ASU clubs slam racial injustice with poetry

Amnesty International ASU and Students for a Democratic society hosted the event in accordance with Banned Books Week

Amnesty International ASU and Students for a Democratic Society hosted a poetry slam on Friday as part of ASU’s celebration of Banned Books Week.  

Banned Books Week, which is hosted during the last week in September, celebrates previously banned books and students' rights to read controversial literature. SDS and ASU's Amnesty International chapter focused on the lack of minority authors in education and the impact a lack of diversity in literature has on students. The poetry slam was held in Hayden Library on Friday, Sept. 29.

The event began with an open discussion about bans on ethnic studies that have been proposed in the Arizona legislature. In 2011, then-Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed HB 2281 into law, banning K-12 classes that, among other things, were designed primarily for students of one ethnic group or advocated for ethnic solidarity. The bill, which shut down Mexican-American studies programs in the Tucson Unified School District, was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in August of this year.

In January, Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) introduced HB 2120, which would have extended the original bill to Arizona universities and community colleges. HB 2120 died in committee. 

Lee Goodrum, a history and political science senior and the president of ASU's chapter of Amnesty International, said that a lack of ethnic studies classes in high school creates a narrative of whiteness. That narrative leads to the assumption that all great things in history were associated with white people, he said. 

“Mainstream history, which is largely white guy history, removes people of color and women from the cultural narrative," Goodrum said. “People don’t learn about ethnic studies in their high schools. Not having ethnic studies, it’s a tool of upholding white supremacist.”

Participants discussed how the lack of ethnic studies and literature about the minority experience affected them. One student described how his sibling’s teacher continually mispronounced Jewish names, despite his continual efforts to correct the teacher. Another student said the book “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, made her wish she had been exposed to impactful literature written by minorities earlier. 

Sarra Tekola, a graduate student in the School of Sustainability, said that a lack of African-American literature and history in the public school system is an example of the educational system controlling a narrative about African and African-American history.  

Tekola said she didn’t even enjoy learning about African-American history because the conversation was dominated by slavery. It was not until she got involved in activism that she learned more about African-American history, she said. 

“Most people don’t know where Timbuktu was and that there were huge African civilizations,” Tekola said. “They don’t talk about that narrative during Black History Month, because Black History Month is just a reminder that we were slaves.”

Michael Moynihan, who goes by the stage name "Renaissance the Poet," began the poetry slam with two spoken word pieces. The first piece, titled “All Lives Don’t Matter” discussed the relationship between African Americans and the police.

“To those cops with the guns in hand, pop, pop, pop, pop. There we go again. Got another badge of honor across his shoulder man. But, why does it got to be that life is valued less than?” Moynihan rhymed. 

Other students' poetry touched on race, social justice, sexuality, human rights, gender and intersectionality. 

Komal Sahota, a first-year masters student studying criminal justice, said she thought the event was awesome and created a space for students to come together to discuss the issues surrounding bans on ethnic studies.

“It’s a larger ban that is taking place, in Arizona particularly and across the national by cutting funding for ethnic studies, but cutting resources to it, by saying ethnic studies is too political or too divisive in nature," Sahota said. "You are essentially banning an entire group of peoples' history by saying that this cannot exist, and we have seen it in books that have been banned.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @brookehanrahan1 on Twitter. 

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