Higher Education Anti-Racist Teaching Podcast
The Higher Education Anti-Racist Teaching (H.E.A.R.T.) Podcast focuses on elevating our learning about anti-racist teaching at colleges and universities.
In this series of podcasts, we explore what antiracist teaching in higher education is, what it entails, what challenges educators face, and any advice our guests can give our audience in their antiracist teaching journey.
The podcasts are co-hosted by Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and doctoral student Omar Romandia. With a strong commitment to centering the learning of BIPOC students, they ask questions of their guests to deepen conceptions about antiracist teaching as well as advance teaching practices that align with antiracist tenets.
The podcast is supported by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut.
With this introduction we launch the Higher Education Anti Racist Teaching (H.E.A.R.T.) Podcast! Co-Hosts Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Omar Romandia, will explore what anti-racist teaching in higher education is, what it entails, what challenges educators face, and any advice our guests can give our audience in their anti-racist teaching journey.
Please join us next week (Wednesday, February 3rd) for our full-length episode in which we will be discussing intersectionality alongside Dr. Saran Stewart, Associate Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of Connecticut as well as Dr. Jessica Harris Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Organizational Change from the University of California, Los Angeles. As scholars who engage in intersectionality research, they share how their educational foundations, research, and personal experiences guide their antiracist teaching.
Transcript to come...
In this episode, Dr. Saran Stewart from the University of Connecticut and Dr. Jessica Harris from the University of California, Los Angeles discuss what antiracist teaching means to them, how they enact it in their classrooms, and why they engage in antiracist teaching. They also discuss how students have responded to this teaching approach and how they have worked through those responses. You can hear both of them discuss how contexts shape antiracist teaching whether that is national context or institutional context. This is Part I of this conversation. Join us next week, for Part II of this conversation with Dr. Stewart and Dr. Harris.
Transcript – Episode 1 Part 1
H.E.A.R.T. Podcast Episode 1 Part 1
In this first episode, we'll be discussing intersectionality and its use in teaching practices. We'll be taking this journey together alongside professors Jessica Harris, and Saran Stewart in which they share how their personal experiences and educational foundations guide their work. Take it away, Milagros!
Thanks, Omar. I'm thrilled to be introducing Dr. Saran Stewart, who is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on access and equity, post-colonial theories, decolonizing, methodologies, and international and comparative higher education. With us today, we also have Dr. Jessica Harris, who is an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on critical race theory in education multi-racial reality and the intersections of race, gender, and campus, sexual assault. Both of these scholars are advancing the field of higher education through their research, using intersectionality as a framework, which makes them perfect for our first episode this season.
Saran and Jessica, thank you so much for being here with us today. I'm really looking forward to hearing your perspective on how intersectionality can be a lens from which we enter and in that tire education and anti-racist teaching, especially since you both use this lens to do your own research. So, let’s get started.
Jessica, can you tell us a bit more about what anti-racist teaching means to you? Sure. Um, you know, this was difficult for me to answer because I just teach in the manner that I teach and I do, I would say yes. Um, you know, my teaching is anti-racist but more so my teaching is informed by a critical race theory lens.
As you mentioned, Milagros. Um, a lot of my research, all of my research is informed by critical race theory. And so, my teaching is very much informed by critical race theory as well. So, what that really means for me is that, um, my teaching it centers, how racism is endemic to education, right. It centers settler, colonialism, and anti-blackness.
It really pushes back on these comforting white majority, majority male stories. Right? So, a lot of the curriculum that students might see is centered on whiteness and, and white men. And so, it's really pushing back on, on that, um, that understanding that that's where knowledge lies. It also really pushes back on the black, white binary.
Right? I think a lot of times, um, because of anti-blackness because of, um, you know how institutions were founded on the transatlantic slave trade. We tend to focus. We being educators may focus, tend to focus on, um, anti-blackness and black students, faculty, and staff, and that is absolutely necessary. But I also think it's really important to push back against that black, white binary and focus on settler colonialism and native students and native realities and Asian students and xenophobia and so on and so forth.
So, I think CRT is inherently anti-racist, but yeah. I also think anti-racism has become a buzzword more recently. And so, I just want to kind of, I want to say, yes, I am. Anti-racist in my teaching, but more so I'm really focusing on, um, the tenets of critical race theory and infusing those tenants into my teaching.
Awesome Jess. So happy to see you. Um, so you know, the thing, I think that's strong through Jess and I, to be quite honest with you, when we think about answering this question is that we had our grounding at the same institution. And so. We had to seem kind of ideological, philosophical underpinnings kind of rooted.
So, I can see some of our answers are going to overlap. The answer is, is teaching, um, is really cemented for me in particular, in a decolonizing frame, looking at emancipatory ways of understanding, knowing delivery content. So, it's a dual focus in terms of really focusing on what is not through capitalist lens.
And that's where a lot of my anti-racist work is going to literally be connected to anti colonialist work as well. And then this reframe is in some more decolonized space. And the reason for that in particular is having taught outside of the U.S. for so long. To a predominant I've told my students this semester that I've only ever taught in my academic career, all black students, ironically, um, as an adjunct faculty with the University of Denver, I've taught a mixed group of students, but my majority of my academic career is that, and I cone that as a privilege, but it also lets me understand what I've been grappling with recently is I’m trying to really deflect on what we considered the colonial gaze that each of us being taught in Western colonial, um, institutions are going to be pervasive in this rhetoric. And the constant challenge for us in doing this work is situating our work or ethics or moral into equity.
Anti-racism, um, decolonization, critical race focus. And so, we're centering those works, but it's a constant pushback. And I would argue in doing this work, you're also constantly regulating yourself and the work that you do. And understanding the means in which you're doing it, because for me in particular, it's the unlearning of education that has become ever-present in this anti-racist work and anti-racist teaching with our students.
Um, and it's really interesting in coming back to teach in the United States. And it's significantly different to be quite honest with you. I'm teaching a predominant homogenous group, even though it's a historically what we would consider a marginalized group. It's not in their context. So that's a whole different centering and recent turn for how this work is done from a global perspective, from a post-colonial de-colonize perspective, but it all is intertwined in the current essence of when you're in predominantly white, global, Northern capitalist societies.
It is required of you. If you really want to be about this equity work. Yeah, no, thank you for that. And you know, one of the, um, things that I want to ask you is a question that I once came across, um, In a book chapter by Gloria Ladson-Billings. And that question just really stood with me because I had those questions when I was coming across the work.
So, I appreciated that she actually titled the chapter, the question everybody was asking her, which was, “yes! But how do we do it?” So, I'm going to ask you this, like you've broken down what it means. Take me inside of your classroom. Take us inside of your classroom. Can you, um, either share some principles that you enact, or maybe just give one example, like concrete as possible.
What does it look like in action in your classroom? Um, let's start off with Saran. Sure. So absolutely bar none the only way I've been able to do this work is to do self-reflexive journaling. And it doesn't matter if I'm teaching, um, hierarchal in there, um, modeling structural equation, statistics, qualitative research methodology, or.
Comparative higher education. It does not matter. It's a tool, an academic tool I've used and a number of scholars use it as well. Where I assign, um, all the readings I asked the students. To journal throughout the semester where they just suppose their lived experiences and integrate, and later in salient quotes that resonate and that they have dissonance with so that they can grapple with this thing called “academic jargon” across the spectrum of courses.
the, the whole purpose of that is to also introduce them to authors. Um, I love to do it in STEM fields in particular, but to introduce them to authors that are non-whites. And the reason for that is to break through the rhetoric of this anti-blackness curriculum that is pervasive throughout in particular global and other institutions, and even former British, colonial institutions as well, and the reason.
And so, in doing that, that then, in many ways we have seen students do and it takes a couple of required journals, right? They're grappling with the jargon, the academic rhetoric, trying to really understand it. And then trying to map on their lived experiences. I've seen how they're better able to understand the reasoning, the purpose, how they situate themselves.
But most importantly, that they can do this, that they are part of the narrative and not excluded from the narrative. So that's one example and one tool that I've used to kind of really situate the students, writing language, um, especially when you dealing with non-native English speakers. Um, also trying to grapple with, um, impostor syndrome in the Academy.
Um, as I've taught 90% of my students across the seven years, um, have all been first-generation students. And so, this tool is breaking down the myth of what is, um, higher education writing, higher education overall, to simplify to its bare bone content, to how it relates to the self. So that's one, one example.
Thank you that’s fantastic. Jessica, what are your thoughts? Yeah, like saran said, we overlap a little bit, um, with the reflective exercises and I really want to stress the point that it doesn't matter what class you're teaching, that we shouldn't be thinking about. The anti-racist teaching. Or, you know, pushing back on, uh, normative understandings of whatever's in the curriculum.
Right? So, one of the things that I do do, regardless of if I'm teaching student development theory, if I am teaching critical race theory or racism in higher education, um, or a stats course, which is so not my lane, but if I were teaching that I would start out with students reading the first week something about settler, colonialism, something about anti-blackness and how it relates to higher education. Right. So right now, I usually have students read an article by Glenn from 2015 about settler colonialism as framework, which isn't about higher education, but really having students bring that back into.
Okay, so this might be more general about us society, but how does this map back to our work as practitioners, as educators, as researchers? And then I also always have them read Laurie Patton Davis's um, Dr. Lori Patton Davis’s. Post-secondary pros, which is a CRT to really map, um, map how anti-blackness really was the foundation of the higher education system in this country, um, and other countries as well.
Um, and so I start with that. Um, I also think it's really important. I think the Saran mentioned this, but again, pushing back with the curriculum. So, who's who, like, not only what themes and what identities am I putting into my syllabus pretty into the readings, but also what's scholars. Right? So, people can be writing about, uh, native students or about multiracial faculty, but those individuals can still be white CIS, hetero men.
Right? And so, it's coming from a specific perspective. And so being really intentional in not only what the topics are in the class, but also who is writing about these topics. Right? Um, and also just to get a little bit more. Into that it's also what institutions, what journals, right? That we're not just, um, upholding whiteness and white supremacy by putting in only articles that are in the review of higher education or AERJ, which are very much these top tier journals, but have very much been influenced by whiteness and white supremacy.
Um, and having a conversation with students about why I do this and how I do this and what they're reading. Um, the one, the one other thing, two other things I will say one is that I am also intentional in putting in readings about whiteness and white students and white faculty, because I think that the absence of, of whiteness in the curriculum is then inherently anti-racist right.
But we need to be critiquing whiteness and how that operates on the college campus. Um, and the other thing I will say too, is that I've become more and more intentional about. About, I guess, infusing different forms of racism and forms of, uh, you know, how white supremacy manifests. So not only are we talking about settler, colonialism and anti-blackness, but we're also talking about xenophobia.
We're also talking about mono-racism, which affects multiracial individuals, racist nativism, and so really getting students to think a little bit more deeper about. Not only how do these systems intersect and influenced me, but also how might I be upholding these systems? Right? And being privileged by some of these systems.
That’s amazing. I mean, what you both are doing just sounds like one, I need to take your classes. I have to figure out how you can enroll, audit, but also, um, I'm curious about what the response, what's your experience with student response? And what kind of range of responses do you receive, um, with the type of teaching that you're doing?
Um, so I'm going to ask Jessica first, since she just went, um, last, so you mentioned a few things there about, you know, the curriculum and that you explain, you know, to students, not just the, what, the themes, the core ideas you're going to cover, but the who. And the why of those who, um, and in addition to that, really trying to deepen and expand or broaden ideas about what racism is and all the variations in which racism can show up.
Um, what kind of responses have you received in, in your teaching experience? Yeah. Thank you for this question. Um, because it allows me to reflect on my own privilege and passion. Um, So at the moment. So, I've been at UCLA now five years and the response has been lovely. Like it's almost to a point where students are like, I want more, they really pushed me.
So some of the reason why I've added in, okay. So, let's talk about xenophobia and racist nativism. And these other forms of racism is because these students are demanding. It. They're demanding it. And it's also that there's just such a diverse, racially, diverse group of students that I have in the classroom, which I am so blessed to have.
And I'm know I'm blessed to have that because I also taught at another institution before UCLA, University of Kansas. I'll put it on blast, but u\University of Kansas reflects so many other institutions that we have in the U.S. uh, being, predominantly white, historically white, uh, settled in their curriculum of whiteness, um, and very comfortable being there.
And so, I had so much pushback my first year of teaching and it was everything that I read it. I would say it as Academic Deja Vu. That's how I would describe it where I'm like, Oh, I've read this in the literature. I've read that white students pushed back against women of color or people of color faculty members in the classroom and say, Oh, my gosh, this person just always wants to talk about race.
They make everything about race. They're not articulate. They don't know what they're talking about. I can't. I can't really learn anything from them because they're not as smart as a professor should be. Right. I experienced all of that at the University of Kansas. One, because yes, it was a predominantly white cohort of students, but also because of that was nobody else was pushing back against the understandings of, of, uh, whiteness and racism within the program, within the institution, within the world, within the country.
And so, UCLA is very different. Um, it has. It's issues as every institution does, but I'm very, very blessed to have students who are clamoring, chomping at the bit to, um, consume critical ways of knowing to consume how do I be anti-racist in my future practice or my future research. Um, and so I've been met with a lot, a lot of support and love and.
Um, so much more positivity from students. So, I'm very, very blessed because I know that that is a very huge outlier experience. Yeah. And before we transition to saran, um, if I could just ask a quick follow-up, um, which is in one setting, you're seeing, you know, you’re kind of like the sole or the one or the one month, few who are offering this type of teaching or offering this type of curriculum.
And so, the response, some of the response you're getting is also because it's not an expectation. Context wide, right? It's not an expectation everywhere. Whereas the context changes and I'm sure, you know, you didn't say this, but it sounded I'm inferring. So, I'm, I want to confirm it feels like there's an, a culture around you where that is almost like expectation and, and people want more because there's an expectation that that's the learning that's going to be happening.
So, I'm curious about, if that's true. If you could share that or maybe clarify that I misunderstood. And then if you don't mind sharing how you respond to that. So, I'm hearing a little bit from the UCLA response is that I give them more, they ask for more. So, I give them more and I am learning. It sounds like you're saying I'm being pushed to learn more.
And I'm curious, you know, how did you handle the pushback that you got when you went to University of Kansas? Cause that's a different context, but way more common for, for many anti-racist teachers. So, I'm just curious to hear more about that. Yeah. Um, yes, I was nodding the whole time, so yes, everything that you said.
Correct. Um, and, um, you know, it's interesting cause I'm on the tenure track now and, um, you know, in the first two years I had a lot of anxiety about my teaching. And to be honest, the first year I did have some major pushback from students and it was way more about my identity. Right? And it was actually from people that held the same identities that I did.
[Right. So, women of color, mixed race, women of color. And I thought that that was. Fascinating. And I'm still doing a lot of work around like, well, what does that mean? And, and what does that mean for higher education? Maybe it means nothing. Um, but responding to the students at University of Kansas was really interesting.
Cause I wasn't on the tenure track. I did have a lot of anxiety cause I was like, these students hate me and they're so rude to me in the classroom, but it took them, it took them about 10 weeks to warm up. And then, you know, on my teaching evals, I had one student specifically be like, “I hated this professor in this class, in the beginning.
And now I like understand that that was because of my privilege. Like this class taught me that.” Right? And I think that that again is kind of an outlier experience. 10 weeks is not going to make a student like have these mind-blowing, um, understandings, but I just trudged through. Cause it was the only way I knew how to teach.
And if I was truly embodying CRT as embodied theory, I wasn't going to turn back. And of course, I had the privilege of that because I was out of there after a year. Like I had stepped, stepped foot in Kansas and was like, we're doing this for one year and no more. Right. And I'll just say finally, one of the things I live by.
Um, because of CRT is something that Derrick bell wrote about and he asked me a question like Gloria Ladson-Billings, PS, racism is here to stay now what? Right. What do we do about it? And so, he makes this, this argument that it's here to stay. It's here to be, it's going to be here forever, but that doesn't mean that we're going to stop trying to deconstruct it and push against it.
Right? We all know he makes us kind of this analogy. We all know that we're going to die. But that doesn't stop us from living and living life to the fullest. It makes us want to live more. And so that's very much, um, how I view teaching is that I know I'm not going to solve all the issues. I know that there will be the absence of racism after I've taught this course.
But I do know that there's some sort of change that I've made that I've chipped away at something. Thank you so much. Saran, what are your thoughts about, um, how students have responded? You know, like what, you know, to the work that you've done, you talked about that reflective journals and what kind of, and you talked about two different contexts, one context being homogeneous, where you were in Jamaica and you know, you really talking about.
What would be here, a minoritized population, but they're very much the norm. And then now you're in this context where it's, you know, racially diverse classroom. Can you speak to me a little bit about what kind of responses you've gotten? Milagros? Yeah, Jess and I got some twin twinning life. So basically, and I've wrote, I've written about this, right?
I've published this in the, or. The book that we did with Professor Tuitt, and, Hanes Davidson, um, about the critical, inclusive pedagogies around the globe. And essentially, I wrote that in my first semester returning home, it was my first semester, first month teaching that, um, master's students. And I forgot what it was.
