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BHS Sophomores Lead Initiative to Launch New APIA Literature Class

When they first came to Berkeley High School (BHS), current sophomores Medina Lam, Julianna Loretto, and Lauren Huang all noticed a lack of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) history and focus.

“The three of us collectively were upset that there wasn’t a class that was focused on Asians at [BHS], because we noticed that there were classes focused on other racial minorities,” said Lam. “And that’s super cool, but we wish we had the same representation.”

So in early March, they decided to start forming a class that would focus on APIA topics, and have now settled on an APIA Literature class. They also created a group called the Committee for Inclusion of APIA Curriculum (CIAC).

“The goal of this class is to create a space for Asian students, and other students that are not Asian, to learn about Asian history, literature, and culture, and to appreciate that,” said Lam. 

Lam said they texted Huang in frustration over the lack of an APIA class, and Huang suggested that they should create a class themselves. Loretto soon joined their effort, and the three of them emailed all the Asian BHS teachers that they could think of, including Berkeley International High School (BIHS) English teacher Sakiko Muranaka, to ask for help. 

Muranaka had already spoken to BHS administrators about an APIA course in January. “I think [Loretto, Huang, Lam, and I] came to the conclusion separately, but at the same time, that it’s high time that we push to have an APIA course on campus,” said Muranaka. She said it’s been great to see students’ interest in the cause, and she has since started collaborating with other APIA teachers to take the first steps in course development. 

So far, Muranaka, Diane Kung, and Matt Laurel are all possible contenders to teach the course. Muranaka said she has always wanted to teach an APIA class, and hopes it will become a reality at BHS. 

After speaking to a few teachers, Loretto, Huang, and Lam decided to hold their first official CIAC meeting on March 15. Huang and Lam spread the word over Instagram, and they ended up with about ten participants. 

In terms of next steps, the CIAC hopes to soon send out a survey to gauge student interest in an APIA class, and they also want to create an Instagram account to increase publicity. After that, it will fall on the teachers involved to draft a curriculum and get the class approved by the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board. 

Lam and Loretto said they haven’t met any challenges so far, but they anticipate possible difficulty in getting the class approved, or even getting enough students to qualify for approval. In order for a class to be taught, at least 35 students need to agree to take it beforehand. 

If everything goes according to plan, the class will be offered for the 2022-23 school year. 

The CIAC is not the first group of students and staff to lobby for an APIA-focused class at BHS. In the early 2000s, Dana Moran taught an Asian American Studies class at BHS. Moran is now helping with the effort of making a new class by guiding Loretto and Lam through the process of approval. The class the CIAC intends to make will be different from the old one, because it will likely be literature-focused. It will also be year-long, whereas Asian American Studies was only a semester. 

Muranaka said that an APIA class may even be easier to create now than when it was originally created. “There’s a lot more momentum right now, and definitely recognition even statewide for the need of Ethnic Studies courses at the high school level,” said Muranaka. The recent hate crimes and focus on APIA make a class like this more important than ever. 

“The recent hate crimes were an added reason we need to do this,” said Lam. They explained that, although a single class may not prevent Asian hate, it is important to educate the student body. “If people were to hear about Asian stories, there might be a better understanding of the way that Asians are treated and the history that Asians have,” said Lam. She added, “I think that it might make people more empathetic and understanding, which definitely is helpful.”

To learn more about the historic fight for APIA representation at BHS, read the Jacket’s three part investigative series.

Disclaimer: Lauren Huang is a staff writer for the Jacket.

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