The African-American Experience course sheds new light on minority culture

The African American Experience, the new course offered this year, focuses on educating students about the journey that African Americans and other minorities have gone through throughout history, as well as the discrimination they may face, the variety of cultures they have, and how they often get misrepresented in media and in everyday life. 

The new class is offered as an academic elective and takes students through the entire history of African Americans, starting from the major empires in the west of Africa, moving to the transatlantic slave trade, all the way to present day. Students who never got a chance to see their culture as anything more than people to be colonized or sold by Europeans now get the opportunity to learn about the rich history that comes with it, according to teacher Marc Hyles. 

“If you look at the experiences of all students, we get our identity from the social studies classes we take and more often than not, that exposure gives a very limited exposure to African American students or students of color,” Hyles said. “Most often if you talk to them, the major understanding is that African Americans were slaves. And that is pretty much the beginning and the end of the story.” 

The class also ties in other minority groups and how they can connect to African American history. It focuses on bringing in all cultures and creating students that have a more holistic and well-rounded view of the world and their peers all around them. 

“Not only do we talk about culture, we talk about things that everybody can relate to, like feeling like you don’t know where you belong. There’s obviously voices that oppress everyone,” senior Desir’ee Desembly said. 

The current project students in this class are working on is a long-term assessment in which they form groups and research different perspectives relating to certain aspects of African American culture and history. The project is split up into six main categories: literature, art, drama, architecture, music/dance, and philosophy. They attempt to connect the past in question to the present. 

“My favorite thing about the class is the connections we make and how we’re able to bond through our history, and through learning about our past and what brought us to where we are today,” senior Ty’Anna Agee said. 

Hyles writes the course curriculum with the help of librarian Darcy Bechtel, who provides necessary materials and assistance in framing the course, and Dean of Students Heather Pittman, who helps discuss ideas related to the direction of the class. 

“I’ve always thought that if it’s done properly, which I hope I’m able to do, it could help students see themselves differently and perhaps apply that difference to how they present themselves, how they maintain themselves, and it would reflect accordingly to their other classes as well,” Hyles said. 

Hyles hopes that students who do not often get represented, whether it be in the media or in school, get to learn and connect to each other through this class. Identity and a sense of self may be missing from the collective sometimes, and the African American Experience class aspires to provide this to such students. 

“The main message I really want them to take from this class is that their histories matter as well.” Hyles said.