Literary Voices of Color: Student-Initiated Elective Aims to Diversify the English Curriculum

Amirah Razman

For seniors Jennifer Lee, Anna Patten and Nedwa Abdi, the English curriculum wasn’t representing the students, specifically due to the lack of diversity in literature. 

Inspired by Diversify Your Narrative, a student-led organization centered towards diversifying school curriculums that started in the summer of 2020, the three of them decided they wanted to change that. 

After emailing their thoughts about diversifying the curriculum to school administrators, they eventually got to meet with Principals Victor Johnson and Robb Virgin and several English teachers to discuss a plan. Lee says, “They [the administration] were really receptive. They were ready to acknowledge that they needed to change.”

Together, they decided on a one-term elective called Literary Voices of Color, where students choose books by authors of color to read and discuss. Johnson, one of the coordinators of the class, says that the class looks at literary works as forms of joy and acts of resistance for communities of color. He says, “It is a unique place where students can start comparing experiences of people of color who have written these texts and see how expansive that world is.” 

“Literature has been such a big part of different cultural movements in our country,” says Jodie Flolid, an English teacher who is also part of the planning team. According to Flolid, the class will give students an in-depth understanding of cultural and historical events from a different lens. She encourages all students with a passion for social justice and history to enroll in this course. 

Since Literary Voices of Color will be heavily discussion-based, Johnson hopes that this class will promote equal understanding amongst students. “We know that we’ve had to do so much work to listen to each other respectfully, to engage in productive and civil dialogue,” said Johnson. “I think that to make this class a safe space for all students is to continue doing that work.”

Although they won’t be able to take the class themselves next year, Abdi, Lee, and Patten are excited for the future of the class for years to come. This elective is only the first step in what Patten sees as more updates to diversify the curriculum across the entire department.

“I hope this will set the tone for the other English classes so that the student body can see themselves in their curriculum,” says Abdi.

Literary Voices of Color is now open for registration for the 2021-2022 school year.