I believe it was, um, The Master's in Educational Measurement students. And I was teaching them around the areas of educational research. Right. It's based on my own course. And the, the class representative came to see me, my office, Oh, is my first time I kid you not she's like, don't just do it. “I've come on behalf of my class to let you know that, um, your status teaching it's too foreign.
We, we, we are not built for this. This is too far in minded”, right? All this me, me, anti-racist, I'm tired of. What's like, what's you talking about film, critical race, sports and research and philosophy of the mine on group work. We came here to take notes and for you to lecture to us, she kind of let me know that. Whoa, did the students really approach Dr. Stewart to share that they disagreed with their teaching style? That's interesting. Have you ever had that take place Milagros? Actually Omar, it's quite common. There are a number of published articles in books that report the challenges that bypass faculty experience, especially at historically white colleges and universities.
For example, there's this fantastic book that covers this topic well, entitled, presumed, and competent their intersections of race and class for women in academia. And there's also a really great article entitled Teaching in the Line of Fire, is a reality, especially for black women in the prophecy area, um, that we need to name and make sure we continue to address.
So, I'm glad that Dr. Stewart raised this issue with that. Tanisha is no, um, complete in our second Master's in Canada about to do her PhD. And she's one of my research students. Right. And I kept that day though, when she left the office, I felt so abysmal that I called my mentor. And said to him that, what do I do?
How do I continue to do this work? And essentially, he said, you know, you gotta trust the process. Right. And I constantly was like, well, this clearly is not the process because there's so much pushback and immediately kind of pushed against what is normative and the culture of the institution versus what you thought was going to be liberating.
And emancipatory. And one thing that reminded me similar to what Jess had said is that I really didn't know any other way to teach. It was the way in which I knew would have centered around equity, around critical race theory around, um, an anti-colonial colonialist perspective. And I knew that there would be constant pushback.
But I kept on keeping on, and I've seen the fruits of that labor, right? Seven years old, you know, these students are doing amazing things, right. And they're critical change agents and critical scholars. And so. I'll read about one of the students who actually I've written about them, and they were like truth be told I'm going to have to read a small quote from what they said. Truth be told. I was very skeptical about the titles of the documents and even the size of some of the documents teaching in the line of fire, your blues. Ain't like my blues, every shutter I ain't sleep. And who am I. Every title. I came across, made me envision and bought my life and what I might read about it, it was as if I was awakened by the new knowledge and insights that I was extracting from these documents, the blanket that was over my eyes vanished, and I no longer wanted to stay for my thoughts and questions about race, color, or class.
And so, what I found was at the complete, the risk of getting horrible evaluations, not being tenured. There is something to say about faculty who go about this work really just. Doing it in the pursuit of equity and justice and social justice work that you just keep going on. Right? Um, and I don't have an answer that is the right thing.
Cause I don't believe it's for everyone. I'll be very honest about that as well. But I've seen in. In the Jamaican context, this very revolutionary revelation of doing this work. When there's resistance met at the front end. Here, it's an interesting bag because it's a diverse, much more diverse pool of students that I am dealing with, um, versus a very homogenous full Jamaican Afro Caribbean.
Um, first-generation set of Masters students right here. It's a mix. Um, and what I phoned here is really interesting in terms of there is a diversity of on the standing that the black white binary cannot just be the pervasive binary, right. Pervasive way in which you go about your pedagogy. Um, and so inclusion takes a whole different set of steps were pushing against comfort zones and comfort being uncomfortable is not a thing. It is seen as, um, a threat in some cases. And so, I'm still trying to debate what that means here. But I'm persistent in the work of constantly showing what does, what should equity look like?
And also understanding that when we do this work, we ourselves are work in progress. And I don't believe that we were ever taught that. I think we assumed that the scholars who were teaching us knew all the answers and therefore they must hide it. Right. But I really quickly learned that that is not the case.
We are all a work in progress in this work, and we must constantly try to grow in it as well, so.
Thank you so much for joining us. Part two of our conversation with Dr. Saran Stewart and Jessica Harris will be released next Wednesday, February 10th, available wherever you listen to podcasts. This podcast is made possible with support from the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut. We are also extremely grateful for our colleagues who offered valuable guidance and support, including the awesome team from the UConn 360 Podcast.
It takes a village and it takes heart. Thank you.
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Patton, L. D. (2015). Disrupting postsecondary prose: Towards a critical race theory of higher education. Urban Education, 51(3), 315-342.
Tuitt, F., Hanna, M., Martinez, L. M., Salazar, M.D., Griffin, R. (2009). Teaching in the line of fire: Faculty of Color in the Academy. Thought & Action, 65-74.
Allen, W. R. & Chung, Angie, Y. (2000). ‘Your blues ain't like my blues': Race, ethnicity, and social inequality in America. Contemporary Sociology, 29(6), 796-805.
Stewart, S. Deal, K., Hubain, B., Hunt, C., & Bowlby. (2013). Who am I? An exploration of role identity formation and socialization throughout the U.S. Journal of Student Affairs, 22, 77-84.
Stewart, S. (2016). Advancing a critical and inclusive praxis: Pedagogical and curriculum innovations for social change in the Caribbean. In F. Tuitt, C. Haynes, & S. Stewart (Eds.), Race, equity and the learning environment: The global relevance of critical and inclusive pedagogies in higher education (pp. 9 -22). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
In this episode, we continue our discussion with Dr. Saran Stewart from the University of Connecticut and Dr. Jessica Harris from the University of California, Los Angeles about how intersectionality serves as a lens from which they enact antiracist teaching. They discuss the embodied nature of antiracist teaching, the influential moments and teachers that have shaped their own antiracist teaching, and offer advice for instructors interested in antiracist teaching.
Transcript – Episode 1 Part 2
H.E.A.R.T. Podcast Episode 1 Part 2
Hello everyone. And welcome to episode one, part two of the heart podcast. I'm Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and I'm co-hosting the heart podcast with Omar Romandia. Welcome everyone! Thanks so much for joining us. We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.
Omar, I'm excited to be continuing the conversation with Dr. Stewart and Dr. Harris. Part one of the first episode was really powerful. Several things that they said. Really stayed with me. And one of those things is that both of them mentioned that this is the only way they know how to teach. And that point emphasizes to me how much of anti-racist teaching is an embodied practice, particularly for faculty of color.
And this is a point that is supported in higher education research related to anti-racist teaching. But I found it really illuminating to hear it from their perspective. I couldn't agree more, Milagros. Like you, there were countless ideas that stood out to me specifically, Dr. Stewart's point that we are all a work in progress and that we should constantly work to grow in it.
Her growth mindset is directly in line with the purpose of our podcast, in which we aim to spread knowledge. To help others learn and to put anti-racist teaching practices into action. Right. Well, you know, something else that stood out to me from that first part of the first episode is how important context is to the enactment of antiracist teaching Dr. Stewart and Dr. Harris really made me think a lot about how the work of anti-racist teaching cannot be put squarely on the shoulders of anti-racist teachers, but instead the higher education institutional leaders must share the burden if they really want anti-racist teaching tour occur and thrive at their institutions.
And for me, that means that academic leaders need to be committed to creating an ecosystem in which anti-racist teaching can be fostered and enacted. I'm so glad you mentioned that, Milagros. I feel as though anti-racist teaching is a collective effort that should be cultivated by individual change agents while the current state of affairs is far from perfect there is certainly plenty of room for growth. Well, let's continue the conversation with Dr. Stewart and Dr. Harris, shall we?
You are both amazing scholars doing work, using intersectionality as a lens in your scholarship. What influence do you see? And I think I've heard a few of those influences already, but I'm wondering if there might be something you might add about the influence of intersectionality as a frame for the way you think about your teaching.
Maybe I could ask Jessica to get us started on that. Yeah, this also was a difficult one to answer. I think because intersectionality for me is also embodied theory. Um, Because I used it and come to love it so much, but also because I strongly identify as a woman of color, um, and have these intersecting identities and feel that, uh, systems of sexism and racism and classism and genderism influenced me on a daily basis, especially when I'm in the classroom.
I actually think I'm a little bit more explicit with how intersectionality might influence what I'm doing. Intersectionality for me is embodied in CRT. Um, and so I've already mentioned, you know, I use different themes or I'm very intentional about whose scholarship I'm putting into the syllabus. Um, but I also am very, I've written about the misuse and the use of intersectionality in higher education.
And so, students know that I'm going to be very critical about how they're using intersectionality, because again, intersectionality like anti-racism and CRT has become kind of this buzz word, but also these really powerful frameworks to view higher education. But I think it's really, really important that we don't de-politicize the, the theory that we don't dilute its power by saying.
Oh, you know, the intersections of the intersectionality of identity. Like for some reason that just grinds my gears. I was tweeting about it the other day, where it's like, intersectionality of identity is not a thing. Right. Um, so I'm, I really pushed back where I really am in trying to make sure that students are understanding of intersectionality, maybe not correctly, because I don't think there's a correct way, but in a, in a more powerful way and a less diluted way. And one of the ways I do that is by having students read Crenshaw's 1989 article or 1991 article. Um, and, and not just using, you know, the MMDI.
Uh, which is a student development theory and saying, that's intersectionality. How do you bring that into the classroom? Like, what do you think those seminal pieces are doing that allows, you know, some of the deeper thinking around intersectionality to surface in your classroom? Yeah, absolutely. I immediately go to the three forms of intersectionality, which in my research on how we've used and misused, its scholars really don't use it three forums and people don't know that there's actually three forms of intersectionality that Crenshaw talks about in the 1991 article, which is, um, based on or centered on the rape and battery of women of color in the U S and these forms are structural intersectionality, representational, intersectionality, and political intersectionality.
You know, I don't want to lock myself in or others into how they use it, but really political intersectionality has allowed allowing me to think and teach in a manner that really explores how people are, are, um, are, I guess, imprisoned? That's, that's the word that comes to mind or, or stuck in a chasm when they have these multiple identities.
Right? So, it really talks about how anti-racist discourse really centers, men of color, black men, and how feminist discourse centers, white women. And then you have these women of color who are falling into a chasm and are upholding these discourses. Right. But aren't seen by these discourses. And so, the way that I, that influences me in the Academy in the classroom is to really acknowledge like who is speaking, who is not being seen by me, by their peers and also by the curriculum. Right? There's also structural intersectionality, which talks about we have all these ways in which the structures of higher education, the structures of the U S really benefit those who have privilege because we are mapping our resources onto the most privileged groups.
So, for instance, sexual violence resource centers, very much center on white women and white women's survivorhood. They don't account for intergenerational trauma. They don't account for the ways that parents aren't often going to be disclosed to because there were maybe shame within the culture. Right?
And so, the way that I think about that in the classroom is again, like what is going on in the lives of students and how our resources that we're putting on our syllabus. Right? So, the center for accessible education, how are they not so accessible to these students of color, to these queer students, to these queer trans students of color.
Right? But I'm teaching. Um, and then finally, there's representational intersectionality, which really gets at how. You know, for the, for a short way to kind of condense it is how our culture, our society is riddled with stereotypes that the students are bringing into the classroom and very much stereotypes of their own cultural, own racial identity.
Right? And that they're adopting these and behaving in certain ways. And so, it's very much how do I dispel these stereotypes? How do I push against them? How do we talk about how do I allow students to talk about like, Whoa, my culture says and told me this, or socialized me in this way? And that's what I'm bringing into the classroom.
And this is what I'm, this is the meaning I'm making of this. So those were just some of the ways that I, I put intersectionality into the class a little bit more directly. That's fantastic. Thank you so much. Saran. What are your thoughts? Um, so a couple of things with, um, yeah, intersectionality, I think Professor Crenshaw would also argue that it's gotten the buzzword kind of, um, open air quotes a lot in terms of how it is applied in research, um, and how it is a name and, you know, uh, for the better parts of doing this research study that came out recently, um, with some of the sisters scholars and I, when we looked at 30 years of research and across these 680 articles, Some things that were pervasive that really were illuminated even through that research process, which took us about four years is that each of us really underwent so many critical changes within how we really were.
Um, I think that much more intentional about the way in which we not just teach, study research and became consumers off intersectional work. And we're deliberate in how we were going to assign, um, do our assessments, right. In that way, who were we naming now? I'll be very honest. I'm very, I'm biased to two categories of, um, research subjects, which are black woman, black, Caribbean woman in particular.
And when that happens, my expertise are definitively locked into that area. And I'm seeing this because in doing this. I am reminded that for us to teach in a way that is edifying and strengths-based focus, we are centering also aspects of who we are. So, in just talks about this theory becomes and this framing and the three prongs off the original framing becomes like embodied texts, embodied theory.
It's true. Um, it's to, uh, a strength of us, but it's also to a fault. And the reason why I would only say fault or challenge is really because. That's the, that's my prism. That's my lens. That's the way in which I look through things through and want to work through. And so, when I'm talking about research and literature and trying to pull on it, I do worry about myself falling into the exclusionary category to be quite honest, because I am centered on.
Black feminist exhibition, especially Afro Caribbean, feminist theories and how that censors and does not center in work and everything that belongs to that, the literature going back, whether it's colonial diasporic across the diaspora, post diaspora, et cetera. And so that's where my area is. And so, I find myself constantly.
And this is what I was talking about at work in progress. I find myself constantly wanting to push my students to think in that way. What is their specialty do? Are they understanding and knowing who they are at the core and thereby researching, writing, knowing their purpose as well? And that's hard.
Because I am biased towards that lens and it's a very singular lens. It is Africa, Caribbean woman in particular and or experiences. Right. And what that signals for me constantly is trying to tap myself to be more open, more guided, more inclusive. Um, but going back to, is this enough? Can it be enough for white men studying white men it's enough, right.
And there is no shame on it. There is no feeling of inadequacy is when you look through these lens, you want to say to yourself, well, you know, this is my focus. This is all I can, this is all I can give you right now. And it's my specialty area. Cause it's all I think through work through and knew through.
Um, but I find that in our institutions, that imprisonment that Jess was saying. What professor Laurie patent has said. Davis has said is institutionalized, sanctioned violence on us, both in the political, structural, and representational that we're constantly having to go above and beyond work twice as much because the policies just aren't fit for us to do, do the research that we want to do.
Embodied in who we are. It's almost like we have to feel ashamed to do that. In many ways. I find that here at Yukon, I've phoned that previously at my institution as well, because doing that type of research for whatever reason, just isn't enough. And, um, I grapple with that as a tenured professor, trying to find that space of.
Saying that no, it is enough. It needs to be enough because had I been white and male hetero, it would be enough, but it is, I've found it's in so many instances, intersectionality isn't enough, um, saying that you're a CRT scholar, isn't enough. And I'm saying it not because of, or per view because of our lenses, but how we are also viewed in the Academy.
So, when you first asked about how the Academy's going to receive these scholars, the Academy is going to be the very, the very body, the very structural and political body. That is spoken about intersectionality that will reject these scholars, even with the happy talk I'm doing it because they can't solely focus on what they embody and what they want to do.
That's fascinating. Thank you so much for your insightful answers, for sure. I can pick up that the both of you bring not only a breadth of experience, but also a true passion for what you investigate, not only what you investigate, but how you, how you put it into practice, what experiences do you bring into the classroom and how do you think that came to influence your way of teaching and your way of practicing anti-racist teaching?
So, um, I think there was, um, I'm living in a couple of different countries in the world. Hence the global lens. I do have a lot of things and one particular country. I won't out them. I should probably, but I want, um, one particular country, I was called the N word. Um, walking down by a group of skinheads and I was studying at their most formidable institution and the actual countries in central Europe.
So, there's not too many. Right? And that was at that moment, I thought to myself and I was getting my second master's degree at the time. And I thought to myself, my goodness, I'm getting a second master's degree, but all I'm ever seen outwardly is the N word. Right? And what I mean, and the visceral is threat, not just the emotional, psychological threat, but the physical harm.
Um, so when I, at that point I had only studied business international relations. Cause those were my focus points. Education was not in it to be quite honest with you, but it was seemingly at that point I questioned everything about understanding why and what I'm supposed to be doing in an international plane, no matter, you know, going to their most prestigious institution, it didn't matter because, Oh, it's widely.
I would always be viewed through the eyes of these white supremacists, literally white supremacists. And so, at that point started this real shift in my entire educational pathway. Um, how could I leverage education for economic transformation and development in, um, global Southern countries to be quite honest.
So that was the pathway that really did that. And then when I got into the program, I started to really look through that. There was a course, um, that Professor Tuitt taught, it was a social historical, cultural just kind of helped me. I think you took it as well by, but he had us do our autobiographical journeys.
And I'd always tell people that that was the most pivotal assignment I've ever done to date because that autobiographical narrative that we had to do was then going to be deconstructed through a critical race lens. And essentially what it did was tear apart every style, not style, um, nostalgia and nostalgic memory of your educational beginnings.
