As a student at Tacoma's Lincoln High School, Dylan Tran expected his Advanced Placement World History course to provide him with multiple stories and perspectives of human history. But from the first page of the textbook, he felt like something critical was missing.
After looking over the list of authors, Tran noticed the ten authors were all white and seven were male. And, over the course of the year, Tran remembers that most of the course topics were focused on the experiences of whites in Europe and the United States.
“Not to dismiss that history,” Tran said. “But when we talked about genocide or World War II, we would spend three months on Europe while learning nothing about the Khmer Rouge or Japanese Internment. AP World History became synonymous with white (his)story. Always one-sided and written by ‘experts’ rather than the actual people they claim to know so much about."
The son of Southeast Asian refugees, Tran grew up in the Hilltop and Eastside neighborhoods of Tacoma. Like many of his peers, Tran said saw three options for himself after high school: joining a gang, getting a job or enlisting in the military.
Despite the frequent violence in Tacoma, Tran was able to succeed in high school through the support of advisers from TRiO Upward Bound. A federally funded program, TRiO supports low-income and first-generation students in graduating from high school and preparing for higher education.
“Because of TRiO, I was able to stay on track and feel genuinely supported. I felt a community of brothers and sisters who had my back and gained a mentor that raised my consciousness of the world around me.”
After being accepted to the University of Washington and initially pursuing studies in psychology, Tran discovered a new path while taking a course on Asian American studies.
“That was the first time I saw a positive reflection of myself in the textbook and on the other side of the classroom. I’d always seen myself depicted as some stereotypical Asian character, but this time was different. I saw my family history and the story of other Southeast Asian refugees. I studied Asian Pacific American civil rights leaders, dismantled model minority stereotypes, and worked to unpack my own identities and experiences as a man of color at a historically white institution.”
After changing his major to American ethnic studies, Tran then learned about the Education, Communities and Organizations (ECO) major offered by the College of Education and decided to double major. Through courses with Research Associate Jondou Chase Chen and ECO Director Cassady Glass-Hastings, Tran learned how to take an asset-based community development lens and use it in his own work. By recognizing community strengths, this approach looks for equitable and sustainable solutions to societal problems.
While completing his double major, Tran also has worked with a variety of organizations, both on and off campus. As a student ambassador for the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, Tran serves in his hometown of Tacoma and across the state, supporting students of color through the UW application process.
Now, Tran is using his leadership role in the Southeast Asian American Education (SEAeD) Coalition to influence change in education policy at the state level. His current focus is on advocating for HB1294 and HB1158/SB6406. HB1294 is a bill that would implement a model ethnic studies curriculum for public schools in Washington state. HB1158/SB6406 is a bill that would repeal the 1998 Washington state ban on affirmative action.
More than just legislative advocacy, he pushes to see those policies take effect. After the 2016 passage of HB1541, an education equity and data disaggregation bill, Tran and his team of interns are still keeping tabs on the people and organizations tasked with the implementation of this new law.
“We have to make sure that our efforts aren’t for nothing and that people in positions of power are being held accountable to the community. Change needs to be carried out at all levels.”
Tran aims to make a macro-scale impact in education through policy and curriculum development. One ambitious goal is to lead national changes in AP curricula designed by College Board, to be more reflective of the people and history of communities that make up the United States.
“If we are able to change just one textbook at a time, we have the potential to start classroom discussions, alter student mindsets, and plant seeds for the future of our nation.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications