come from. Although students should learn about the struggles that their country has faced to be where it's at today, they should also be taught the many achievements that their country has had throughout their battles. 50 years ago, In San Francisco, the push for Ethnic Studies in higher education began when a coalition of student groups, known as the Third World Liberation Front, held a strike on the San Francisco State University's campus in 1968. The students protested against racial discrimination in higher education and demanded that San Francisco State University create a college of Ethnic studies.

Many colleges and University students are demanding to have Ethnic studies as a major, so why not have it. To the statement in the Wellesley News, “members of the Ethnic Studies Coalition expressed that students of all racial background could benefit from the major.” It's important for students with different backgrounds to know how their ancestors lived and fought for this state. For many years this argument has mainly stayed on college campuses, where conservative critics argued that such classes were a waste of time and money.

Having Ethnic Studies as a major would help students of color get all the knowledge and facts about their ancestors. A Mexican-American studies program director Sean Acre told the Associated Press that students, “need to know that their ancestors, many of their parents, great-grandparents, have contributed to this great nation.” If students got to have the opportunity to learn about their ancestors, they would be proud and try to research more about their background. When students learn about their ancestors, more student may see the world different and help make the world a better place for all of us to live in. According to a professor at a California University, “with projections of drastic changes in the Ethnic Composition of the population in the United States, the new millennium becomes a frightening question mark for conservatives who worry about changes to the American way of life. But proponents of ethnic studies argue that to remove these programs would impact the quality of life for future Americans living and working in a multicultural society.” The quote claims if we have Ethnic studies as a major in schools then many students will make a change to the way we live now. It could come with both good and bad consequences, but students deserve to know the real truth about their history and how their ancestors have contributed to the making of America. The coalition of San Francisco stated, “Having Ethnic Studies as a major tells students of color and marginalized students that their lived experiences are complex and worthy of study.” Having ethnic studies would give students of color inspiration and a sense of hope in their background. Ethnics studies help students to learn about their true history without it being whitewashed.

Even if having Ethnic Studies as a major only benefits student of color it could also impact the white students. The coalition of San Francisco said, “It’s also important for white students to understand the historical exclusion of certain groups from full participation in the economic, political and cultural life of the United States and to see how that exclusion never berates to the present day. Ethnic Studies gives students a framework which we can use to situate ourselves in a broader historical context, a language which we can use to critique our current institutions, and the tools which we can use to work for our own liberation.” Even if this major is mainly taken more serious by students of color it’s important for white students to know and learn about other ethnic backgrounds too. Ethnic Studies would help white students to also learn about the history of minorities in a new perspective where Europeans are not the main point of attention. Ethnic Studies could open the minds of white children to realize how excluded the existence of other backgrounds are from our history textbooks. Ethnic studies gives us a way to teach about the history of other ethnicities. This could also change the way white students see their history and realize the privilege that they have had for so long. The audit commissioned by the Arizona education department found that, “The high school graduation rate of students taking Mexican-American studies in Tucson was higher than that of students who didn’t take the classes. Students in the class of 2010 who had taken the course were 11% more likely to graduate than those in a comparison group who didn’t.” Students who did not take ethnic studies as a major did not have as great of a rate of graduating high school than those who did take the major. This shows that having to take a class that you wouldn’t even think of taking would help you graduate high school with the knowledge of the history in other different perspectives.

Some people really love this new idea of having Ethnic Studies as a major while others don’t. Some think that having this major is “too much to learn.” Anthropology Major Renee Chen is a student who isn’t sold on the prospect of an Ethnic studies major at Wellesley who says, “I’m just not sure if an Ethnic Studies Major is realistic—there's simply too much to learn in too little time.” For students what is too much to learn? We have been going to school learning about the same thing repeatedly each year, and when we want to learn more about something else, we don’t get the opportunity to do so. So, having Ethnic Studies as a major would be amazing, and students would be learning new things.

