In October 2021, California’s State Assembly passed AB 101, a law requiring every student at a public high school to take an ethnic studies course as part of their core curriculum.

In June 2020, more than a year before the state bill was passed, the SAUSD school board voted unanimously in favor of establishing an ethnic studies requirement. It is the first district in Orange County to do so, and one of the first in the country to build an ethnic studies program not only as a high school requirement, but embedded throughout the K-12 curriculum.

While school districts have several years to determine how to implement this new requirement, Chapman University invited representatives from the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) to address the topic and provide insight about how ethnic studies can be incorporated into school curriculum.

The Chapman event, “Reclaiming Our Voices: The Ethnic Studies Movement in Santa Ana Unified School District,” included Carolyn Torres, vice president of the SAUSD board; Jerry Almendarez, superintendent of SAUSD schools; Bertha Benavides, principal of Willard Intermediate School; and Linn Lee, history/social science curriculum specialist at SAUSD.

The panel was presented as part of the annual Engaging the World series, organized by Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. The topic of this year’s series, Leading the Conversation on Ethnic Studies, explores race, ethnicity and indigeneity with a focus on the diverse histories, cultures, perspectives and community work of people of color within and beyond the United States. The panel was moderated by Dr. Cathery Yeh, assistant professor of STEM education and Asian American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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