English teacher Jeremy Quach, an Asian American, recently replaced Ebikepreye Obguinipe as the African American Lit teacher amidst Black Lives Matter protests.
This year, Obguinipe was supposed to teach African American Lit., but ended up departing from Jones, leaving the class to Quach. Quach said he took the job with a lot of wariness, even before the racial, political climate rose to new heights at the end of May.
After the start of the protests, Quach said it “led to a lot of deep reflection” on his part, he spoke with department chairs and Jones’ Black Student Union for approval to teach the class.
“Just because I’m an Asian person of color [doesn’t] mean I have the exact same experience, or I understand the Black experiences that we’re talking about in class,” Quach said, during a Google Meet interview.
After acknowledging the difference between being a fellow person of color and being Black, Quach further elaborated on how he shows students that he is respecting that boundary.
“You don’t need to listen to me about the African American experience,” he said. “I’m not going to tell them, No, you’re wrong about the Black experience”.
Quach has set goals for himself on how he will teach the class, to ensure his students voices’ are heard.
Quach wants his class to “empower” the voice of Black students. While teaching the class, he is going to bring in these “amazing voices and amplify” the voices of celebrated African American writers.
Quach wants to “fill in the gap” that is present within the traditional education system for Black students.
Quach vocalized numerous times that this job is important to him and A.A. Lit. is one of the “most important classes that Jones [has]” and that it needs to be done right.
“Where I stood with it is, I do not want me teaching this class to be any sort of barrier to progress or [an] obstacle to progress,” said Quach.
A Black student said they were worried they wouldn’t “get the full experience” of A.A. Lit., with it no longer being taught by the previous teacher, Ogundipe. African American Lit. is one of only two courses that cater to Black students at Jones and after allegations on the @jones.bipoc page, on instagram, the loss of Ogundipe added to what R’riyon Draine ‘21 called a “complete divide amongst communities.”
“Going into this class, I was very skeptical,” said Draine. “When I registered for the class I was so excited to be taught by a Black teacher, a Black female teacher, at Jones!”
Draine also said Obguinipe would have been her first Black teacher at Jones with her being in her senior year.
According to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) the 125 million dollar increase in funding for individual schools went into effect the summer of 2020. Jones principal, Paul Joseph Powers, said in an online interview, that the school’s budget was too low to replace Ogunipe but he has faith in Quach and his teaching abilities. However, some students said they weren’t buying it, Draine said Powers’ explanation for not replacing Oguinipe, with another Black teacher, wasn’t “sufficient enough” for her.
“Jones is not a school that is under-resourced or underfunded, CPS needs to do better with hiring more Black teachers,” Janiel Laboy ‘22 said.
There is a lingering consensus that there is not enough effort, energy, or resources put into the African American Literature class.
“I do not understand why this class is not given the same treatment as the other core subjects,” Draine said. “They would have found an alternative option if they really cared about their Black students and their representation in the school,”.
The lack of representation has had a negative impact on the Black student population at Jones. The Jones Black demographic has been on a consistent decline since 2015, falling from 19% to 12%, which is severely under the district and state norm on www.illinoisreportcard.com.
Draine wishes the admin had more proclivity for putting effort into keeping and giving minorities representation at our school.
Having teachers of the same race creates comfort and relatability and “boosts”the academic performance of students, according to learningpolicyinstitute.org.
Laboy stated she “couldn’t name more than five” Black teachers at Jones, since there are only 12 teachers and 10 staff members, that are Black. Black faculty members makeup less than 15% of the Jones staff population. Although Quach is not one of those Black teachers, students like Draine, still recommend his class to up-coming Seniors.
“I think anyone would benefit from the class,” says Draine. “My teacher ensures that both the students and him were on the same page”.