And it ripped it apart, even in an international space where I've spent majority of my schooling outside of the United States. And so, what that did was signaled that all my goodness. Education on is pervasively, racist and colonialist. And there is before that we didn't have the lingo of anti-blackness then, but when I look back at it now well, most of us have gone through is essential and anti-blackness curriculum. And it was very pervasive in my curriculum going through a, you know, a former British colony and even into the United States and when I was in central Europe. And so, it tore all the nostalgia away and it ripped it apart. Um, for us to rebuild and for us to rebuild a narrative through a critical conscious lens.
And so, I thought about what that did and how it created, um, this kind of real answer to that day when I was called the N word, walking down those streets, and I thought, this is it. This is why I need to do this is to figure out one's purpose in really change in the status quo. And so, yeah, that's. Best parts of the journey and the continued journey I would argue.
Yeah, I love, I love hearing the journey Saran but also that the journey involves some of the similar people, same people. Um, so I think we'd like tiptoed around it, but Saran and I overlapped in our PhD program for a year, um, at the University of Denver. And we've mentioned a few people that I think have been influential to our research and our teaching and our time in the Academy.
So, Dr. Frank Tuitt and Dr. Lori Patton Davis. Um, and so I, you know, I bring a lot of stuff to the classroom, um, in the sense of my own stuff. And one thing that Dr. Tuitt Immediately taught me and all of the students. And I actually don't think I ever had Dr. Tuitt as a professor, but he was somewhat of a supervisor when I worked in my internship at University of Denver, but he was very explicit and has written on the topic of, of being, you know, don't ask your students to self-reflect and share their own experiences if you're not also going to self-reflect and share your own experiences.
And so that is something that I bring into the classroom and I learned directly from his writing, um, the. I mean, basically the, I teach in the way that I teach because of the way that I was taught. Um, and it isn't actually very much like the negative experiences that have informed it. I have been very, very blessed in my academic, my educational trajectory to have amazing courses, amazing professors.
Um, I went to a Liberal Arts college, Occidental College in LA, and I still remember one of the most critical turning points was a course entitled Whiteness that was taught by Dr. Elmer Griffin. And it was dialogue based and it just blew my mind. We were reading James Baldwin and, and other influential writers.
And then from there, I went to my master's program and was taught by, um, Sue Rankin, Robert Reason, and Dr. Kimberly Griffin. And again, they're teaching. I wouldn't say it was anti-racist, but it was very much at that time, social justice focused because social justice was the buzzword at the moment.
Right? So that's interesting too, to see the trajectory. So social justice, and then I go to University of Denver and that was really the turning point because I had really the most critical and crucial person. Um, in my educational journey and in the reason that I teach in the way I do is Dr. Lori Patton Davis, because she just really like sticks her feet in teaching.
I mean, and in that syllabus and she has an unapologetic, you know, she says white, white supremacy. She tells you why she's saying and doing the things that she is doing, doing the things with the syllabus. And so, um, it really is about these. These individuals, these people of color, these professors of color that have taught me by doing, um, to, to teach, to teach in the manner that I teach.
I, I wish just, you know, side note, I guess, somewhat and not. I wish that, um, you know, conferences. We could, we could somehow talk more about teaching, but do it in a manner of like going to someone's course. Right? Like I want Lori Patton Davis and Frank to it to like join, teach a course session at ASHE.
Right. And that I learned so much more by doing and seeing, like, I'm not going to go to a. To a session on like, here's how you do this. Well, I want to sit in someone's class and I want to learn, I miss that so much. So that is so true. Jess, Oh my goodness. That is so true. Yeah. A hundred percent. I agree with you.
And that is, that directly speaks to my, uh, my research heart, because I love. Um, doing research on college teaching. And the only way I get insight into it is getting in the classroom. Like almost all my research is inside of the classroom, because there's no other way from, from my perspective. Um, but interestingly that you bring them both up because there are next.
Yeah. So, I'm so excited that, um, you're both bringing them up and giving them a warm introduction because Dr. Lori Patton Davis and Dr. Frank Tuitt, it will be co-teaching in a way, because there'll be the joining together, um, on the next episode. And so, we'll be learning from them about what they do. So, thank you for lifting them up and in this episode and getting our audience ready for their awesomeness next time around. I know Omar has one more question to ask. You, and then I'm going to wrap it up for us. This has been such a great conversation. Omar, you wanted to ask one more thing. Yes, thank you, both. Uh, Jessica and Saran for your thoughtful answers. Um, the, both of you touched on something that I found to be interesting, and it's something I'm delving more into in my research interest and it’s how geography impacts the implementation, it can impact the implementation previous to my transition to UConn, I was working at a community college and anti-racist teaching was very much a buzz word, and I saw it. Used and implemented in different ways in Arizona, as opposed to what I'm seeing in the state of Connecticut and at UConn specifically.
Um, however, you know, I've, I've come to realize that anti-racist teaching has numerous gaps and specifically at educational institutions with Jessica, you mentioned that you experienced yourself at the University of Kansas, whether it's gaps in, you know, student development gaps in departments, even in the curriculum and what, what scene and you know, it's interesting because like that transformative experience, it's a process and it takes time and pulling from one of my adult learning classes, there's this disorienting dilemma that needs to take place for individuals to kind of be like in shock. And then they kind of like learn to reason and synthesize that experience and then they can do something with it.
Hopefully let's like best case scenario. Right? Um, and just thinking about 2020, like I think my disoriented miss my disorienting dilemma has been COVID-19 and I don't know if it's in the same way for the three of you, but, you know, it's, it's, uh, you know, it’s just been so interesting to think back and it's like, okay, well we've survived these last nine months.
Like, what have we learned from it? You know, have we become better human beings? Like I definitely have come to value and love my friends and family more than ever before. And their health, it takes the meaning, like stay healthy or be safe to a whole new level. Um, and on that note, just to ask a contemporary question, how do the both of you believe that COVID-19 has impacted.
The field of anti-racist teaching. Sure. I think, um, you know, I don't know how to answer this question yet because I'm going to have to reflect if, and when we're no longer online teaching because of COVID. Um, I had to be, so in some ways I want to say it hasn't impacted it. Like, of course it's impacted it, but when it comes to anti-racist teaching, it doesn't matter where you are in the sense of like online or not.
Um, you know, it, you should still be implementing as much as you can. Some of these tools that are going to lead to deconstructing racism and white supremacy. Um, and so that's, that's in one vein. I actually think in some ways it's made it even more interesting and maybe even more, I'm more able to influence or do these things because for one, for one thing, Um, now everybody has their pronouns or should have their pronouns right on the screen.
Right now, I have Jessica Harris, she, her, um, I also have been telling students and want to continue to tell students, put on what land you're occupying as well, right. To there. And so, it's just a kind of a heightened layer of being like, okay, well, how can we actually think about anti-racist teaching in a different manner online?
And so, I just want to say it's. It has changed it. I don't fully know how yet at this point, you know, I think just teaching in general, it has changed and shifted. Um, but I just want to stress that anti-racist teaching isn't geographically or physically bound, right. That we should be doing it. And we're trying to do it in every space that we can.
Um, and I think I'm going to be very transparent that absolutely with faculty who had to push their class online in March, April, May, even the summer, there should be some leeway there, but at this point we've been doing it for a while. And I think that there shouldn't be an excuse for A. not teaching in a manner that is serving students and B. isn't teaching in a manner that's anti-racist right.
Or deconstructing white supremacy. So definitely echo, um, everything Jess said. I would argue that anti-racist teaching is the full it's the full embodied experience as well. And I miss, I absolutely miss seeing that body language, the motive coding of students, um, when they are grimacing with a concept, a context and wrestling with, um, uh, reading.
And in many ways, this COVID-19 an online platform has provided the, I literal screen, a literal screen that they can hide from doing that. And as the professor, if they go all blank on the screen and even if they, their faces are there, you can't see the visceral reaction. What are you feeling? Having them sit within it and not even have to say it, but for it to be completely emotive.
And I miss that, I miss seeing that I miss understanding that I missed the body vibe of that and vibing what. But I can't in Jamaica vibing our students to understand the communal space, the environment, and has the learning environment been disrupted. It is very, I've found that COVID has made it difficult to, to check the temperature of the room and the space, because it's, it's just hard.
It was hard before, but it is impossible sometime when it's cloaked and our screens are off and you're like, you can't really get to them. You're like, I want to test the temperature, but you're not letting me test it. And I can't push you because if I push you too hard, you're going to be like, Whoa, lady!
Whoa! So. I can't do that in this space. And I have not figured out how to do it in this space. So that's one thing, big piece of it is the body language is missing. That emotional connection is really missing. The dissonance of that emotional connection is missing as well. Um, but I will echo exactly what Jess said that it should be.
It should be happening regardless and integrative. But the other piece about this that's combated, which I think some of us may have experienced. Um, I'm doing a photo voice study with some colleagues in the Caribbean. I'm looking at Caribbean, um, adult learners, and we're discovering this loss of self and loss of their former selves and the need for grieving and how grief has become so personified and synonymous in a COVID era.
And there is an interesting trend that I'm seeing in that students who are trying to also go through this process with us are grieving, but they don't know what they're grieving. So, they're angry, they're anxious, they're fearful. And you're seeing all those tenets and you're trying to reach, but the reach is that much more difficult in on a screen.
Seems like there's a lot of emotional connection. That's also part of the teaching. That's hard to do via a screen, you know, and, and I really appreciate you bringing that to the table. Well, we're wrapping up our podcast at this point, and I want to close out with just asking you very. Brief piece of advice that you would give our audience and our audience might be all on, you know, different ranges of skill, talents, knowledge.
What's one thing that you would share with our audience, particularly for someone who wants to enact antiracist teaching with a focus on intersectionality. What's one thing you want to leave the audience with? I'll start with Jessica please. Um, this is the one thing I didn't really think of, but I would.
You know, I would read, I would read works by Derek Bell by Kimberlé Crenshaw, by Mari Matsuda. I'm sure. Also, Ibram X. Kendi who has written a book on anti-racist teaching, but also from there, you don't have to adhere to any one definition or any one reading it's really find what works for you. Find what speaks to you, find what works for the students that you're, you're interacting with.
And so, read, do the work. I would say, in addition to all the critical scholarship that gestures named, which are profound, you must do the self-work to know why exactly you're going to do this. Or else we've, we've been both taught that our intent will not equalize our impact and we can actually cause much more harm.
And so, if we're going to do this work, you got to first understand why you're doing this. What's your purpose in doing is your intentionality in doing this and doing the hard work? And once you solidified that, say it out loud, please say it out loud. Hear yourself. Say it before you go on, say it in front of a classroom.
Filled with mains that you can do a lot of impact on. So, I would say that really doing the self-work, the hard work to understand what is your purpose in doing anti-racist teaching first. Thank you so much. That's valuable advice all around and. So grateful to both of you for all the wisdom that you dropped on this episode, Dr. Stewart, Dr. Harris, thank you so much for being a part of this first episode and Omar, thank you for co-hosting with me. You're fantastic. And I really love the questions you added to the conversation. It's been a pleasure! Thanks to all of you.
If you want to learn more, check out our podcast website at cetl.uconn.edu.
There you will find the HEART Podcast banner and a list of resources noted during this episode and stay tuned for our next episode, focused on how intersectionality can be a lens for anti-racist teaching within STEM. This next episode will air on Wednesday, February 24th, and features Dr. Stephanie Santos from the University of Connecticut, as well as Dr. Nicole Joseph and Dr. Luis Leyva from Vanderbilt University.
Before we close out, we want to express our deep appreciation to our guests, Dr. Stewart and Dr. Harris. And also think our colleagues at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut for all of their support and assistance with this podcast, because it takes a village and it takes hard work.
Resources noted during this conversation include:
Crenshaw, K. (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 8(1), 139-167.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299. doi:10.2307/1229039
Haynes, C., Joseph, N. M., Patton, L. D., Stewart, S., & Allen, E. L. (2020). Review of Educational Research, 90(6) 751-787.
Patton, L. D., & Njoku, N. R. (2019). Theorizing Black women’s experiences with institution-sanctioned violence: A #BlackLivesMatter imperative toward Black liberation on campus. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(9), 1162-1182.
In this episode, Dr. Stephany Santos from the School of Engineering at the University of Connecticut along with Dr. Nicole Joseph and Dr. Luis Leyva from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and as they share how learning how to do anti-racism work from an intersectionality approach requires “life-long work” that includes what Dr. Joseph calls “the prework.” Our guests dive deep into antiracist teaching and learning within S.T.E.M. fields. They all discuss the necessary self-interrogation that is needed before getting into antiracist actions in the classroom. It’s a powerful conversation and lots of wisdom dropping. Get ready!
Transcript – Episode 2
Transcript to come....
Resources noted during this conversation include:
hooks, b. (1984). Comrades in Struggle. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (pp. 67-82). South End Press.
Leyva, L., Quea, R., Weber, K., Battery, D., & Lopez, D. (2021). Detailing racialized and gendered mechanisms of undergraduate precalculus and calculus classroom instruction. Cognition & Instruction, 39(1).
Description: Dr. Frank Tuitt from the University of Connecticut and Dr. Lori Patton Davis from The Ohio State University join us in this episode to discuss how critical race theory and intersectionality informs their approach to antiracist teaching and how their pedagogical approach now informs their university leadership. They provide valuable insights on the synergy between teaching and leadership.
Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: a new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In Landreman, L. (Ed.), The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators (pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Drew, K. & Wortham, J. (2020). Black Futures. One World.
Frye, M. (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (pp 1-13). Crossing Press.
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom. Routledge.
Player, G. D., Coles, J. A., González Ybarra, M. (2020). Enacting educational fugitivity with youth of color: A statement/love letter from the fugitive literacies collective. The High School Journal, 103(3), 140-156.
Ruiz, D. M., & Mills, J. (1997). The four agreements: A Toltec wisdom book, a practical guide to personal freedom. Amber-Allen Publishing.
In this episode, Dr. Grace Player from the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Bridget Turner Kelly from the University of Maryland, and Dr. Michael Funk from New York University focus on how they go about preparing educational professionals through antiracist and liberatory teaching practices. For this conversation, we took it to the kitchen table, keeping love at the center of the hard work that is the H.E.A.R.T. work of antiracist teaching.
Resources noted during the episode:
Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: a new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In Landreman, L. (Ed.), The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators (pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Drew, K. & Wortham, J. (2020). Black Futures. One World.
Frye, M. (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (pp 1-13). Crossing Press.
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom. Routledge.
Player, G. D., Coles, J. A., González Ybarra, M. (2020). Enacting educational fugitivity with youth of color: A statement/love letter from the fugitive literacies collective. The High School Journal, 103(3), 140-156.
Ruiz, D. M., & Mills, J. (1997). The four agreements: A Toltec wisdom book, a practical guide to personal freedom. Amber-Allen Publishing.
Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2011). Is everyone really equal? An introduction to key concepts in social justice education. Teachers College Press.
Wilder, C. S. (2013). Ebony and ivory: Race, slavery, and the troubled history of America’s Universities. Bloomsbury Press.
Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The origins of our discontents. Random House.
Dr. Kenny Nienhusser from the University of Connecticut, Dr. Liz Cantú from Estrella Mountain Community College, and Dr. Lewis Andrea Brownlee, join us in this episode to explain the unique context of community colleges and the teaching that supports students at community colleges. They talk through their own educational experiences and how intersectionality serves a lens for the antiracist teaching they enact inside and outside of the classroom.
Transcript – Episode 5
Omar (Host): Welcome to Episode 5 of the H.E.A.R.T. Podcast, everyone! In today’s episode we’ll be focusing on antiracist teaching at community colleges. I’m particularly excited about today’s episode because we’ll be bringing together colleagues that mean the world to me because of the valuable work we’ve done together both in Arizona and in Connecticut. Join us as we take a journey down memory lane and hear valuable narratives from our guests about what guides their work and what provides their sense of purpose in the academy.
Omar (Host): We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.
Milagros (Host): Thank you, Omar. I’m really excited about this episode also and I’m so thrilled that you and our guests have had the opportunity to work together in different capacities. One of our guests today, Dr. Kenny Nienhusser, is an Assistant Professor in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. His research focuses on how federal and institutional agents grapple with contemporary issues in their daily practice and how their practices in turn shape the high school to college transition of minoritized students.
Milagros (Host): Also with us is Dr. Liz Cantu. She is a Communications residential faculty member at Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona. Her research focuses on first-generation college student experiences, educational access, and equity of marginalized students in higher education.
Milagros (Host): We also have with us Dr. Lewis Andrea Brownlee, who works in academic advisement at Estrella Mountain Community College and is also an instructor at Arizona State University. He is an educator who has taught in K-12 schools, Community College, and a University for over a decade. His passion lies in educating teachers in the art of meeting the holistic needs of students-of-color. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. Thank you all for joining us and being part of this podcast episode.
Omar (Host): Today's episode focuses on anti racist, teaching and community colleges, but before we dig into how that shows up in the classroom, let's get a bit situated about who community college students really are, and on that note, Kenny, given your research on community colleges. What's your take about who community colleges serve and what needs to be kept in mind by faculty who teach at community colleges?
