Speaker discusses ethnic studies ban in Arizona

South Puget Sound Community College’s Diversity and Equity Center brought Sean Arce to campus to discuss his opposition of the banning of their ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District of Tucson, Arizona.

This is a relevant issue to our student body, said Eileen Yoshina, director of diversity and equity. It fundamentally asks: “Can people really control what you have access to know about?”

The ban on the Mexican American Studies program symbolizes how politicians can control what is taught in the classroom.

Attorney General Tom Horne created House Bill 2281, banning this and other similar ethnic programs from being taught within public and charter schools.

The bill bans schools from teaching classes that are geared towards a single ethnic group, promote resentment or advocacy of one ethnicity over the other students’ ethnicities, and also classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.”

“When you actually hear peoples’ arguments of why they wanted to get rid of the program, they have no educational reasons for it because the program is an educational success,” said Yoshina.

The program supports improvement in the performance of Latino students on standardized test scores, the increase in graduation rates of Latino students, and the increase in Latino high school graduates sent to college.

The purpose of the program was to inform not only the Latino population within the school, but also other ethnicities, about the history of the Latinos in America. The program focused on the students. Arce explained, “[the] program was responsive to the students’ specific needs.”

The students and their teachers have fought for their right to education. Sean Arce and ten other teachers and administrators from the MAS program and two of the students are actively opposing HB 2218.

In the spring of 2011, five high school students and two alumni of the high school chained themselves to the board chairs at the board meeting where the vote would be taken that day to ban the MAS program. The next board meeting, a group of students and educators went to show their opposition, and the police came, using force and making brutal arrests.

“What is happening in Arizona, to me, is a direct attempt to suppress any student’s right to that information. I feel it is something that not only is going to disenfranchise Latino students in Arizona, but really short-change all of their students [from that program],” Yoshina said. Her thoughts are echoed in SPSCC’s diversity coordinator Lorraine Guzman.

She said, “As a biracial individual, I feel that no study of ethnic culture…should be banned from any public school. I am very distraught that the Tucson district in Arizona has banned ethnic studies.”

Guzman has supported Sean Arce’s cause by education and promoting awareness around campus.
Arce is now travelling the US, telling his story of social injustice. He and many others in the Tucson Unified School District are looking for support for their cause. The Diversity and Equity Center in the Student Union Building, Building 25, will provide more information on this issue. You can also find additional information and ways to donate to the cause on Sean Arce’s website: SaveEthnicStudies.org.