Quinnipiac community responds to new law requiring high schools to offer African American, Black, Latino and Puerto Rican studies

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor

Connecticut will be the first state to mandate courses that focus on African American, Black, Latino and Puerto Rican studies in public high schools. Quinnipiac University members approve of the new law and would be satisfied if these kinds of classes were obligated for students at the university. 

Connecticut high schools are required to offer the course in the fall of 2022 but have the option to begin offering it as early as the fall of 2021. This development is a result of Gov. Ned Lamont’s signing of Public Act 19-12 last year. The Connecticut State Board of Education unanimously approved the curriculum earlier this month. 

Through an inquiry-based approach, the curriculum will provide an improved understanding of Black, African American, Latino and Puerto Rican peoples’ contributions to the United States’ economy, history, society and culture, as reported by WTNH. Although high schools are required to offer the course, students will not be required to take it.

Connor Lawless

Sophomore 3+1 marketing major Derek Hernandez said he did not learn about people in history that shared his Puerto Rican background and that this law will have a positive impact on students who don’t typically connect to the people they learn about. 

“I never found anyone in a history book who looks like me,” Hernandez said. “As a kid, if you don’t see great things from people who look like you, sometimes it’s hard to go after those great things. The new curriculum could help plenty of schools make classes more relatable to students.”

Junior 4+1 media studies major Emma Frisbie said that the history of people in the U.S. should cover more than the experiences of white people, specifically white men. 

“In high school history classes, the majority of the topics revolve around white men,” Frisbie said. “And yes, white men are a part of the history of America but so are the stories and history of Black, African American, and Latino/a people.”

Bianca Gonzalez-Sobrino, assistant professor of sociology, teaches a course on the sociology of race and ethnicity and said she agrees with the decision because students often say they wished they learned the material she teaches prior to arriving at Quinnipiac. 

“When students come to my sociology of race and ethnicity course, they have very little understanding of the histories of communities of color in the United States,” Gonzalez-Sobrino  said. “One of the consistent messages I get from students is that they wish they knew about this information before they got to college.”

Interim Director of the Honors Program and professor of women’s and gender studies Melissa A. Kaplan said this new required course is the beginning of numerous necessary actions to ensure inclusion in education and beyond.

“Connecticut’s new inclusive curriculum requirement is a step — one step of many that are necessary — to consider the reality of biases, to discuss the value of inclusion, to relate to the larger world and to provide resources, questions, and meaningful assessments,” Kaplan said. 

With public high schools in Connecticut now setting this precedent, some Quinnipiac students said that a change to make classes like this a priority would be helpful.

“Our school has a very large white population, and I think requiring the school to add courses on Black and Latino studies would be beneficial to the whole Quinnipiac community,” said Nicole Brissette, a  third-year student in the 3+3 doctorate of physical therapy program. “It facilitates communication that we otherwise might not have had. I think it could help people feel more understood.”

Paige Pezzella, a first-year English major, said higher education should expose students to subjects they had not learned before and that similar offerings at the college level will assist in preparing her for a future as an educator. 

“I would love a course like this at QU,” Pezzella said. “College is an opportunity for me to learn about things I wasn’t able to in high school, and I think that taking classes like these would be very beneficial for my future career as well. I’m planning on being a teacher, and I want to understand how all people have contributed to the U.S.”

Quinnipiac President Judy Olian emailed a 10-point action plan for racial justice to the school community on July 6. The first point in the email stated, “We will begin an immediate curriculum review to increase learning about the roots and contemporary manifestations of social injustice, privilege, oppression and the drivers of social change.”

Kaplan said that these courses at the university level have to work toward disrupting the status quo in institutions. 

“In centering Black and Latinx experiences, Black and anti-racist theory, and diasporic Blackness in our curriculum, we can work toward mobilizing generative approaches to destabilizing institutional whiteness,” Kaplan said. “Universities, in general, must work to understand, acknowledge, include, and value shift multiple meanings of Blackness and Latinx in knowledge-making.”

Quinnipiac does offer classes like American Literature/Women of Color (EN-338) and Latin American Cultures I (SP-373). These classes typically have only one section — meaning one teacher teaching one class. These classes have less availability for students to take. The school does not have a class that focuses on Puerto Rican history or culture. 

Additionally, the university does not have a Black or Latin studies major or minor. The only classes that Quinnipiac is offering for the upcoming spring 2021 semester that relates to Black and Latin culture are Survey Non-Western Art (AR-104) and Latin American Cultures II (SP-374), according to the course catalog on the Quinnipiac Self Service webpage

These types of classes are not mandatory for the majority of students, but Frisbie said that at least one of these kinds of classes should be a requirement and will benefit all majors.

“It could be used in addition to or in place of the FYS (first-year seminar) course,” Frisbie said. “I also believe that if students take a class like this, that it’ll improve their education in any field of study.”

Olivia Barrios-Johnson, a first-year journalism major and the vice president of the class of 2024 in the Student Government Association, said that the past experiences of all types of people should be acknowledged. 

“I think that it’s only fair,” Barrios-Johnson said. “It should be normalized to have the history of all people taught in schools. There are so many walks of life that contributed to history and therefore they should be recognized as well.” 

Similarly to other students, Gonzalez-Sobrino said that these courses should be mandatory for students at Quinnipiac.

“I think every student needs to engage on these issues because it affects every single person, not only people of color,” Gonzalez-Sobrino said.   

Second-year student in the 3+3 law program and president of the pre-law society Sarah Annabi said she supports the classes being mandatory, however, she doubts that the majority of the student population will receive the obligatory classes well.

“This is a tough question because although I truly understand the significance of everyone learning about what these classes have to teach, I am not sure if the majority of the student body would be as receptive to a mandatory approach,” Annabi said.

Pezzella shares similar concerns but said she does value the potential of required classes to educate students about the history of people of color.

“I honestly think it would be beneficial if they were mandatory, but then I worry about students treating the class as a joke, or it becoming a class that is known for being difficult or ‘annoying’ for lack of a better word,” Pezzella said. “Ideally, I think it would be better if it was mandatory, as this information is important for all of us to know.”