Acronyms Are Part Of ‘White Supremacy Culture,’ According To San Francisco School District

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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San Francisco’s school district is changing the name of its arts department, which is referred to as “VAPA,” because “acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture,” numerous sources reported.

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) will begin referring to VAPA, short for visual and performing arts, as the SFUSD Arts Department instead in an effort to combat racism, ABC 7 reported.

“We are prioritizing anti racist arts instruction in our work,” Sam Bass, director of the department, told ABC 7. “It is a very simple step we can take to just be referred to as the SFUSD Arts Department for families to better understand who we are.”

Bass explained in a letter how acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture because they “alienate those who may not speak English.” This link between the use of acronyms in the educational field and white supremacy culture based off of a paper by Tema Okun, a racial justice trainer who spent more than 30 years working in schools and other organizations.

In the piece, titled “White Supremacy Culture,” Okun names characteristics that she believes are associated with white supremacy, like perfectionism, a sense of urgency, and individualism. “They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. Because we all live in a white supremacy culture, these characteristics show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all of us— people of color and white people,” Okun wrote.

Under the characteristic “worship of the written word,” which Okun associates with white supremacy, Okun advises to make sure that “anything written can be clearly understood,” and to “avoid academic language ‘buzz’ words,” which perpetuate white supremacy culture. 

Bass told ABC 7 that the School of the Arts, known by its acronym SOTA, should instead be referred to as Ruth Asawa School, the official name of the school. 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed was confused when ABC 7 asked her for her thoughts on removing acronyms, and thought the reporters had inquired about the subject of renaming schools in the city.

“We definitely need to have a robust conversation about what we need to do but not a rushed conversation,” Breed responded. 

San Francisco’s Board of Education approved the renaming of 44 public schools in late January over their “inappropriate” associations. Among the schools to be renamed is Dianne Feinstein Elementary, named after the California Democratic Senator who once served as the city’s mayor. (RELATED: REPORT: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein Among The 44 Names To Be Removed From San Francisco Schools)

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 17: A sign is posted outside of Abraham Lincoln High School on December 17, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Other schools slated to be renamed are ones named after Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key, who were both slave owners. 

The district’s school board is also considering a measure that would eliminate merit-based admissions at its most elite public school, Lowell High School, which is also among the best public high schools in the country, as part of an effort to address “pervasive systemic racism.”