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Members of the panel speak during the discussion at Fresno State on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 (Yezmene Fullilove/The Collegian).

Educators discuss struggles of diversifying curriculum

Four women gathered on Tuesday to discuss their challenges on making academics more diverse.

The panel discussion, titled “Our place on the shelf: A Cross-Disciplinary Discussion on Chicanx/Latinx Youth Literature,” was a chance for the speakers to give insight on what they find most challenging about diversifying their academic fields.

The speakers also discussed how to incorporate Chicanx/Latinx (the letter x for people who identify within the gender binary) literature into their teachings.

The speakers included Guadalupe García McCall, an artist in residence; Laura Alamillo, who works in the literacy, early, bilingual and special education department; Cristina Herrera, of the Chicano and Latin American studies department; and Larissa Mercado-López, from the women’s studies program.

Mercado-López said, during the panel, that she is challenged when her students ask when they will learn about “real American culture.”

Mercado-López said that novels like “What night brings” by author Carla Trujillo “deepens [her students’] learning experience about queerness and queer identity as it intersects with these other identities of gender, race and ethnicity. It’s been enriching to have this voices [the novels] in the classroom.”

García McCall, who has taught in Texas for 28 years, said it has always been a struggle incorporating Chicanx/Latinx books that her students can identify with into her curriculum. The demographic is 95 percent Mexican-American at her school. She said there are other books that she chooses for her students.

García McCall has published award-winning novels for young adults such as “Under the Mesquite” and “Summer of the Mariposas.” Her latest book, “Shame the Stars”, combines a love story with the historical happenings during the Mexican Revolution such as the lynching of Mexican-Americans.

“Children’s Chicanx literature is more than windows and doors; it’s a meal, a necessity, because it fuels the body and feeds the soul of our students,” García McCall said.

Last semester, for the first time, Herrera incorporated the novel “Under the Mesquite” in her curriculum.

“My students loved it, and I had several of them cry. They cried because the story – because it’s so beautiful – but they also cried out of frustration,” said Herrera. “They [students] said, ‘professor, why didn’t I see any of this when I was in high school? I feel like I have so much to do. I have to catch up. I feel like I’m so behind. Why has this been kept from me,’” she said.

Herrera believes many students have not been introduced to Chicanx/Latinx literature.

“More than anything, what our students realize is if they don’t read texts that relate to them they’re made to feel as if their lives and stories don’t matter,” she said. “That’s an issue that we need to confront.”

Jennifer Crow, curator of the Arne Nixon Center for the study of Children’s literature, said García McCall will be at the Fresno County Library on Wednesday, March 15 from 4 to 5 p.m.

On Friday, March 17 at 3 p.m. she will have her closing event in room 2206 in the Henry Madden Library, where they will showcase student work.