Kenny (Guest): Yeah, thanks so much, Omar. So I'd like to begin by sharing a little bit of a backdrop of community colleges as well as its students and then also I'd like to end by sharing some strengths that our community colleges have. So, it's well known that colleges are a really important sector of the U.S. higher education landscape however it's also forgotten. It’s under researched, underfunded, and really deserves our attention that we give the prominence that community colleges deserve. There are about 1500 degree granting community colleges in the U.S., which are about 4th of the degree granting institutions in the U.S.
Kenny (Guest): In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated there about 5.6 Million students who are enrolled in two year institutions. That's about 2 Million for attending full-time and 3.6 Million who are attending part-time. We'll talk about that in just a little second. The Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, estimates that about 44% of all undergraduate students in the 2017-2018 academic year were enrolled in community college. However, the enrollment trends in community colleges really are quite sporadic. So, between a period of 2010 and 2017, we've actually seen a drop of about 23% of students who are enrolled in community colleges.
Kenny (Guest): Now, in terms of the age, there are a lot of students, you know, about 37% of community college students who are age 30 are older and the community college sector graduates about 1 Million students each year.
Now I mentioned, and sort of foreshadowed this a little bit, but community colleges enroll a higher percentage of students who are racially and ethnically minoritized, right? Lower income as well as first generation attendees,. right? And these are some of the strengths that I'll talk about a little bit having to do with community colleges.
Kenny (Guest): So about 27% of Hispanic students are enrolled in community colleges, 13% Black. 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American 1%, and multiracial students comprise about 4% of community college enrollments. So, very higher percentages of racially and ethnically minoritized students are enrolled in community colleges with 55% of Hispanic undergraduates. 45% Asian undergraduates and 44% of black undergraduate students are enrolled in the community college sector.
Kenny (Guest): Just a little bit more data and information to frame our conversation before I wrap up to talk about the strengths of community colleges. In terms of low income, right, close to 70% of community college students in the 2018-2019 academic year were coming from households of less than $50,000. And in terms of 1st gen college students, right, in 2015-2016 about 64% of students were first generation students who are attending community colleges, and that's defined as parents who do not hold a bachelor's degree.
Kenny (Guest): So, I share these sort of demographic figures, because I think it's really important to think about them. So we get a composition or sort of a picture of what the community college landscape looks like and its importance to think around antiracist and Intersectional pedagogical practices that are occurring in the community college sector. Now, I think it's important, while I love that our conversation is going to focus in the classroom, I also want to plant a seed. I think it's important for us to think about practices that are occurring outside of the classroom that faculty can also foster and think about how they can also be better supporting antiracist, not just pedagogical practices, but also their actions and how they're better supporting our students in community colleges.
Kenny (Guest): Now, let me talk about the strengths and I think there are many many strengths that community colleges have. I'm not going to have an opportunity to shed light on all of them but I thought it'd be important to just talk about a couple that I hope will help inform our rich conversation today. So, we often talk about community colleges being a people's college, right? As a gateway for educational Kenny (Guest): opportunities for many communities. Though some scholars have critiqued that it truly is not really sort of open access as it purports to be in many instances. Think of restrictive remedial policies, transfer policies, and other sort of accountability policies that do not really sort of afford greater access. However, we do know, right, that community colleges do have an open access mission, right? So many institutions are just allowing for GED or high school graduation for entry into most programs. There are some exceptions, but in many programs in the community college sector.
Kenny (Guest): Community colleges are the most affordable post secondary education option, as well. It's about a third cheaper than the cost of public 4-year institution tuition. So it absolutely is a way that affords greater access. It's also an institution type that is more geographically accessible for rural communities as well as our Native American populations, right? If we're thinking about TCU’s,. right? So, it's really important that we also think about geographic accessibility as well, in addition to thinking about access. Community colleges are well situated to better address the academic needs of learners they’re serving. They normally have friendlier policies and practices to students who enroll part time, racially and ethnically diverse students, right, and it’s considered to be the most flexible higher education sector to meet the needs of the community as well as the workforce development needs.
Kenny (Guest): I could go on and on talking about more strengths of community colleges, but I'll just pause and sort of leave it there. And I hope that this has been helpful to frame around the conversation we'll be having today.
Milagros (Host): Kenny, thank you for that context because it shows how varied the demographics are of students who are attending community colleges and the necessity for people who work at community colleges to have a framework of agility, you know, to be able to really change and meet the needs of a distinct population. So, I really appreciate that context. I'm curious, Liz and Lewis, given your experience teaching at the community college can you share a bit more about how your teaching is informed by the students you serve and teach?
Liz (Guest): Thank you so much, so I would actually say, kind of when Kenny was giving some of the really great statistics about community colleges and who they serve I wanted to share that the college that I work at, which is Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale, Arizona, actually has 67% of our student population Is first generation. Within the system that we we work in, which is the Maricopa County Community College District, half of the students that attend, and we've got about 200,000 total that attend our community college system, where we are one of the largest in the nation, about half of them are first generation students, and as Kenny mentioned, right, first generation students often come from lower socioeconomic status, many times different immigration statuses as well. There is also the racial ethnic diversity and so actually, that is one of the reasons why I feel like community colleges are such an important intervention point, and such an important accessible point to education for any student or community member that is interested in really attaining a higher education degree.
Liz (Guest): The reason why I said community member is because I used to work at Arizona State University, and I had the privilege of working with the community college system, and to do a specific program and in the program, right? What was really interesting about that program was that the majority of people that were attending the program that we were offering were above 30 years old and I remember that for the funders for this project when they were thinking about the grant that we had, they thought it was going to be 16 year olds, 18 year old students that were following that traditional path. And what was really fascinating was that it was actually not. It was a lot of people who are coming back to college to re-skill, re-tool, um, you know, and to hear the stories of the individuals that were participating in this program. Really? Kind of, I think for me was like, uh, I need to be working in the community colleges. Right? Cause this is the population that I really want to serve. One, I should say, I started off in the community college system, because again, for the accessibility that it had for my family and so, um, it was just kind of this really interesting revelation and it was because of that, that I decided to sort of move to the community college system from the university system.
Liz (Guest): There’s so much more I can say about how it informs but I think I wanted to provide the context as to how, and why I'm where I am at this moment in my career. I think it's just really important because community college systems often are that important intervention for a lot of communities that are historically underserved and underrepresented in higher education. We need to do a service to these students to sort of, one, help them help them feel like they belong within higher education, right? Two, how do we get them the skills and the knowledge and the credentials that they need in order to get a career, or get a job opportunity that will help them advance not just in terms of their personal professional goals. But also, in terms of their financial stability, right? The one thing I will share and then I will give it over to my colleague Lewis here is, I think you hear from a lot of students that the reason why they are in college is not just for themselves they're in colleges to help their family, they’re in colleges to advance for opportunities that their parents or their family members haven't had. And I think that that again is one of the reasons why I am so committed to helping students, feel like they belong and to help students persist. Because it is not just about them. It's kind of this collective sort of, I mean, college for my people, my community, mi gente, and that's where I feel that I have a responsibility to the student. To me they’re not just students in my class. It is a family, it is a community behind them, and so I really feel that sense of commitment to really wanting to help them succeed.
Milagros (Host): That's really powerful Liz and Lewis, I'm curious to hear your perspective here but in response to what I'm hearing I feel like, well, you said was really powerful, it kind of struck my heart a bit because it's about community uplift. It seems to me that going to a community college for many students, particularly the ones that you're speaking about and also, maybe from your own personal experience. It sounds like you started at the community college as well. That it's not just an access point into higher education. But it is a commitment to uplift. One's own family and community, so it's like the whole community is going to college. One's committed to college students are pursuing their education and that's really powerful. So, thank you for putting that out there. Lewis are your thoughts?
Lewis (Guest): I think we're going out a great path because Kenny gives this demographic, right, painting of the student populations that are there and then Liz goes out and goes and does a great job of highlighting the why, right? Why students are going to school and I think a lot of times that is absent from the data. But I think and top of that, now, we know the demographics and that we know that 67% of students in America are first generation. I think that the next question should be who's going to be the nurturer of these students right? That's the question. And so for me I am always focused on, I used to just focus on teaching education preparation, right, and so to not look at diversity as a negative thing, but more of as a positive. And I found it interesting that you look at anthropology, archaeology, they look at diversity as a positive right?
Lewis (Guest): You have a multiplicity of insects and plants and you have this ecosystem and so that's what we're looking at is this ecosystem. How can we keep this ecosystem to where it's producing you know, great results and to me, I used to just be focused on anti racist training with teachers and at our local universities, people doing implicit bias courses, discriminatory practices, they need to be examined and things of that nature, but also being in Student Affairs I realize that a lot of that anti-blackness, right, rr anti-diversity those narratives are there as well. And so those injuries can happen there before they even show up in Dr. Cantu’s class, right, and now she's working trying to get the student caught up because they have been injured. And so to me, well, if you're going to be doing this antiracist teaching, Student and Academic Affairs have to have to be there. And what we have to understand is that we live in a very patriarchal white supremacist society and so, in the viewpoint of Frantz Fanon, the black psychologists, the racist psychologists, and looked at racism through a psychological impact. What he says is that when these types of injustices are so prevalent, it becomes the norm we don't see these injuries.
Lewis (Guest): What I find amazing is when I go to graduation and I see all these future teachers go across the stage, I am concerned, because are they going to help our students or hurt our students? Right? That's what my concern is so we got to look at the system in totality and understand this is this institution a form of social reproduction? Is it a form of cultural reproduction or are we increasing the level of as well as Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Are we lifting them to be able to not just on a degree or to earn a certification but to also be critically thinking to change the way our society is at large and so antiracist teaching happens at the university but it also happens in Students Affairs is well, collectively, because if not, what we see is that these things are, they're producing a form of Jim Crow. They're just, you know what I mean? So yeah, it's student population is diverse, but your faculty population is not diverse, your administration population is not diverse, right? And so I think those are things we have to examine, like, what is actually being taught?
Lewis (Guest): So, we have these students come in, as Kenny showed, from very diverse populations, as Dr. Cantu showed many of them are first generation college students. Now, the question should be is who's putting this knowledge in their heads right? Because, you know, as a professor, your classroom is your domain. And a lot of times we hide behind this, this narrative of academic freedom. And it can be an injury sometimes to students if you don't understand students and their “why” which is very important, right, and so “oh, I don't see color.” That's an injury. You need to see color, you need to see race, you need to see ethnicity. And so I think the biggest challenge is trying, especially at the community college level, even higher education is trying to get faculty members to look at themselves and say, “yeah, you know, you do a decent job, but you can do things better.” And it's going to take a movement such as when Michael Jackson talks about in Man in the Mirror. You have to look in the mirror to really ask yourself: are you really lifting students up to where they're at and so that's the way I look at it. From the time of the Outreach, Omar did Outreach, to the time we get them to their academic goals we got to look at what the level of information is being displayed to the student. Is it going to get them to where they need to be? Or will it get them off track?
Milagros (Host): Lewis says that's really interesting because what you're making me think about is that Nancy races teaching at the community college in particular given all that you have all shared so far about the unique dynamics that make up the community college, um, it requires anti races teaching at the community college to be more of an institutional ethos. So, in other words, this anti racist teaching is something that happens in and outside of the classroom at the community college. It has to happen through the programming, it has to happen in the classroom and even has to happen in the way the community college connects with and draws and builds relationships with the community itself so really it's a more comprehensive view of the way in which anti races teaching maybe gets employed, or can be employed at a community college and a community college unique context is almost perfect for that institutional ethos approach to be enacted.
Milagros (Host): You also made me think of the second thing, which I was just referring to in a presentation yesterday. You said, sometimes faculty hide behind this academic freedom point and I always thought of academic freedom as a positive thing and being able to teach freely without worry that you could lose your job, you know, about giving certain perspectives in a classroom, but Dr. Anna Neumann actually has an article about why subject matter matters and in that she writes about students' freedom to learn. So, when we think about freedom in the university, I feel like it has been positioned for, like, what’s freedom that faculty have? But you, what you just said, made me think about what is the institutional responsibility towards the freedom for students to learn without being harmed? I appreciate what you shared, and I'm curious where anybody else may want to comment on what has been put at the table here, so I’d like to open the conversation to anybody else who wants to react or comment.
Liz (Guest): So some of the things that I do, I just know that we, I think, wanted to talk a little bit about intersectionality today. And I think it's really important, at least for me, I teach communication courses at EMCC. My favorite class to teach is Intercultural Communication because it really asks students to really kind of consider sort of how it is that they are, they don't exist in a vacuum. They're a part of communities.
They're a part of diverse communities, but they are agents for change within those communities as well. And so sometimes we often do activities about sort of intersectionality to really sort of not only show students how they are complex individuals but also, like, where they have, perhaps entry points to have agency within their communities.
Liz (Guest): So, I'll give you an example with me. I tell my students that I feel as a first generation, daughter of two Mexican immigrants, right? My ability to get a PhD, the support that my family gave me all of that. Uh, you know, the support of a great mentor and the support of my community has helped me get to this point. And so, as I have continued on with my degree and as I've continued to advance in my career in the U.S., I almost feel sometimes that that has taken me away from my family's roots and has taken me away from even like, where my family lives right? And so, in many ways, people see what I have a lot as privilege. Right? And maybe, it's the privilege that I have in terms of a lot, you know a Latinx woman who is in higher education cause I know I'm holding the, you know, I, I have a very big spot to fill in terms of the fact that in academia. We need to continue to diversify kind of like the way colleague Lewis here said.
Liz (Guest): At the same time, right? Like, I sometimes, I feel like all of that power and privilege that it's giving me in the United States, and that it's giving me, you know, maybe in academia, it's kind of also kind of taking something away in terms of my family, right? And so I struggle with that and that's something that I do. Those are the types of conversations I like to have with my students, right? It's like, how do you find how do you balance between those kinds of dialectical tensions that exist in the complexity that happens within the social systems that we’re a part of you know, and then again, of course, like, I always say, right but my entry point going back to intersectionality is well, if I have this power and privilege, then it's my even more responsibility to advocate for students. So that they continue.
Liz (Guest): So, it's almost like this idea that that it's not it doesn't have to be one or the other. But I like for students to sort of feel those tensions and to sometimes process those tensions with me because I think that that just again shows that yes, we are a part of these systems and the systems have a historical context but maybe that through that exploration where we can also find entry points to sort of figure out how we can make smaller interventions and smaller opportunities for systemic change within this little micro sort of moments, right? So, sometimes Dr. Brownlee and I, we work a lot on diversity, equity, and inclusion work at our college and it's daunting, right, to think higher education, such a privileged institution: what is our locus of control? And how can we maybe change some of the things we say, the interventions within our classroom activities within our classroom? The dialogue within our classroom that really helps kind of foster that growth mindset in students.
Liz (Guest): But also, that helps students be empowered to say, you know, that I can actually change something about my, you know, my condition, or I can actually go protest and I understand. Now, why protesting and civil disobedience is such an important thing for me to embark on. So, I'm kind of all over the place here, but I guess I'm trying to process all of this as I'm talking right? Is to sort of say, intersectionality, what's powerful about it is it helps us examine ourselves, but at the same time, what I always think is find entry points into how we leverage our position within the systems that we're a part of.
Lewis (Guest): Once when Liz was talking to, she mentioned the term intersectionality. I think typically, when we use that term we think about us and our intersectionalities with our identities, but I think we kind of can also transmute that to the process of this thing, we call education so intersectionality between the community college, the community, the business is at hand and so to me, because I like, I list, keep talking about my, my privilege, I have to do something with my privilege. I think one of the disservice that we do to students is, we do teach and this vacuum, right? Where it's like, you come into the class and I'm teaching you how to do a widget but I'm not really telling you that as a woman of color when you apply for this job it's five times more likely that a white man would get this job, right?
Lewis (Guest): We're not being honest about that. So that's intersectionality also with the anti racism. So it's not just about using our culture, relevant education. That is very important. I'm a big fan of that, but it's also letting them know when you graduate from here, you’re going to run into some issues out there, right? And that's one of my privileges, this one of the reasons I kind of got into teaching because I've seen in the workplace as an engineer. Like, man, this is wrong, you know, a lot of tokenism and glass ceilings that were there and stereotypes I try to overcome, and so when I advise students and I teach students, I let them know your culture is very important. It's valuable. However, when you walk off this campus, I'll just use me as an example, I'm always, I don't like the police. I'll just be honest. I'm always in constant, I get high levels of anxiety when I see them, because I know even though I have a doctorate, I'm still just as James Baldwin says, I like how he puts like, “the Negro problem is your problem, because I'm not a Negro, right?” The Negroes are a figment of your imagination. I'm not that. But, however, you materialize punishment and oppression towards me based on your imagination. So I'm definitely aware of that. And so I agree with Liz that when we talk to students, we have to communicate those ideas.
