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Diversifying Our Narrative at GNS

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Last fall, Grade 12 student Eya Ibrahim introduced the GNS community to the ‘Diversify Our Narrative’ initiative. The campaign was founded by two Stanford University students in June 2020, and GNS has become the second chapter in Canada. 

“What the campaign aims to do is diversify the narrative to include more voices, to represent more groups of students and essentially aim to promote books that include different kinds of people that look different ways and to empower authors of colour,” explained Eya.

The campaign was an excellent fit with conversations already taking place in GNS departments, particularly in Language and Literature where new books representing SOGI, mental health, and BIPOC perspectives and protagonists have been brought to the forefront in recent years of curriculum development. 

While a few staples in the curriculum enjoy continued popularity, such as Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis in the Diploma Programme or Kwame Alexander’s Crossover in the IB MYP, GNS teachers are always seeking fresh perspectives and shifting the curriculum annually. This year, Grade 9s are excited to add The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline to their dystopia unit, and Joy Kogawa’s Obasan is a new Grade 10 focal point. 

GNS educators feel deeply about diversity as an ongoing goal, and are always excited when students come forward with passion and new ideas for reinvigorating core texts and the choices offered by the Summer Reading lists.

“Student leadership is key to choosing the right texts,” writes Ms Elbert, noting that the Book and Board Club members have chosen perennially popular The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo for their extra-curricular read and are looking forward to a tea-time discussion of the powerful bi-sexual female protagonist’s connections to real-world issues and figures.

Reflecting on the work that has been done so far, Eya notes the importance of education in effecting long-term change: “I think that’s a great step to combat racism in society.”

The IB inherently values diversity and global perspectives, as evidenced through required study of texts in translation from a minimum number of continents in the Diploma Language and Literature curriculum

“At GNS we were really fortunate to have such a receptive team and administration,” she said, noting the challenge of finding the ‘perfect books’ because “it has to generate conversations and there needs to be that strong literary element.”

She and her teachers will continue to mine the Prescribed Reading List for new, undiscovered gems to incorporate in the curriculum.

On December 1 at the Senior School assembly, Eya presented what ‘Diversify Our Narrative’ is to her peers. She said it was an important initiative for her to raise awareness, not only because she is a person of colour, but because she believes education creates change. 

“As a person of colour I have seen the impacts racism can have on different people, and I thought it was important that we were having that change at GNS,” she said. “I’m a believer that the key to change and addressing a problem is through education, because education can hopefully create more progressive generations in the future.” 

As for what’s next, Eya said she wants to reach out to the Middle and Junior Schools to see if she can offer assistance there as well. 

“There’s probably not going to be much to change, because they have already been implementing these changes throughout the past few years, which is great,” she said, adding she wants to reach out beyond GNS with the ‘Diversify Our Narrative.’

“We are thinking of connecting with the chapter at Mount Doug, and seeing if we can take the initiative to the city and to educate on the importance of why we are having this issue, and why we need to include more diversity in both education and the political sector, and create safer spaces for everyone.”