To conclude this all, Ethnic Studies should be a mandatory class to graduate from high school, because it would help students learn more about their ancestors, feel that their history is worth learning, and even if you are white you would also be getting the opportunity to learn more about other races. For many years colleges and universities have been trying to make a change to schools to have Ethnic Studies as a major. It is important that we have all the knowledge of the history in depth more than just learning in one perspective. Having Ethnic Studies shows how we care about the history of other ethnic backgrounds.

Thank you for your time.


Shilalat Shega

Youth Guest Post - Black Lives Matter: Stepping Up and Speaking Out

Written by:

Lavancia McClendon, Trenesia McClendon, Kissehanet Tesfa, Bethel Tesfay, Meklit Tesfay, Natalina Shega

When you see me…

You fear me

You wouldn’t like to see me with the weapon of education

But I don’t want revenge

I want equality

I am more than…

An angry Black woman

I am an ocean

I’m as powerful as my words

And I hold my community together.

When you see me…

You see Black

You feel uncomfortable

Like you’d rather stand on the bus than sit next to me

I am more than…

My skin color

I am sand.

No two of us are alike.

I’m an individual.

A small piece of something bigger.

When you see me…

You see juvenile

Like thunder

You feel scared because I’m dark and bold.

I am more than…

My stereotype.

I am the sun.

Shining bright


And looking for a future.

When you see me…

You think loud

You think my words will strangle you like a rope

I am more than…

the sassy Black girl on your favorite TV show

I am the earth

If you give me respect, I will give you comfort

I am the earth

I am nurturing so you can feel calm.

When you see me…

You see weak

Like I’m a puppet that can’t stand up for myself.

I am more than…

Someone who lets people control me.

I am a waterfall.

I am independent.

I am a powerful force.

When you see me…

You see charity case

You feel the need to help me

But I don’t want to be your cause for a march.

I am more than…


I am a mountain.

Standing tall

As I’m climbing up reaching my goals.

We are more than what you see.

Natalina, Levancia, Trenesia, Meklet, Bethel, and Kissehanet wrote the above collaborative piece after coming together as the Teen Advisory Team for  The Eli’s Park Project . They are students at Roosevelt High School in NE Seattle.

Natalina, Levancia, Trenesia, Meklet, Bethel, and Kissehanet wrote the above collaborative piece after coming together as the Teen Advisory Team for The Eli’s Park Project. They are students at Roosevelt High School in NE Seattle.

“Our role in this project is to lead our community to create an accessible, inclusive, nature-based, peaceful, welcoming park for everyone to enjoy. People ask why we care about The Eli’s Park Project. We think it’s important because there are a lot of people who are excluded in our community. Everyone deserves to feel safe, welcome and respected regardless of their race, ability, age, sexuality, gender, religion or socio-economic status.

As we have become leaders of this project, we have realized the power of our voices. We wrote a group poem to show people what we believe about ourselves. We encourage everyone to take the time to get to know us, and others, for who we really are. If we stop at stereotypes, we miss the best parts of each other. A community should be led by its people and we’re taking that responsibility seriously. We’re stepping up and speaking out for a more inclusive world.”

Vote "YES" on the Seattle School District's Capital and Operations Levies

The SCPTSA Board endorses a “Yes” vote on Seattle School District Propositions Number 1 (Replacement for Educational Programs and Operations Levy) and Number 2 (Building Excellence V Capital Levy)

Seattle Council PTSA Board endorses these levies after many thoughtful discussions and much consideration within the board and general membership. Without the passage of these levies, our schools face major cuts in funding for critical day-to-day operations, staff, building capacity and more. Our schools need this funding.

However, win or lose, low income families of color will be most impacted. Successful passage and fulfillment through regressive property tax disproportionately impacts low income families, who are also disproportionately families of color, and are being rapidly priced out of the City of Seattle entirely. These are the majority of SPS families and those upon whom, for equity, we are centering our work. Unsuccessful passage of the levies means even less for the children of those families when they walk into their school buildings, buildings that already welcome and serve them inconsistently and insufficiently.