Lewis (Guest): But at the same time, we got to prepare them for life. Like, we do our own children, right? You can run it by so you're going to fall, you're going to crash and skin your knee, but that's not the end of the world. And I feel like at the community college, we have a better chance of doing that and maybe at the university, well, a lot of time the focus is on research and building the lives of students and that's what I enjoyed when I was at Clayton State College and University. My first, got into school, was that I had, I could get it was really my academic advisors, not faculty. They kept me in school. They are the ones that told me you can do it, to stay in it. Hey, if you don't get this degree, you know how hard it is for a black man in a society without a degree like, those are the conversations we had, right and the data shows, if a black man has a degree, he's less likely to go to prison. He's less likely to go to jail. Not saying he won't. But he's less likely to and so it was almost like these are forms of deterrence against white supremacy, right? Against patriarchal supremacy, against homophobia, against these types of things that are in society. So, I want to look at intersectionality. I don't really like being limited to people, which is people as Kimberly Crenshaw points out, but I also think of intersectionality as Liz has talked about, like, okay, I've seen the system, right? I've talked to the wiz, I've pulled back the curtain. He's not real. Let me tell you what's going to go on outside of this campus, and we're going to do some form of anti-oppression and in a variation, so yeah.
Omar (Host): Lewis, your comments made me think about the higher education trajectory of students and how CCs can be a very nurturing environment but we can also harm them as they enter the system and oftentimes even before that takes place. One of my mentors, who is also an educator, shared with me that she’s in disbelief with how often educators and administrators forget that they once didn’t know. We all once didn’t know how to complete a college application, how to apply for FAFSA, how to send a proper email, and so much more! How can we nurture students before, during, and after their college trajectory, as you eloquently mentioned Lewis. It’s super valuable to be straight up with them and their parents and the family unit overall. By not sharing valuable information with them, we’re essentially doing them a disservice. Lewis, you mentioned a very interesting word, “injuries,” and it reminded me of our concept of remedial coursework and I’ve come to envision it as a chronic injury that should have been addressed years before. And unfortunately in those situations, institutions put the burden to catch up both in terms of time and money on the student, who already has so many responsibilities on their shoulders. I just really want to uplift your choice in using the word “injuries” because I think many students, specifically students of color, are suffering at institutions at the moment and more should be done to address the humanity of this situation. I’d like to pass it back to Milagros.
Milagros (Host): At this point, wondering, Liz and Lewis, what is one piece of advice you would provide our audience on enacting antiracist teaching in community colleges with a focus on intersectionality, kind of going from the conversation we’re having on intersectionality. And Kenny, too, if you can join that list bit of the conversation if you can come in at the end, after Liz and Lewis, and take us back to where we started and help us make a connection in terms of antiracist teaching in community colleges and how we can make it relevant in terms of policy at community colleges. So, I’d like to turn it back to Liz and Lewis, I’d love to get your perspective.
Liz (Guest): Haha I wanted to give you more time. I’ve spoken a lot and I wanted to give you more time. So, I think that many times people, there's a perception in our society that, like, community colleges, or even training schools are not valuable, or they're for the students that weren't able to get into college. I definitely think as a society and as a nation, we need to really reframe and really understand that if anything community colleges are a very valuable intervention or educational institution within our society. You know, in Arizona we have, and I don't know the full history about it, but I know our, um, community college system is uh, even though it does have some state money, um, attached to the funding, it's very little. Um, and there's a historical background that I don't know enough about, but I definitely feel that there needs to be perhaps more investment, um, within community colleges and not just investment in terms of, uh, the, um, in terms of you know, like, the I think that needs to be more investment also, in the services that we provide is what I'm trying to say.
Liz (Guest): You know, I think that many times what I have heard since going from the university over to the college system is, oh, well, colleges have such, like, lean budgets and because of that, we can only do this. And I feel that. And so, sometimes, when I bring in examples from what I see, other 4 year institutions doing, or what other universities are doing, people feel like it's not possible to do at our college. Like the imagination just, I guess, isn't there? Because I kind of feel sometimes like it is, like, resources are one thing, right? But as we kind of mentioned, how do we leverage community partnerships? Right. Um, how do we, um, perhaps, uh, you know, think creatively about some of the ways that we can provide better wrap-around support services for students. And then, I think also, kind of going a little bit into what Kenny mentioned about under research, I think, because maybe we don't fully understand a lot of these nuances of the community college system compared to the university.
Liz (Guest): Maybe that's why there's sort of, um, a lack of understanding about not only the importance of community colleges within our higher education landscape, but also the opportunities, right? Like, if we do research, then we can have better opportunities to figure out how to solve problems. Um, you know, and maybe even how to again have more partnerships that can help sometimes um. Uh, meet the needs of students or the needs of communities in a way that we haven't even thought yet. I really feel that has helped us be creative and helped us kind of reimagined education. I hope that that doesn't stop. Uh, even after we have settled into our life posts, the pandemic, because I think that we need to continue having those, those discussions because um, and I haven't had a chance to talk about entrepreneurial mindset because I'm very big into that within my students is this idea of, I want you to think, um, and be adaptable and be flexible. Right?
Liz (Guest): Because that is the 21st century for us. Our technology's going to continue to change. Our knowledge is going to continue to change. Maybe some of the systemic stuff is still constant, but if we have more innovative thought, and an ability to reimagine, we cannot continue to accept the institutions that we're a part of are not able to be changed. Right? And then again, that's why I sort of feel like that tool change agency is important for students. The idea is that we're trying to transform right? Not just the student, but the social, the society, the community.
Lewis (Guest): So, for me, I think that as a resource we need to tap into, because they can tell you how to navigate and deal with these students. So, I think a lot of times what we do, and I am not a fan of this at all. I'm totally against this. I don't like when we go hire these big name people. You pay them $32,000 dollars to give a speech and then you never see them again. Like I am. I don’t think that's a trend that I want to participate in. I think it's better if you're going to do that to partner with the people who have been through the system and come up with new ideas. Liz is talking about being imaginative. So, I was not recently, well a couple of months ago. I was being interviewed about what is the solution to homelessness, and I told her, well, go talk to homeless people. Like, they're going to tell you how they end up where they are. Everybody's not homeless because they're lazy. It's a cornucopia of reasons. So if Liz is a first generation college student, I'm a first generation college student, and we're say 40% of your faculty and staff are college students and use them as resources because they can give you the knowledge that you need to make sure that you reach these students. Good, bad or indifferent.
Lewis (Guest): We're the ones that went through the system, right? We're the ones with the tenacity. We're the ones with the testimonies as me and Liz are constantly trying to push our campuses. These counter narratives are sharing stories, not for the sake of sharing stories, but this is rich qualitative data, right? So, like, the reason I went to college is not the same reason that Liz went to college, but I can tell you our testimonies would be very similar. I literally went to college because I didn't want to go to jail. I was so scared in my community because George Bush and Clinton had a war on drugs and a war on crime, which was a world black, poor people. And when I learned about the Pell Grant, I ran to the university and went to that's why I went to school. However, I knew that going into a classroom that these teachers don't care about me. How did I know that? Because they didn't care about me in high school. So why would they care about me at the community college?
Lewis (Guest): University classes are so big, I don't think they have the bandwidth to even kind of connect. And so I think, and so, right now, I know Liz is doing a wonderful study where she's going to be interviewing students. Am I correct through Title V? And I'm partnering my study with her study where I'm interviewing all of the black employees and asking them, what are some qualities that Student Affairs possess and Academic Affairs, who possess to better serve students, right? And so it's going to be about 20 participants. I'm working with IRB right now to get that data. But I think we overlooked the people who've come through the pipeline. Like, I would love to talk to Omar and say, man, how did you make it? You know, and get 20 Omar’s together and come up with a study and say these are 5 qualities, compassionate and loving, caring or whatever. And then how do we get that? I think a lot of the time our hubris and our egos get in the way of who we are important versus meeting the student's needs, right?
Lewis (Guest): And so if you’re first generation, a college student, you're just trying to survive that first year. You're just trying to make it and so, but you still have questions in your head and so to have mentors is very important. I didn't have a mentor when I was in college, but I would have benefited from it. The closest thing I had to mentor was my academic advisor. She was amazing. And so, I think, and I cut this short because I figure, like, I mean, and a half left, but I could assure it, but I think. Human beings, if your budget is tight, that you should be leaning away more your human resources, right? Not Human Resources Department, but the employees of the campus to come up with solutions, you have creative people on your campus, they can give you answers versus always looking outside at other people to come and solve something that you really have the skill set to do on your own campus, you have people with doctor degrees, multiple doctorate degrees, multiple masters degrees, but instead you look outside. I don't I don't understand that. You have people right here. That could tell you this is what we need right? But I think you just, I'll just come down to just valuing people as contributors to solve the problem, and I think we overlooked that, so.
Kenny (Guest): So, you know, I'm loving, Lewis and Liz, how you're how you're encouraging us to think at a more macro level, and thinking about about issues from an intersectional perspective and how there are social systems that are absolutely impacting the things are looking, like, sort of on the ground and community colleges and and in the classroom itself, and I'd like for us to think a little bit about public policies, right, and how that is evidenced around anti racism towards the community college students, and the staff members that work there right? When we talk about community colleges, I think it's important that we talk about the financial hardships that community colleges face around how they're disproportionately funded by the state governments and by local governments and how those contributions should be larger. So, for looking at what that looks like in terms of inequities, it sits over $8,000, that community colleges get less as compared to 4 year institutions, right? I don't want to pin 4 year institutions against 2 year institutions. I don't right, but I think it's important that we go ahead and call out those equities in Connecticut. That gap is $14,000, right? In Arizona where you are Liz that's $9,000 close to $9,000 to the gap. Right? So it's really important that we talk about the inequities that exist in relation to funding.
Kenny (Guest): That is really, really important that we go ahead and highlight. Now. Why does that matter? Right? Because we can't have more full time faculty who are teaching in community colleges. Right? It is really important to be able to help support students in the ways that we've been describing and talking about today not just in the classroom, but also outside of the classroom establishing policies that are going to be more welcoming for our BIPOC students are documented students, and older age students, like, we've been talking about et cetera in addition to that, right? What does additional funding could do? Right? It could create anti racist pedagogical practices and really sort of foster training around that for our faculty for our adjunct faculty to really sort of be able to think about how we could to use a term that you used Liz and I've been thinking quite a bit as well. So, I loved when you said this is “imagine,” right? How can we imagine a classroom in the community college sector, right that really centers the needs of the diverse learners that we spoke about earlier today. The other thing that I think is really important also for us to think about is how public policy decisions and those discourses are shaping the community college sector.
Kenny (Guest): All right, so what I mean by that, right? We often have public policies that frame community colleges and its students from a deficit perspective, right? And that's really problematic, right. So we have public policies that favor full time student enrollment over part time student enrollment and how it disproportionately impacts our community college learners, right? Financial aid is a great example of that and how that's evidenced. In addition to that right, think about remedial education, right? How remedial education is sort of placed often and some systems right? CUNY in New York City, like, how does that go ahead and help frame faculty's understanding of learners in their classroom right and how could that perhaps seep into the way that our community college faculty and agile think about students and our learners if we're going ahead and framing them from that deficit perspective, those are things that I find to be particularly concerning, for sure.
Lewis (Guest): If I can comment on that I think the greatest assumption that we have is when faculty show up, they're complete, right? Because we're grading them on the mastery of their knowledge of the content right? Not their ability to nurture and love and so compassion towards students. I think that's the biggest problem, right? And so, as long as I can master my content, I don't have to look at maybe some microaggressions or microaggressions that I project. I don't have to look at my anti racist the way I build my syllabus, right, that may be very exclusionary and it's just like a hidden curriculum. I can look at the syllabus. I realized oh, you don’t value me as a person. To look at our implicit biases where I lean towards more than one group of students and another. And so when students come out of these Teacher Education programs the assumption I think a lot of times is that they, they, they know what they're doing in reference to this when my dissertation examined this idea of alternative pathways of certification. And because Arizona, we have a large gap in the sense of we need more teachers and so we do these emergency certifications, right? So I can literally go into a school district and I even have a bachelors degree, but if they need a warm body in this class, they will give an emergency certification. I haven't taken any pedagogical classes.
Lewis (Guest): They don't know if I even like students and then if I have a bachelors degree, I can go and get a teacher certification but I never take an anti racist class or a multicultural education class or class on gender or anything of that nature to make me look at the mirror myself or even a class on poverty, right? And so the policies, dealing with finances, also the policies impact because the Arizona Department of Education determines what students are going to learn in their program and so we can kind of start there. So I remember just when I was teaching high school I would hear statements like that student is a waste of flesh, right, I would hear some faculty say, oh, she's that girl, Tina, she'd be pregnant by the time she graduates like, these are things that I heard. I'm like, well, why are you teaching?
Lewis (Guest): I had a teacher. I was about to say this name right now. I’m going to hold this name back for this podcast but he said that Mexicans are biologically/genetically designed to work in agriculture because they're short, and they can pick cabbage and those types. I was just blown away. Now, this is a person who has a certification and teaching but we need a certification in anti racism. We need a certification and love and compassion when a certification for social justice and it's not mastery of content that's what the issue is to me. So, these policies agree. These policies also determine what these teachers or potential teachers or potential professors are going to learn that will diffuse to our students and so if you look at them in a negative way, you can't, you can't teach somebody in an equitable way, if you look down upon them, right. And so we have to be honest about ourselves and be like yeah, I'm not all that. You know, I struggled, I didn't know everything too and just being honest and I think that our ability is what makes you a better teacher.
Liz (Guest): I want to just say one more thing, because I know we're running short on time. Um. Absolutely, what my colleague said, uh, I always think about when it comes to my educational experience do I think back on that fantastic test that I took, or that, you know, I don't, I think back to the teacher that took time to get to know me that had an ethos of care. Um, that was invested in my education and how I did, that's who I look like. That's what I remember. Right and so, at the end of the day, it's about humanity right? Um, and in higher education, I think, like, we say, we privilege the knowledge, we privilege the credentials. Not always thinking about whether it’s really in service to the humanity of all of us.
Omar (Host): We would like to extend our gratitude to today’s guests, Dr. Kenny Nienhusser, Dr. Liz Cantu, and Dr. Lewis Brownlee for their valuable insight and powerful narratives that showcased what guides their work. Today’s conversation reinforced the idea that community colleges play a huge role in the lives of families and there’s potential to put the “community” back in community colleges.
To find the resources noted during our conversation, please visit cetl.uconn.edu and click on the banner for the H.E.A.R.T. podcast.
Omar (Host): We hope you’ll join us for our next episode, where we’ll be talking about antiracist teaching and indigeneity. Our guests for that episode include Dr. Sandy Grande who is a Professor of Political Science and Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Connecticut and Dr. Chris Nelson who is a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Denver. We thank them in advance for the rich conversation and learning they will share with us!
Omar (Host): We would also want to thank the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Connecticut for all their support to make this podcast possible. “Because it takes a village and it takes heart.”
Dr. Sandy Grande from the University of Connecticut and Dr. Chris Nelson from the University of Denver join us in this episode to discuss notions of collectivity, community, and grounding our work in relation to those around us. Given the critical and indigenous perspectives of our guests we are also called to deepen our understanding about the centrality of relationships in antiracist teaching.
Transcript – Episode 6
Milagros (Host): Welcome everyone to Episode 6 of the H.E.A.R.T Podcast. In today’s episode we deepen our understanding about the centrality of relationships in antiracist teaching based on the critical and indigenous perspectives of our guests. A central point in this conversation is how we can examine and realign ourselves not only in terms of our relationships with other humans, but with the land and life around us. It’s a deep conversation everyone. Let’s get started.
Omar (Host): We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.
Milagros (Host): Thank you Omar for that land acknowledgement. Joining us on this episode is Dr. Sandy Grande, who is a Quecha National and a Professor of Political Science and Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Connecticut. Her research and teaching brings together Native American and Indigenous Studies with critical theory with the aim of developing more nuanced analyses of the colonial present. Her book, Red Pedagogy, is now in its 10th edition and a Portugues translation will be published in Brazil this year.
Milagros (Host): We also have with us Dr. Chris Nelson who is of the Diné and Laguna Pueblo tribes of the southwest. She is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Denver. Her research focuses on finance in higher education which she studies from the student perspective as well as policy. She blends critical theory and Indigenous perspectives and methods to explore the long-term impact of pre-college access programs.
Milagros (Host): Sandy and Chris, thank you for being here with us in this episode. We are so excited to have you as guests. This semester we’ve been focusing on intersectionality and how it can serve as a lens for antiracist teaching. We’d love to hear from both of you about how intersectionality shapes your teaching and the nuances that are important to you specifically given your own research about and with Indigenous communities? Sandy, want to get us started with this conversation?
Sandy (Guest): First, again, just thanks for the invitation to be in conversation with Dr. Nelson. I’ve been looking forward to this. Well, it, I mean, I, for a lot of my classes for the class that I taught this semester, I, as I often had students read The Combahee River Collective Statement where, at least that's sort of an earlier genealogy of the notion of intersectionality appears and I like their articulation of it in particular where it's really focused on interlocking, the inter, interlocking oppression or the interlocking nature of oppression. I think there's been so much unfortunate, like, confusion just as a consequence of what happens when you put scholarship out in the world and it gets taken up and some, I think, actually kind of purposeful about them is use of intersectionality.
