Better World

Tell Me Who You Are: Two High School Students Take Charge on Racial Literacy

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Before even completing their own high school educations, Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo set out to transform curriculums throughout the U.S. by tackling a huge missing piece: racial literacy.

Even though Vulchi and Guo, who are Indian American and Chinese-American respectively, had their own distinct experiences with race and racism, they realized they didn’t have any meaningful conversations or learning around race until their sophomore years. They identified two divides: a “heart gap: an inability to understand each of our experiences, to fiercely and unapologetically be compassionate beyond lip service,” and a “mind gap: an inability to understand the larger, systemic ways in which racism operates.”

So they aimed to provide educators with a way to bridge those conversations in the classroom. In 2017, Vulchi and Guo developed The Classroom Index with help from Princeton University’s African American studies department. 

The text won them a book deal with Penguin Random House, which helped them fund their book Tell Me Who You Are. Guo and Vulchi took a gap year after graduating from high school, traveling across the U.S. to collect 500 stories on race and culture. The duo submitted the manuscript on the same day they moved into their college dorms. The pair also created CHOOSE, a nonprofit aimed at legislative change at the national level to mandate racial literacy curriculum guidelines in K-12 education.

“We need to each begin by learning in our own local communities, bridging the gaps between our own hearts and minds to become racially literate. Once we all do, we will be that much closer to living in spaces and systems that fight and care equally for all of us. Then, none of us will be able to remain distant,” they said in a 2017 TED talk, adding, “Sorry, mom and dad, college can wait.”

Kaley LaQuea is an award–winning print and digital journalist who’s been creating content since 2008. She’s passionate about economic, environmental and social justice. She has an unhealthy relationship with caffeine and two cats: Totoro and Mononoke.