Despite the icy breeze and falling snowflakes, more than 50 students gathered on WSU’s Glenn Terrell Mall on Sunday afternoon to march in protest of an Arizona bill that eliminated ethnicity-specific history books and classes in public schools.
Students made signs on the steps of Todd Hall before marching through campus and onto the streets of Pullman. Participants in the “No History is Illegal” march chanted as they moved down the mall.
“Can’t ban history,” they shouted. “Can’t ban books.”
According to the text of the bill, Arizona House Bill 2281 (HB-2281) prohibits instruction in any Arizona public or charter school that: Promotes overthrow of the U.S. government, promotes resentment toward a race or class of people, is designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocates ethnic solidarity. It also bans more than 80 books.
Linda Heidenreich, a professor with the department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race studies at WSU, said multiple groups have been organizing to oppose the bill on a national level since it passed in 2010.
Sunday’s march will hopefully inform students that HB-2281 is not only an issue in Arizona, she said. Due to the economic crisis, WSU has also seen merging and cutbacks in ethnic studies programs. For example, WSU no longer has any full-time professors in chicano/latino studies, Heidenreich said.
“There’s a lack of recognition that when programs that address structural inequalities are eliminated, then those inequalities will reproduce themselves,” she said. “So we are in a dire circumstance at WSU, not because we have people who are overtly racist trying to dismantle chicano studies. Our chicano studies program was dismantled because of an economic crisis.”
Janita Harris, a sophomore communication and comparative ethnic studies major, said she was inspired to organize the march when she saw a video of a speech by a California State-Northridge professor named Rodolfo Acuña, who is a leading opponent of HB-2281. Harris helped organize WSU’s “No History is Illegal” March in less than 10 days.
“It literally started last week,” Harris said. “It’s amazing to see that within a week we were able to get this amount coming out right now. I’m sure that due to the weather we’ve lost some people, but the point is we still have people out here.”
She said the march is largely to educate students who are unaware of the issues in Arizona and around the country. More students know about the rap, game and music industries than about the events in nearby states, Harris said, and that terrifies her.
“I hope this march accomplishes the truth that we’re trying to state,” she said. “And the truth is that we deserve, as Americans, to at least be taught our American history.”
Jalisa Harris, a sophomore communication and digital technology and culture major, said the march shows that WSU has a voice. “We do care about things that are happening in other states because it’s justice,” she said. “Everyone has a right to learn about their history.”
Lynn Becerra, a doctoral student in the College of Education, said she hopes students at WSU become passionate about their own histories and lead a rebuilding of American society that includes all groups.
Becerra broke down HB-2281 in a way that she would explain it to her 12-year-old sister. “What it boils down to is how we view ourselves in American society and what it means to be an American,” she said. “That bill is saying that only one type of American matters or one type of American experience is what is important. And to my little sister I would say all of our histories are important and they should be taught and recognized.”
Adanna Escobar, a sophomore communication major and co-chair for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan (MEChA), said the bill poses a particular threat to the chicano community. The types of ethnic education programs banned by the bill have been shown to decrease drop out or, as she calls it, “push out” rates for minority students.
“Basically, the way that I would explain it in a nutshell, it’s just the government’s way of eliminating minorities,” Escobar said. “Through this bill, what they’re doing is they’re eliminating the narrative for minority communities and only presenting the dominant culture’s idea or perspective of what