Sandy (Guest): So, I think to kind of clear up that confusion, I often work with my students to just understand it as interlocking oppressions. And so not based on issues of identity, in other words. And for me, it's, it's Central, particularly in these times to think about. You know, the different histories of indigenous peoples, particularly what we now call the U.S. and how that's indicated with other histories. And specifically Black African American, African Diaspora peoples as those to me, which are the constitutive like, spaces of subordination and oppression in the formation of the Settler State. So, I think a lot about that crosswalk and then there's, you know, they also read a bit of Lisa Lowe's book and so, and, and she, as a sort of different valence of, like, what are the intimacy is across the different continents and the different kinds of modes of oppression.
Sandy (Guest): So, that's how, you know, one way in which I think about it and I think and then, obviously, like, after we have that conversation of how these various systems of oppression inform each other we, I mean, I always spend a little bit more time specifically on Settler Colonialism and the various violence associated with genocide removal, all the things that happened to Indigenous People.
Milagros (Host): That's really helpful. Sandy, because, you're right, in order to get to aspects of indigenous communities values, like, being in community accountability to the community relationships, it's important to understand that those things matter. In particular communities, but the way it gets left out of the way we operate has to do with these systems is the larger systems that devalue being in community, any relationship and seeing an equal kind of model for our humanity and for being in community. So thank you for that perspective, I want to ask you Chris, what are you what are you thinking? I don't know if you can connect with what Sandy has shared, or if you want to expand on, you know, other points: how does intersectionality shape your teaching particularly given your own research and your work with indigenous communities?
Chris (Guest): Sure, so I have my little notes here and I was like, oh, I think Sandy almost covered everything that I was about to say. Um, but I think one thing that I would add is whenever I think about and I appreciate Sandy, you offering the definition, because I think that is a really important part of understanding intersectionality is like, what lens are you coming from and what is the goal of it? Right? It's not, it's really about disrupting the systems that told power and in a way for teaching, I specifically think about how knowledge is constructed? How is it lived out? How is it valued? And whenever I think about intersectionality, I really try to understand how, how do I operate within the systems through my own identities right? So how do I navigate as an indigenous woman within? Like, which is technically like an oppressed identity right?
Chris (Guest): Where it has been impacted by systems of oppression. And how does that maybe orient my teaching with folks who come from different backgrounds and have different experiences but yet still focus a lot on the learning space and how to and understanding that because we have all these different backgrounds that we're going to understand and have to disentangle that process differently and some people's journeys are gonna be a lot longer and more intense because of maybe the privileged identities that they have this past year when I was teaching our race and racism and higher education, I integrated the cycle of socialization and cycle liberation from Bobbie Harro and she I feel like that work really helped in particular are our White students, like, think about the layers that they have been socialized, and being able to then disentangle those pieces to understand how they have benefited from certain systems and how they need to then interrogate further and continually interrogate and how it's never done. This work is never completed.
Chris (Guest): And, I also take that on for myself, is that I'm always trying to understand, like, how do I show up in the classroom, what knowledge am I privileging and how am I actively trying to disrupt what I’ve even learned because I've grown up in the colonial education system right? I mean, that's how I learned what good knowledge is, what a good student is, and so how do I not replicate those spaces whenever I'm actually trying to teach and go through that very process oriented of, like, grading and, you know, giving students feedback. So, how do I make sure that I'm not replicating those systems?
Omar (Host): Yeah, I really appreciate the perspective that the both of you bring to the classroom and I, as a student, you know, just. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I'm a first year doctoral student, and it's been so interesting to essentially deconstruct these ideas and norms that have been instilled in me since really since I was like, in preschool. Um, that, that the, both of you touched on, you know, these ideas of, of capitalism of just emphasizing the individuals so much that I'm really curious to know the response that you get from students, because I've had my own disorienting dilemmas being in the classroom where it's like, whoa, this isn't what I learned previously. And it's and it's so great to know that there are various perspectives of looking, not only at the world, but different, like specific disciplines and so on, you know, if I were to be in your classroom. What would I experience or notice as a student and why do you feel that that's important to you as a teacher, and I'm wondering Chris, could you kick us off with that question, please?
Chris (Guest): Sure, that was actually something I was thinking about too. Um, because when I first started teaching I don't think I was as clear to the student's file was doing certain things and I would try to authentically show up as who I am as an indigenous woman and how I learn and how I want to foster a certain learning environment, such as collaboration, such as shared knowledge, and what I was noticing early on, was that there would be a lot of pushback and I would actually see that in my course evaluations or students, how they would engage with me and it was really a moment of, like, why, why am I doing this as a faculty member knowing that this is something I need to maintain to maintain my tenure and being able to say, okay, I need to be more clear and that's really what it kind of boiled down to was explaining to students. Like this is why I'm doing this, this is the orientation of where I'm coming from and I'll even name the challenge that I've seen because in my college I am the only indigenous woman here, and I would hear other colleagues in particular.
Chris (Guest): Those privileged identities have a very similar approach to how I was engaging and learning, but they were the ones getting the acknowledgement of being very progressive while on my end, I was getting seen in the classroom by someone who was disorganized, not clear enough, not being upholding a certain standard of what classes were being supposed to be and so what I would actually do is tell students that, like, I am doing this and, because I am a brown woman, I show up in this way that you will probably question why this is happening and if you feel uncomfortable, you can talk to me about that. But ask yourself why? Like, why are you feeling this tension? What within your background, and you're learning, has privilege certain ways of always doing something a certain way and now I'm pushing back on that a little bit and we can work through it and I’d always claim and I always say that I'm very flexible and trying to meet the student's needs, but I'm also very clear in that. I want people to feel challenged and that I, myself am constantly thinking about that, too, is like, when I'm in a learning space, when I'm in a knowledge sharing space that if I feel 100% comfortable in what I'm doing, then I need a question even like, what am I saying and am I feeling like I've arrived right? But I don't want to feel that way. I want to know that I'm always trying my best and trying to push myself to think in different ways.
Sandy (Guest): Thank you, Chris, thanks for naming the, you know, very familiar struggles I think of women and faculty of color in the classroom. Well, probably the first thing they notice is I'm really bad at math. To add anything, it's like, 99% sure I'll get something wrong and in some ways, like just discreet information. So I share with them that I have, like, mild dyslexia, and then ADHD, and the kinds of, um, you know, challenges that those present it to me, both as learner and as a teacher, but I invite them into that space. I share it with them and you know, they keep me on task. You know, I tell a lot of stories, I didn't realize I did until my students shared that. I guess I had back-to-back classes once, and then some students saw me crossing or passing the quad or something like that and they said, “we heard you told them this other story and we didn't get that story.” And I’m like, “oh my god, they talk about my stories!” And then I realized that I must tell a lot of stories in the class, but in a more serious way, I would say that they, they, they have a sense because I make it explicit.
Sandy (Guest): Um, but also that it needs the course that they're, that there isn't just sort of different perspectives that that that on and many levels we're talking about competing moral visions of the world and so you can't continue to have this. I mean, to use Glen Coulthard’s language is like, for Indigenous Peoples to live Capitalism must die. So you can't just be like, well, we can do this and then, like, they can do that over there. And then we can just appreciate each other. It doesn't work that way. And so trying to, like, um, I guess on some level, make that something that can be legible and something that they can sort of take on, because it can be overwhelming. I think, is helping them to understand what it means to really be in relation to each other and to learn and work in collectivities. I try not to use the language of group work because I don't actually think that captures what it is.
Sandy (Guest): Although I do say, and probably every class I've taught since I don't maybe the beginning I've always had what I call Theory Groups. A lot, well not a lot, eh, maybe, I’m a bit of a theory wonk, so some of the reading is very challenging. And so I just say, listen, you know, you'll get even when it isn't challenging, if we all read the same book, we're going to get different things from it. And so, reading is a social practice in my opinion. Um, and so because they still usually start off in the beginning. In a sense that they have to perform as an individual so they try to get the right answer and come up with a smart whatever. And especially when it is something that's theoretically challenging, they get very afraid to, like, have a wrong answer.
Sandy (Guest): So, I noticed in one class recently, for example, rather than really dig into the concept of what the author was saying, they would immediately move to like, that reminds me of this time in kindergarten or that. And I said stick, I want you to really stick with what is written and we literally had to do it together. And then this one woman was just like, I don't understand what it says, and I was like, okay, well. Let's literally try this together. Let's read the sentence word by word, and then we slowed it down to that sort of granular level. And the whole group was with her.
Sandy (Guest): You know, she was, she was like, oh, my God, I understand it. And and so it was like, that was another transformative moment for me as a teacher, and that I realized. You know, and this is true of myself that reading as a practice is something we need to practice. And then they and then we moved from there to next week in groups they went out into different places and I could hear them actually reading to each other. And it really sort of warmed my heart and then they figured it out together and I'm like, okay. And some did probably have a sense of what they were reading prior, maybe, like a deeper sense of it, I guess, in terms of the actual kind of theoretical discourse of it and the analysis of it. While others struggled, but they were all surprised. There was also this other student.
Sandy (Guest): That was very versed in reading theory and so was a little skeptical about the exercise and she just felt. You know, probably a little over confident that this was all like, not new to her. And it was actually she came up to me after class to talk about how much she had learned from her peers by doing reading in that way and that she was surprised and that was another nice moment. So, I think it takes rather than to just have an expectation, something I've learned as a teacher. Rather than having an expectation that they kind of work in these theory groups to kind of understand is that really it’s a practice and it's something that we have to do together in that.
Sandy (Guest): You know, sometimes you do as a class, we'll just read out loud like, you know, like we did in 3rd grade you have maybe take a sentence. And I have found that this sort of little reading practice has often opened the door to other ways in which students understand themselves as a collective learning environment that transcends the notion of they might, you might, previously held notions, I think about group work. That's really not about group work. It's about building relationships with each other.
Milagros (Host): Sandy, that's really interesting. Um, I have so many questions spurring in my teacher head right now. I'm thinking about how students are responding to what it sounds like you're creating in your classroom. A learning, a collective learning experience, right? And knowing that. It's not a collected learning experience so that each individual leaves knowing more. But that, by virtue of engaging in collective learning, the whole of the collective also learns something new. I wonder how that's how that has happened in your classrooms over time. How have students responded to that over time? Are they always on board for it, how do they respond to that change? Because that's a very different model for teaching than, as long as each of you understand the point we move on, you know?
Sandy (Guest): Yeah, it's probably been the most challenging in the Zoom classroom situation. I think we got there a little bit. I mean, it's always a journey, you know, I'm sure some state for some students that never quite. Comes together for them, but overall, I would say. Because it's also about accountability, right? So, I even say to them: look. Once they have a performance into this, and sometimes it takes switch stuff around, cause not all groups can form a group right away and some do immediately. And I never know what the factors are. So, it takes some shifting around typically, but they tend to kind of stabilize by the end. But once they, you know, I also do a lot of organizing, so I think it comes from that as well.
Sandy (Guest): And so organizing is its own, kind of has its own kind of pedagogy in some ways, well, I don't need to go down that road too much, but it has its own sort of pedagogy and I think. You know, organizers, as an example, they often get frustrated because there's often the expectation that everybody has to do everything in the group. And then, at some point, you have a conversation about why that's an expectation. When some as I already mentioned, like, some students are like, excellent at reading theory. Other students might be good, just like, administrative, like, organize taking the notes or whatever. Everyone kind of has a superpower. And it's usually when you can make those. Superpowers explicit to each other that a group, that helps the group run more efficiently if not effectively, and so once they start learning little things about what it means to be a group, I said, you know, some of you, one of you might come in and you're like, you have 10 exams a week before. You're like, I did that, I skimmed the reading. I'm like, you need to show up and be like, listen, I skimmed the reading 5 minutes before class. Can you guys help me to understand? And then somebody may have had no exams or no papers and they read it. You know, chapter and verse, and everybody in between. And so that once they learn that they don't just show up and perform. But it's a space to be accountable to each other. I think that helps them, I guess acculturate into that, as you said, Milagros, it can be radically different from what they've had. I don't make the assumption, sometimes they do have some students have lots of experience organizing as an example, but if it is different from them, that usually helps, because they understand it can be a strategic place. And it should be, I mean, groups and activities, that's the whole point is to support each other. Even when we talk about not self care, but squad care, I mean, we sort of do it all and so they have to kind of figure that out.
Milagros (Host): Right, no, and absolutely if you think about students who may identify as Indigenous they might actually come with a skill set and knowledge around this collective learning and accountability, or even students who are organizers, and their local community might have that knowledge. I think. What happens is that often in the classroom that lived experience and lived knowledge isn't invited as a way of learning in traditionally White spaces. Or even in spaces that are not necessarily exclusively White. They’re historically colonial in nature and so they practice this exclusion of this lived knowledge that could be hopeful for collective learning, but that we omit as a possibility. Traditionally from the classroom.
Milagros (Host): So, I think it's really powerful that you create the space for people to hone in on their superpowers, like you said, and to leverage it for the collective good, it just sounds empowering and as a result, there's a collective good, but it sounds from where you're saying Sandy, that there's also this individual growth. That happens for your students and that makes me connect with something that you actually wrote in your book Red Pedagogy, where you ask your readers to examine their own communities, policies, and practices. Not only to understand who they are, but potentially to reinvent themselves and I wondered. How you might carry that out in your classroom or. If you would give it some advisor suggestion to other faculty who are interested in teaching in ways that are antiracist and decolonizing teaching, you know, what would you offer them as a way to, as an entry point for this self examination that might help them reinvent themselves toward liberation.
Sandy (Guest): Yeah, it's both I would say it's both dialectical and dialogical, so it's not just the self but it’s the self in relation to, right? And so I haven't done this for a while, but I used to ask students somewhere in the beginning, like, who are your people? And, you know, for Native students that's. You know other students of color, but, um. But it's often because of colonization and the kind of violence of assimilation, a lot of White students think they don't have people. And it's like, listen, you all have people, I don't know who they are, you know, Star Trek people. And it's not the same as like, belonging to an Indigenous Nation, but you all have, like, and if they don't know, then I say that's your assignment between now and the end of the semester, like, who are your people? And to really think about that, and then, like, how, you know. There's conversation and a lot of indigenous communities about, you know, not just who you claim, but who claimed you.
Sandy (Guest): Who are you accountable to? Who do you belong to? Who, and what do you belong to? Like, we all belong to the land and to the water, right? So. And it and I guess it's if it's a project, it's like, doing what you can to decenter the human. Not just the individual, but the human, you know, we're such a human obsessed society, even in the quote unquote now there's this new valence of radical literature on the post human, which just makes me think you're still centering the human if you're human or post and it's still about humanism. So, and it's just so interesting. It's such a challenge for non-Indigenous populations to really think beyond the human. To think beyond this world and catch, you know we try to be and play, always 3 different worlds at the same time. And so, space and time are really much more fluid and that's embedded in the language itself. And so it might be a tall ask to decenter the human, but, in all honesty, when climate scientists give us about 10 years before we're at a point of irreversible damage. You know, if not now, when? You know, if you're not going to decenter the human now, when?
Omar (Host): I have to say that, something that stuck out to me, uh, from both the answers that that Chris and Sandy that you've both provided is just I'm. Just, how beautiful you both take the time. To actually. Share this information with students and push them and challenge them to think differently. I think, in a way, you're almost practicing what you are, and you are exactly practicing what you're what you're preaching towards anti capitalism. Well, when I think of capitalism, I think. Go go, go no brakes,
Omar (Host): Sandy, as you mentioned profit incentive all the time like, is it worth doing? And most of the time it's is there money to be made if so then we should pursue it. And so I think over time I come to learn that, as a student, and as a teacher, like the greatest gift, just as a human being the greatest gift that we can give each other is time and you both take the time. And you bestow that upon your students, and if they struggle. Again, you take the time to kind of walk them through. The process, whereas I've had so many experiences. I wonder if they've been tied to capitalism in this. Um, desire to just focus on the individual that if someone's not keeping up, then they're left behind and that in a way that damages the group, and specifically that individual as well and not, you know.
Keeping up and staying with the group and. You know, Chris, I'm actually really excited to ask you this next question, just because I, in my previous role, uh, prior to starting graduate school, I was actually a program coordinator for a college prep program and it, it was that specific job, um, in addition to previous roles that I've had an education that steered me towards, uh, pursuing graduate school. And so it. It pivoted me in so many different ways. Um, but specific to you, Chris, I'm curious to hear more about the impact that critical theory and indigenous perspectives and methods have on how pre-college access programs are conceptualized and delivered. Do you mind sharing more about your work on this and how it informs your teaching?
