Ethnic Studies Information for Families

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ was crafted with partnership from Ethnic Studies programs at Stockton and San Diego Unified School Districts. 


What is Ethnic Studies and what do students learn in the course?

The learning objectives of SFUSD’s Ethnic Studies course are to further students’ knowledge and love of who they are and from where they come, enhance their connections to each other and their community and to realize their potential to make positive social change.  Students examine concepts such as identity, power, beliefs and change and apply their learning through interactive projects such as auto-ethnographies, youth podcasting and action research. 


What are the benefits of taking Ethnic Studies?

Beyond the benefits of learning about the history, culture, and experiences of Communities of Color, researchers at Stanford University found that SFUSD’s Ethnic Studies courses helped high school students increase their educational outcomes, attendance and likelihood of postsecondary enrollment. The research found that students’ taking our course 

  • Increased 5 year graduation rate by 15 percentage points (from 75% to 90%)
  • Reduced unexcused absences by 5-7 percentage points
  • Increased credits earned in high school 2, 3 and 4 years later
  • Increased post-secondary enrollment 5 and 6 years later by 13.4 and 14.9 percentage points respectively. 

This study confirms the positive student/family feedback and evidence Ethnic Studies teachers and supporters have seen firsthand for years. 


Is the class academically rigorous?

Most definitely. Students’ critical literacies are advanced through activities such as multi-modal textual analysis, written auto-ethnographies, sharing and listening to peers, designing community action research projects, using technological skills to apply learning, collaborating, promoting creativity,  developing historical thinking skills and much more. Rigor also involves thinking about perspectives other than your own. Finally, we take pride in the emphasis our course places on reflection and self-discovery. 


How can Ethnic Studies be a course beneficial to take for all races and ethnicities?

We as a people are interconnected. San Francisco is a very diverse city and we must learn to live, learn and work together. At its core, our Ethnic Studies class is built on principles that promote the building of relationships and empathy, regardless of identity. As we learn more about others and the world around us, we also learn more about ourselves. 

Additionally, research published by the National Education Association found significant growth in all students’ literacy skills who’ve taken an Ethnic Studies course. Essentially, both Students of Color and White students have been found to benefit from Ethnic Studies. Additionally, the research shows that culturally meaningful and relevant curriculum such as an Ethnic Studies course, helps students develop the skill sets to engage in critical conversations about race, and that this can have a positive impact on students’ engagement in education and their achievement overall.


Does the class teach students to hate white people?

Ethnic Studies does not teach hatred for any group of people.  That would be antithetical to our values of love of self and inter-connectedness.  The course teaches students to analyze power and to work to resist and transform ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized racism and white supremacy--not necessarily “white people.” We move away from stereotyping and generalizing  whole groups of people and instead, we analyze the systems that affect all of us. White students have and can benefit from learning about the rich and diverse cultures of their classmates and reflection on their role in challenging racism.


Is Ethnic Studies anti-Semitic?

No, the goal of our SFUSD Ethnic Studies program is to eradicate racism, injustice, oppression and dehumanization in all its forms, including anti-semitism.  


Is Ethnic Studies about being divisive?

No, it’s the exact opposite. Ethnic Studies is not divisive because it focuses on the experiences of different groups of people, the beauty of different cultures and building solidarity across differences. We teach our students to cultivate empathy for all people, especially those who are different from them.


Does Ethnic Studies teach students to be victims or to be oppressed?

No, it’s the exact opposite. Ethnic Studies teaches students to explore and learn about their identities, histories, and cultures, and be empowered to create positive changes in their lives and communities. 


Does this class teach students to hate the United States?

No, Ethnic Studies explores an authentic and holistic examination of United States history that has been filled with both tragedy and beauty. Our course focuses not on the tragedy, but how people and communities resisted, transformed, and have become resilient in spite of their circumstances. This course upholds the American values and traditions of equality, justice, and liberty, not just for some, but for all.


Why does Ethnic Studies teach about LGBTQ+ people? Isn’t it just supposed to focus on different races and ethnicities?

Though race and ethnicity are central in the course, we understand that people have intersectional identities that include lenses like socio-economic class, gender, sexual orientation, and citizenship status, amongst others. We explore the many people, histories, and international experiences to learn from their perspectives. The California FAIR Act (SB 48) requires schools to teach about the diverse experiences of all people.


Is Ethnic Studies going to be an SFUSD Ethnic Studies graduation requirement and if so, which courses will meet this requirement?

Per this 2020 SFUSD Board of Education resolution, starting with the Class of 2028, all students will be required to take 2 semesters of a high school SFUSD Ethnic Studies course to graduate.  CCSF Ethnic Studies courses will also meet this requirement. The Ethnic Studies program is currently determining which, if any, other courses will or can meet the requirement.  


This page was last updated on August 8, 2022