SCPTSA endorses these levies understanding the following:

  1. Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country.

  2. The Seattle School District and Board have a very blunt instrument, property tax, with which to raise (insufficient) additional funds. This is the only instrument available to SPS to meet its fiscal needs.

  3. Advocacy at the City to State levels are critical pieces to developing equitable and adequate instruments for education funding. SCPTSA must support this work.

  4. The result of non-passage of the Capital and Operations Levies in February would be a massive funding gap for Seattle Public Schools wherein a significant gap relative to need and funding already exists.

  5. Thanks to community advocacy, the Capital levy for the first time, according to District representative, had priorities set based on measurable equity standards such as free and reduced lunch.

We also know that:

  1. Families of color are not targeted or holistically engaged in the education funding models and applications at the District, nor to inform how the District engages with state lawmakers. For example, the five public Levy meetings in September did not target or authentically engage families of color.

  2. Outside funding sources continue to sustain, create, and mask inequities at the building and central office levels.

  3. Inequities are not visible based on simple per student funding metrics.

  4. Title funds are NOT sufficient to mitigate outside funding inputs. In fact, Title funds are intended specifically to mitigate a disadvantage created by larger societal forces putting our families under economic pressure. Title funds are already insufficient to counteract what economics do not provide and should not be misconstrued to have any impact on deeper institutional inequities borne of historically racially discriminatory practices.

As advocates for all kids, our obligation is to advocate specifically for those who are furthest from justice in attaining equitable access to education. For families of color and those furthest from justice, SCPTSA supports the passage of Seattle School District’s property tax levies BEX V and EO&P with the understanding that we will push for:

  1. A transparent, ongoing and formal commitment with Seattle Public Schools, actively engaging students and families, to acknowledge, resolve, restore and report racial incidents in our schools as they occur. This is a fundamental building block of SPS commitment to creating “welcoming environments” and policy 0030 Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity. Racial Discrimination has no place in Seattle Public Schools. When children walk through the door of SPS, it is not consistently true that they will be cared for in the event of racial discrimination. The “threat” of impact is suitably muzzled when a parent or a child cannot enter a school space and find it figuratively open or welcoming because of who they are.

  2. Formal commitment from SPS Administration to partner with SCPTSA, SEA, Seattle School Board and OSPI in the transparent and rigorous analysis of funding equity in Seattle Public Schools including:

    • Detailed reporting on outside funding sources and their use, including, but not limited to, PTAs, PTOs, foundations and CBOs

    • Analysis and reporting on strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in financial modeling and distribution in SPS specifically pertaining to racial equity

    • Analysis of Weighted Staffing Standard based on Equity gap analysis

    • Specific and ongoing engagement with families of color regarding funding equity in Seattle Public Schools

    • Unequivocal commitment to fiscal transparency

  3. Support for efforts such as Capital Gains and Working Families Tax Rebate at state and local levels to respectively alleviate and mitigate the regressive tax burden on our most economically disadvantaged families. While the District can’t control State lawmakers, it can and should acknowledge the burden placed on the families and staff of SPS as a result of limited fundraising mechanisms.

For more information:

WA State PTA Focus on Education Day in Olympia is Monday, February 11, 2019 (EDIT 2/9 - CANCELLED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER)

All in WA For Washington is a statewide effort to clean up the tax code:

The Washington State Budget & Policy Center prioritizes policies that advance racial equity by working to eliminate systemic and institutional barriers to opportunity for people of color.

From the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy: “States and localities could do more to help undo the harmful legacies of past racism and the damage caused by continuing racial bias and discrimination."

OneAmerica works with parents, educators and allies to make sure that all of Washington’s families have an education system that’s inclusive, responsive and meet the needs of every student.

WA State PTSA Legislative Priorities

SCPTSA president Chandra Hampson