Chris (Guest): Sure, I think it actually ties in well with what Sandy was saying earlier about the human and understanding us as part of a larger, um, and very forceful, um, dynamic. I had this opportunity to start engaging in pre-college STEM when I was a grad student at University of Arizona. I helped coordinate the Native American Science and Engineering Program, and it was, it was during that time, when I really started to, um, had some really great scholars that supported me, Indigenous scholars in particular Dr. Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox at the University of Arizona at the time. They were really encouraging and centering Indigenous knowledges and perspectives. And so what leaning into works like Deloria and Wildcat’s Power and Place, Dr. Gregory Cajete’s Look to the Mountain, all the way just 2 different narratives that Indigenous people have written through their own experiences. And being able to say, how do we blend these very grounded ideas of place into the curriculum whenever we're working in particular with native youth and, and so. Through the years, I've just been able to kind of continue that thread in different ways. And most recently at the University of Denver, whenever I came here, I, um, I, we actually or I wasn't, it wasn't a cluster hire, but there just so happened to be another indigenous faculty member in the Physics Department that got hired.
Chris (Guest): Then they hired a new Native American kind of support manager and then we had, like, 3 or 4 Indigenous grad students, and we all just collectively started supporting each other. And then it turned into, like, well, let's do something like, we need something to keep us here. That's meaningful. And we had worked already and all of us had children and so we had kids in the school systems, and we were seeing the shortcomings that they were facing. So, we reached out to the different Indian Ed programs and started to conceptualize, what does it mean to support STEM now? From a standpoint of, like, oh, go into stem because you can make a lot of money and there's a lot of great careers, but really thinking about how we can, we can reconnect to our indigenous ways of knowing through an educational space. And so what we did was we started to.
Chris (Guest): We focus on place based learning, and there's a few sites across Denver that have a cultural significance for Indigenous people. One mainly being Tall Bull Memorial Park, which is south of Denver, and we really wanted to have our students be able to go out there, engage with different elders and knowledge keepers to be able to think like, okay, how does science actually, how has it pre-existed the notion of science, right? How have these concepts, how have our ancestors always been mathematicians, been scientists, knowing these different ways of engaging with the Earth and understanding the Earth and so it was really an amazing time because we had a scientist Dr. Cisneros. We had a Native American scholar, Dr. Angel Hinzo, and then myself, being in education. It's like, we just had this really like a blending of different perspectives, coming together and our delivery and are just our personalities really meshed well.
Chris (Guest): And we were able to bring on about 13 students on to the DU campus and help them help them, not help them, but bring them into the space of seeing what can be done in terms of teaching science. And I, and we continued this for about a year and a half with different community events, and in the end, it really culminated down to was a weekend activity where we had a local elder who had some eagles that he needed to process and he offered to bring in some of our students to teach them about this practice and the sacredness of it and it was probably one of the most life changing experiences I had because we had another colleague who was a doctoral student in engineering, and they had the eagle kind of, they were respectfully treating the eagle but then they were talking about flight and force and really showing the students, how majestic and how special this bird is, and the students were just sitting there, you know, being able to really touch and respectfully handle the birds in a way that we're guided by a lot of elders, and I thought in my head, this is how students this is how we have always learned as Indigenous people and the ability to have our native youth learn from that was really a special moment for a lot of us, and we had community members that weren't necessarily affiliated with DU or didn’t even have children. They just wanted to be there, right?
Chris (Guest): So, this momentum that we really started to build was very special and the, the, the whole idea behind it was, how do we engage our community in learning and teaching and sharing of knowledge all the while for us it was very like, we just need a reason to stay within the academy, because it it can be very draining and while the community work is even more intense at times it really brought a lot of special moments in time to us. And it also allows us the ability to think about what within the academy limits and makes it challenging to do that work but then how do we just support each other to do the work? Right? And to not make it so much of a challenge to then integrate it with theory and knowledge so that way, when we are writing our tenure documents, like, there is a way to connect it to this tenure process. And for me, that was really helpful because we had a lot of elders that helped us, kind of conceptualize it.
Chris (Guest): And yeah. So I think in terms of that teaching moment for myself has actually helped me to further my graduate courses that I teach. So this quarter, I'm teaching a Decolonizing Higher Ed class, and within that work, we had some really great grad students that have been helping me, and they would, together, what we did was we created a 8-day week and so we have everyone on an 8-day week, and it's based upon Dr. Cisneros’s work as a physicist in time and how we have the certain classes, we still meet during the normal, like Wednesday night class time but there's other tasks that students have to do and we really disrupt that moment and that notion of participation, like, oh, you got to do all the work and on time, you know, but it's really about, what is your intent behind the week and what is it that, how can these activities that we've kind of outlined, support that learning process and within those spaces, we've also talked about what grading means how to how do we disrupt this idea of A, B, C, D. An A student is a good student, an excellent student, and so forth and talking a little bit more about how do we engage in conversations of antiracism, anticolonialism, you know, to be able to really. Have a life changing experience, and I'm just really grateful that I've been able to have that space to, to live that out and to be able to think about the different types of ways that we can engage in knowledge sharing and I believe our students are really, you know. Their willingness to do that is really the reason why we're able to, right? Chris (Guest): Because I was really afraid that they would be like, “no, I joined this class because I want to read, you know, all these articles and I want to talk about it. I want to get it,” right?
Chris (Guest): But I was like, okay, we're going to do a little bit of that but we're going to really do it. Like, we're gonna do the work of what it would mean to think about decolonizing higher ed spaces.
Milagros (Host): Wow, I just want to be in both of your classes. You're both inspiring professors and your students are so fortunate to have you, as we close out our conversation for today, I'm wondering if you could share. What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone who's interested in, at least what I'm seeing something in common across multiple things you have in common one thing I'm hearing from both of you is the power of sharing knowledge and making that the norm of the learning experience, and I wonder if you have a piece of advice, you would give to someone who wants to try to center that approach in their teaching? What would that be? What would you say to them? Chris, can we start with you?
Chris (Guest): Sure, I'm trying to in terms of, like, just engaging in the work and I have some sticky notes I put on my, around my computer to just kind of remind myself and there's two that really stick to me a lot is one that says, “honoring your family and yourself in this process.” And whenever I feel challenged, and whenever I'm feeling, maybe even insecure in this process, it's like, I have to go to the thoughts of my grandmother, right? Like my grandparents and asking myself. Like, does this make her proud? Would would this make her feel like she did her job? And also my mother too, and I think to me, that's just a way to know that. Even if I messed up, even if I maybe had a misstep that I know that they would still be proud of me is more important than if it's always making 100% sense all the time. And so, for me, I would say that finding those, those, those orienting grounding people in your life, and, and making sure that they stay at a really prominent side of who you are, I think that's important.
Milagros (Host): Thank you Chris. Sandy, what are your thoughts? What’s a piece of advice you would give?
Sandy (Guest): Yeah, wow. I mean, similarly to Chris, I think on some level, if you hold as the only learning outcome, if people are learning to be better relatives in the broader sense of that word and then for teachers or folks who need something a bit more pragmatic I would just say, you know, what is the, to to never teach anything, which you can’t answer the question of, like, what is at stake? What does that stake? You have to know the answer to that question. If nothing's at stake then don't teach it. And maybe a third thing is, like, there's always a way, I think, to connect the classroom to the world beyond. So, like, if you're kind of, in Chris's example, like, if you're creating antiracist curriculum, create antiracist curriculum for someone who needs it, or make it an actual, you know, inform policy somewhere. Show up to, and with, you know, a community organization that needs and has asked for support whatever it is like, there's a way to make, I think, to connect beyond an outside of the classroom. I think that that's a good way to reground things.
Omar (Host): Well, thank you so much to you both for those incredible answers. And with that, we'd like to close out for today's conversation. Uh, thank you. Dr. Grande and Dr. Nelson for joining us today. For the powerful words of wisdom you have shared with us today for broadening our perspectives and for shining light on the urgency of collectivity. We truly appreciate what you do in and outside of the classroom to disrupt colonial education and we're so grateful for your time today. For your willingness to share the wisdom with us and our audience today and really just uplifting the amazing work that you both do and echoing Milagros’s words, I’m so jealous of the students in your classroom. But, I hope that this isn't the last time that we all come together in conversation. So, uh, with that, thank you. Thank you so much.
Omar (Host) We would like to extend our gratitude to Dr. Sandy Grande and Dr. Chris Nelson for sharing their insights as they relate to indigeneity and antiracist teaching. Thanks to them, we were able to explore notions of collectivity, community, and grounding our work in relation to those around us. We also appreciate their sense of urgency related to societal problems such as climate change, in which they encourage us to ask ourselves “if not now, when?”
Milagros (Host): We also want to thank the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Connecticut for their support in making this podcast possible. “Because it takes a village and it takes heart.”
- The Combahee River Collective Statement
- The Intimacies of Four Continents
- The Cycle of Liberation - Bobbie Harro
- Glen Coulthard - Voices Rising
- Red Pedagogy - Sandy Grande
- Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox - University of Arizona
- Deloria and Wildcat’s Power and Place
- Gregory Cajete’s Look to the Mountain
- Tall Bull Memorial Park
- Angel Hinzo
Danielle DeRosa from the University of Connecticut, Dr. Rani Varghese from Adelphi University, and Wilson Okello from the University of North Carolina Wilmington guide us through their process of how they help facilitate conversations between members of various social identity groups in an effort to create new levels of understanding. Join us as we delve deeper into themes of relating while also hearing more about how our guests integrate their knowledge in the classroom.
Transcript – Episode 7
Omar (Host): Welcome everyone to Episode #7 of the HEART podcast, everyone. In today’s episode we focus on Intergroup Dialogue and Antiracist Teaching. Specifically, our guests will be guiding us through their process of how they help facilitate conversations between members of various social identity groups in an effort to create new levels of understanding, relating, and ultimately loving one another. Join us as we delve deeper into these themes and hear about how our guests integrate their knowledge in the classroom.
Omar (Host): We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.
Milagros (Host): Thank you Omar. Joining us today is Danielle DeRosa who is a Clinical Instructor in the Sport Management Program at the University of Connecticut. In her role, Danielle oversees the instruction of the experiential learning of undergraduate students in sport management. She also co-teaches with me the only graduate-level intergroup dialogue course at UConn. It is a course that focuses on race and is offered in the higher education and student affairs program in the department of educational leadership.
Milagros (Host): Also joining us is Dr. Rani Varghese who is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at Adelphi University. With a background in social work, social justice education and women, gender & sexuality studies, Rani brings an interdisciplinary and intersectionality approach to her teaching and research. She also teaches intergroup dialogue at Adelphi University.
Milagros (Host): With us also today is Dr. Wilson Okello who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His research focuses on Black feminisms in education, anti-blackness in educational contexts, and anti-deficit curriculum and pedagogy, which we will hear more about throughout the episode.
Milagros (Host): Alright everyone, We hope you are excited to learn from them as we are. Let’s get started! Danielle, Rani, and Wilson, thank you again for being here with us today. All of you are involved in research or teaching, or both with respect to Intergroup Dialogue, which is often referred to as IGD. From your perspective, what is IGD? And, what does it entail in terms of teaching? How does antiracist teaching show up in your IGD teaching? Danielle, would you be willing to get us started on our conversation today?
Danielle (Guest): Yeah, of course. Thanks. So much for having me so I teach Intergroup Dialogue as you had just said, in a spoiler alert for those in the call Milagros and I actually co-teach and intergroup dialogue. Of course, I'll refer to that I'm sure throughout this episode, but in our course we center race as a social identity so really it gives the opportunity for students to experience dialogue across racial identities and we do that throughout an entire semester leading them through 4 phases in which they get to get to know each other. They have the opportunity to learn a bit more about historical context. We get to dialogue around contentious issues. And then we have the opportunity to think about what the path forward is for the students in terms of alliance building, or being an accomplice to each other. And really, we've started to see, as a shared responsibility, that we have to each other and students have really come to understand that. When I think about anti racist teaching and the connection between Intergroup Dialogue and anti racist teaching I think that there's a lot of underlying fundamental values that I bring to the classroom as someone who's facilitating dialogue and I also think about when I'm thinking about antiracist teaching so some of those things would be to have this essence of love and humility and humankind.
Danielle (Guest): Two years ago we had the opportunity to bring in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, sorry I blink for a second, I couldn't read it and he really helps us to think about this idea of profound love and kind of faith in each other and in humankind and how that can drive us and dialogue to be hopeful. And we've really been thinking about that over the past years and the reason that I'm connecting it to antiracist teaching, Milagros, you helped us to understand or to think a few minutes ago about how sometimes anti versus teaching or anti racist work can be looked at kind of being in opposition to and pushing against something and I absolutely think that and I think that's part of the way that I orient myself to antiracist teaching. But I also think that love as part of that too. So, rather than fighting against the opening of someone's heart and just really being and acknowledging, humility and humanity and what happens when we're able to do that and that's extremely vulnerable. And I think takes a lot of trust. But I think can be really transformative. If 1, myself as an educator can commit to that, and two, I can also cultivate along with whoever I'm facilitating with classroom space that enables that for our students too.
Milagros (Host): Yeah, that's really powerful because love is something that. In, from my perspective, is central to antiracist work. But often the taboo work, or maybe even idea when it comes about thinking about the academy. And what learning really means. So I’m curious, Rani, would you be able to chime in and share? What are your thoughts about IDG and how it connects to antiracist teaching and maybe even your thoughts on this idea of “love” being central to that?
Rani (Guest): I mean, I don't know if it's helpful to, you know, I don't know, previously in your podcast have we explained what IDG is? So, you know,, I think it's always important to name what Intergroup Dialogue is. So, it's an evidence based model that first came out of the University of Michigan that brings people together of either different identity groups, so intergroup dialogue, or similar identities intergroup dialogue to have conversations that folks may not have or have the opportunity to have around social justice issues using a particular curriculum, many intergroup, their Intergroup Dialog programs, across the country, Intergroup Dialogue courses, across the country, and across the globe. And as Danielle said, it's a four-part model, four-part model for stages. First is like, understanding yourself, helping building a container for dialogue of building a community. Second, understand yourself in terms of your identities. The third, is to dialogue about hot topics and the fourth is to take action. And so, for me, part of building that intentional community or building that community with love is really looking at the building blocks of dialogue, which is around deep listening.
Rani (Guest): So one of the pieces of research I was involved in, in looking at Intergroup Dialogue was part of originally part of that 99 college study, looking at the impact of dialogue. And a lot of times, we think about dialogue, we really focus on voicing, but our work was really looking at the power of deep listening. And so, I think again, if we think about what love embodies, I think it's deep listening, having respect, holding judgments or biases, being reflective, and engaging inquiry and learning how to use your voice in thoughtful and productive ways. And so, for me, the building blocks of dialogue really embody what sort of we're saying. Is love and I think part of what is powerful for me about intergroup dialogue is. The use of self and again, use yourself as a term that I use in social work, particularly clinical social work, but for me, you know, many diversity and equity courses, center content, and I think process is part of it in terms of processing the content. But I think with IDG they center both the process and the content. So that you are intentional, like, you engage the content there process. You're intentional about how you set up the course, it forces you to slow down the process in ways that are very different. Um, then other courses, sometimes I didn't coin this, but a student in one of my classes once used the word like Social Justice Cruise Control and I, and I was thinking, like, when you're driving and you just like, you're just the car is going. And so for me with IDG it forces me to sit up and be engaged in a very different way. Um, so I'll stop there. I mean, I can talk more about, like, race and IDG, but I'll hand it off because someone else.
Wilson (Guest): Powerful powerful offerings and so thank you Rani for that the reflection and really this merging of process and content, and really walking us through the steps. Danielle I was struck just by your, this infusion of love and so I wasn't prepared to go here at this particular point, but I'm glad that you took us there because I agree with you, I think that love is oftentimes, uh, read as not only taboo, but often times we view it as sort of this romantic or so we only think about it and sort of the romantic sphere if you will, right? And so what does it mean to really sort of take up love as a critical practice right? So how might we begin to love? In my work, I'm trying to think about what it means to essentially love blackness in particular, right? And so what does it look like to affirm a bodily presence, a spiritual presence? A mental, emotional, spiritual, spatial, sort of being in this world that is mediated by history in full and effective ways, right? And so I'm thinking about Beloved: Baby Suggs, Toni Morrison takes us here and she talks about this space in a clearing, in particular, and she said Baby Suggs was inviting us into sort of this collective love response. And I almost see that as a form of dialogue, right? The call and response that was enacted, in that particular moment is inviting a communal love practice, she's saying, love your flesh, love it hard, right?
Wilson (Guest): She's inviting us to say that in a world where you're going to move beyond this place where they don't love you. We have to think about what it means for us to intentionally ,to not only, sort of care for ourselves, but to love ourselves in some really powerful ways. And so, I think about IDG at its best as a communal practice of seeing right of feeling, and of doing on behalf of one another, right? It's the belief that individuals hold the capacity to make decisions about their lives and their communities, right? because oftentimes, as I think, as educators who are equipped with particular knowledge and training, we believe even if we say we don't sometimes, right, that we have the answer. Or we can steer individuals in directions that allow them move them towards solutions about their communities and about their lives, right? I think IDG at its best, right, allows for individuals to take ownership, right? Or return power to individuals to make decisions about what their lives and be, what they ought to be. It's a belief that they have been doing the work. Um, negotiate the problems that are present their lives and so I'm thinking about, you know, again IDG at its best a face of representation. I'm thinking about it as a space of embodiment, of bringing the body to bear in the classroom, I'll probably talk about this a little bit more as I go throughout, but it really sort of hones in on my commitments to Black Feminist practice. And so I'll pause there and. Just kind of invite others into the conversation, but that's sort of where I was going. Uh, what I'm thinking about when I hear this notion of love and IDG at its best. I had something to build off that.
Danielle (Guest): So part of the question, I realized, after you asked it, Milagros, was this idea of what does entail in terms of teaching? And I think we all touched on it a bit but actually, Wilson, when you were just talking about this idea of a communal practice and seeing, feeling, doing, disrupting, this idea that. You know, a teacher has the answer and everyone is there to learn the answer from the teacher. Rani, you mentioned this as well. One thing that we've done in our class through the years, is that this notion of unclassing the class, because I think all of these things that we all just mentioned as part of our practice are really counterintuitive to the ways in which many of us are taught to see education or our place as educators, and our student’s place as students. So, for us in our classroom, that looks like a lot of things. But when I was thinking about unclassing the class for some reason, I just thought about, I have two kids and when my son was in kindergarten, I would try to go into his classroom every so often. And I remember at first, it just being this place that was awesome. Like, I instantly loved it and I think, as I reflect back, the thing that I loved the most about it was that it was playful. It was fun. It was unexpected. It was kind of like all the things that I felt like, I had lost through my time in education, but then, in there, just being there with the kids was amazing and then thinking about our classroom that we've created.
Danielle (Guest): It's like, what happens in the educational process, and that we lose these characteristics. And then how do we recapture them back? So, some of the things that we have done is invite food into the classroom. Like, we have one class where we literally set it up to look like a kitchen and we put tablecloth on the tables. We have flowers, we have food, and we just use that as a communal space to connect with each other. So, I don't know if anyone else has experiences or unclassing the class is something that you all have done?
Rani (Guest): Yeah, I mean, I think for me IDG is described as sort of you know, this model, right? This model that you have the curriculum for. But I think IDG as a principle or practice is something I use in all my classes. Like, I do teach an Intergroup Dialogue course where I introduce undergrad students to IDG, give them the opportunity to participate in the IDG dialogue around a range of isms and then I give them a chance to co-facilitate and I move out of the classroom and allow them to, you know, facilitate a conversation with their peers around the things that which I think, um, Wilson, you mentioned about things that are important, that matter to them and their community across a range of identities.
Rani (Guest): And because most co-teach, or at least most co-teaching models, at least in my institution are not compensated, right? Like, most of these courses are usually co-taught. Um, I have to draw on friends and family in the community so talking about love, come to my class, because they love IDG. They love me. They love working with students and co-facilitate this, these range of hot topics and so I think that is really important and yes, I think I say to students at first I was like, this seems like, you know, should I say this? I said, I will change your life and I have found, I was like, okay, I'm going to lean into it. It has changed. It changed my life.
Rani (Guest): I think it's changed the lives of students, because not only are they using these skills of dialogging in the classroom? It's, they're using it with their partners with their families. And I think some of that work is critical. It's again, like, oppression can gut you in this way and it allows them to feel hopeful and look at it from again, like, not antiracial justice looking, framing it from a place of liberation. And so, and again, I use it. And in faculty meetings, I mean, like, I try to embody this and it's hard work and I think you named it earlier. I wrote down “hard and head” connection and, you know, um, folks, I think one of the other podcast members talked about, like, “hard work because it’s heart work” and I really see that. Um. So, yes, and I bring in food to all my classes, although this semester, it's been, you know, this year has been really hard of how you think of IDG, this interpersonal, face-to-face practice and do it on Zoom. So, you know, I've, I've been creative, I'm bringing in music. I'm trying to recreate and transform this online space in ways that are meaningful and allows connection because they're so disconnected, um, in this online world right now.
Wilson (Guest): I really appreciate those points. Danielle, I'm thinking about what you put forth as this idea of unclassing the classroom, I think is really important. So, I'm thinking about it in conversation with the assumption of un-schooling, that sort of takes place and I want to. And what I hear in that is this notion of, um, inviting a sort of self-directed type of learning, right? So how might we not only think about what it means to be facilitators, but invite individuals to chart the direction of their learning, right? And so I. Yeah, yeah, so I, so I appreciate that notion right? And I think there's the belief that individuals again have the capacity to make decisions about their own lives and what matters to their communities. So, there was another thought I had as it was. Oh, I was thinking about this structure Rani was mentioning about. IGD and inventory potential and so I, you know, I, I think I saw I've mentioned this in my first sort of comments, but I think it. At its best has the potential to do these things, but I've been trying to meditate on what white institutions do to liberatory pedagogies, right, and critical theories. And I think if we're not careful, I wonder how IGD can get swept up and sort of the mechanics, the sort of dispassionate the polite white supremacy that some exchange, or some discourse favors in White institutions and so I say the best I think is rooted in diverse cultural practices, right?
Wilson (Guest): I think, it was and existed long before we sort of thought about what it might look like within the institution. And so how might we return to that, in and through cultural modes right? And so, where food is one of them, right, you talked about music, Rani. I think about art, right? I think about the body and dance. I think about other opportunities to engage in sort of these dynamic cultural practices. Hip hop, for example. frees individuals up to express and be, and write poetry to do all the things. Or to locate knowledge in a different place, than in this sort of traditional, linguistic, verbal, verbal exchange that I think IGD can sometimes favor. And so I wanted to offer that as well.
Milagros (Host): That's just okay you all I just are having me go to all these happy places in my head, and I can't even keep up with my own excitement as I'm listening to you all because I'm just like, oh, yeah that and that too. Yes. And but I want to connect to two things that I just heard with you mentioning the multi-modal learning that's possible when IDG is at its best, you know, like, it really does allow for there to be the unschooling, the unclassing the class.
Milagros (Host): I think that that's really powerful, because it's a disruption. So, what you were saying happens to IGD when it gets kind of co-opted but when it's at its best, it's actually the opposite of whatever is traditional teaching and learning. So, you know, when it's been co-optive, when it goes to smooth into the scenario, and I think even with students still, because students can even have some kind of like “wait, what's happening here, a graduate course program,” or whatever it might be that disruption isn't, isn't the experience for everybody, and if it's not shaking up how we're learning and what we're learning that it isn't actually Intergroup Dialogue in in its full form. And but I also want to go back to something, Danielle, you said earlier about unclassing the class and, you know, even those different approaches, whether it's turning the classroom into a kitchen, or going out on a field trip and doing classrooms in in different spaces like, outside of a real classroom, just making different spaces or learning space or whatever that might be something that strikes, or at least what I'm hearing is that students can learn in their full humanity and that that might spark joy in learning that I think Rani, you were seeing, like, there's a way in which oppression I think colonial and white supremacist learning guts, particularly for Black and Indigenous, and other students, guts the soul out of them along way and IGD is, in a way, I never thought about this. I like, you ought to check me when you're taking them the wrong direction. But I'm hearing you all and it's making me think, is it like a restorative practice? Because when we’re restoring, and I don't mean, we started the practice, like the framework. I'm saying is it restoring what’s possible when you teach with a full humanity at the center of a teaching? I don't know those are some thoughts that came to my mind and I'm curious what you all think?
Danielle (Guest): You're making me think so we do a final project and Rani had mentioned the framework before. So, as part of the IGD framework, there was a final project called the ICP Intergroup Collaboratory Project, and that looks different for every class and the way that the instructors decide to teach it. But for us, what it has looked like over the years. I guess what's fundamental is that you're bringing students, so, in our case, because we teach about race across racial identity together to work on a project together, and for our class, it's been a gallery walk and they have to create something visual that's tied to art. So, Milagros you just made me think about this idea of restoring some of this process for students and this project sticks out for me because it’s always a struggle for some students, and we get a lot of pushback and thinking about how are we going to express ourselves in these ways? There's questions about the syllabus. I mean, sorry about the rubrics and how we're going to grade it and. But then there's always a small group of students who just flourish in this project, and they are so creative and it's so fun to watch them.
Danielle (Guest): And it just, I think it's this moment where I'm wondering, you know, it kind of makes all of the tedious, detailed questions about the rubric and when it's due, and how will it be submitted, totally fine because I get to see this subset of students who are just loving this process and I can't imagine that they're asked to express their learning in this way really often and it's very powerful.
Wilson (Guest): That’s a really powerful point and example, you know, I'm thinking about. Um, so many of the classes I've taught over time and the number of what I'll say. Black students, but I think broadly Black, Indigenous, People of Color who were aligned in front of my classroom and in some of the introductory classes, for example, um, and I think it's partially because of this sort of ways they've been taught or trained to, um, if I'm not seen in this sort of sort of white space, how do I ensure that the, the faculty member processes me, right? And so. When we think about what it means to decenter, not only decenter whiteness, but for me, again center something else center blackness. It, it means sort of working from an inverted space that says I'm not working up to the idea that something like racism or anti blackness exists, but that's the beginning place. Right? That's the fundamental starting place we begin and everyone else has an opportunity to then.
Wilson (Guest): Or I should say it centers the experiences of folks who might be at the front of the classroom, but often times for most of their schooling have not. I have had to sort of, um, participate in learning environments where I think whiteness was centered in a way that said, let's be patient with our those who don't have a firm understanding or who have a limited experience and let's let's be patient with them and allow them to sort of have free reign in the classroom and so I mentioned that to Daniel's point to say that I think something happens when we center a different cultural practice in the classroom that allows individuals to move to feel to, to express themselves differently. And I wonder what it looks like as. Um, a, um. I wonder what that could look like, um, as just a general way of being, right? So how do we invite individuals to rehearse a different way of being in the classroom and I think, as we center differently because of some of the practices within IGD I think we invite individuals into a different type of freedom moving forward. Right? Because they've been trained throughout the educational experience to say, this is how the classroom is going to go, but when you invite them into a different way of being, I think it allows them to begin to imagine different possibilities of being yourself. So, I agree with you and the practice that you're talking about sounds really important.
Rani (Guest): I mean, I think for me, I was going back to unclassing the class, I think, because my doctoral training is in social justice education. I felt like my doctoral training was all about unclassing the class and IGD was one vehicle or approach to doing this, right? And I think for me the ways in which we shift power or shift experiences for you know, I will just use myself because use the self is important. So, as a South Asian woman who embodies this brown body, and as somebody who grew up in Ohio, in Cincinnati, the “Nasty Natty,” as we call it to give it a little flavor, you know, I learned about anti-Black racism as I was learning about anti-Asian racism being in a black and white. Community at the University of Cincinnati, and in this rap program, but it was also important to me in my social justice training to really understand the ways in which I had privilege. And so, for me, when I co-teach IGD with my students, I bring in my former students who took class with me, or current students, and I talk about my privilege around disability and they become, they get centered in a different way.
Rani (Guest): So, I think it's important to think about, or someone who is a personal color who has privilege around sexuality so I, I think for me, I think part of this conversation is about like, anti-racism and intersectionality and so, um, or racial justice and intersectionality. And, and I think when you talked about it, like, for me, I. I've been trained in social justice ad, like my homes are Social Justice Ed and Women/Gender Sexuality. Like, I've been trained I've been deeply influenced by Black feminists, so I can't teach in any other way, but through this intersectional lens, right I think about like Elsa Barkley Brown, who talk about women, not having the same gender because the context of being women is really rooted in race, place, and time. And so, for me. It's IGD also gives you an opportunity for students to position themselves and think about how they hold multiple identities. So, my experiences of being a South Asian woman is rooted in my gender and my class and my sexuality and my ability and my nationality and my language. And so I can't disentangle those. I don't I don't know how to do it. How to do it? And I think it's important to hold up and unpack, go in and deep but to hold these, these different identities and the interlocking system at the same time.
Wilson (Guest): Yeah, I'm thinking about your question, Milagros, and so, in terms of what is restored and. So, I think about it as a political activity, right? And so how might we envision the classroom and our pedagogies, to Rani’s point, as a political activity and when we do that, I think there's always something at stake in what we do and what we teach.
Wilson (Guest): Well, what we decide not to teach or not do in the classroom and so, I just yeah, I appreciate the notion that we're complicating identity and for me, and given my sort of commitments as well I think about it yeah, this very much as a political activity that we're engaged in and. I don't know what, maybe I trouble the notion of restore since we've been in the pandemic and folks talk about getting back to this notion of a norm. But for me, I'm trying to think about what does it mean to imagine a new world altogether? And I think those are the sorts of things that I think our students are yearning for. It's not just sort of a return to or a restoration of, but imagining what could be or is yet to be.
Milagros (Host): I love that because you're right like a restore assumes a place that was good before, nourishing before, but when I think of restore, I think about a lot of my scholarship focuses on an asset-based view on what student already know given their own racial cultural identities, and the communities that they come from. We often think that they, you never meet when I see me, I'm seeing in higher education. There's like this perspective that they, you know, they come into your classroom and you just dump all this new knowledge in there. But, you know.
Milagros (Host): So, when I think restoring is kind of like, what do we need to get out of the way so that you could be who you were always capable of being but that we probably messed up and destroyed or somehow limited or thorted with all these other restrictions about what was possible. So, I like that combination about also looking forward so even things we haven't even imagined is possible yet. Or even as something that we could collectively create together, which is really powerful to think about the collective imagination about what's possible. I'm curious to hear, Wilson and Danielle, intersectionality is something you also feel like, somehow gets, how does that inform your teaching if at all? I'm curious giving you know, given what Rani was saying about, there is no other way that she can teach and I really appreciate, Rani, the way you entered that into the conversation and how much of it is just like your path, your work, your commitment, your training but also who you are, which curious what others think.
Danielle (Guest): Yeah, I would say for myself, thinking about, you know, I identify as a white woman. So thinking about the way in which race and gender, and then identities, such as sexuality, being able bodied. My socioeconomic status, how have those things come together to create who I am, how I experience the world and how the world experiences me? In thinking about that in life form.
Danielle (Guest): And then also, I think, when I was thinking about this question, prior to the podcast, I was also thinking about, in our Intergroup Dialogue class, we, we do Intragroup Dialogue so we'll have students engage in smaller group dialogs, based on their racial identity, and that's complicated in of itself. And the ways in which we do it is that students who identify as white, the students self identify for the purpose of when we engage in intragroup. We'll engage in dialogues with me and those students identify students of colors with Milagros. We have a teaching assistant this year named Truth and this year we did it or there was even separate readings for those students to think about the racial identity a bit more. So, when I'm thinking about intersectionality, I'm both acknowledging that kind of like, the culmination of who we are as people informs what we do informs how we interact with the world. Like I said before. But also, there is this interest. I have noticed, including myself among people who identify as white to want to talk about other identities outside of race. So it's kind of holding intention with. How do we allow for this?
Danielle (Guest): You know, whole person to be in the space and also for me, as a white woman facilitating, when I'm an Intragroup Dialogue with the white students, how do I allow for people to bring the nuance complexity of who they are but also hold them accountable for talking about race and a really straightforward way, because I think that that is disruptive and needs and needs to be done, right? As we're naming white supremacy and so we need to name whiteness and we have to own whiteness and the ways that it shows up and I do that for myself. I encourage my students to do that. So, I'm just thinking about that, as we also talk about intersectionality, because it's a fine balance. I think.
Rani (Guest): I mean, for me, I was going to say, you know, for me, intersectionalities the relational nature of difference and similarities. So I would say, you know, Danielle, you live the life you live because right because, well. It's intersectionality, is not just embodied in our body. It's the relational nature of difference and similarity.
Rani (Guest): And so, for me, you can't, it's not like you throw race out but, like, you know. A South Asian woman, you know, and again, I don't know how you all identify you named being a white woman. Wilson, I don't know how you identify your, you know, race and gender, but to me, this is the conversation. Like, it's not just. You know, it's because IGD is relational. It's about the intergroup, intragroup, experience as folks of color. My South Asianness and how South Asians live next to, in relationship to blackness I can't not talk about blackness when I talk about Asian this or South Asian is so I think it's, I think, to me, it's hard. Hard not to do it.
Wilson (Guest): Agreed. So, thinking about thinking about this notion of so so. To your question, Milagros, I think about power, as I think about intersectionality that's and I think about, to Rani’s point, how do we exist in relationship to others and the world around us and so so. If we are particularly. It shows up in the sorts of questions and. Um, that I ask, right and so trying to sort of complicate the sort of single issue as I do, I might say, or the, the, the simplified sort of, um. Um, sort of overlay of an issue and trying to sort of think about what intersectional, intersectionality causes us to think about, which is sort of this compounding nature of impressions and how that affects individuals differently. Right?
Wilson (Guest): And so, for example, I began each class period with a what's going in the news, right? And so we think about an issue, a headline. And but we think about that, that sort of issue in relationship to individuals who might encounter those things, and how they might encounter it differently. So me, as a Black, Cis, man, I will certainly perhaps experience this differently than than a Black woman. Right? And how does our sort of ways of being historically come to bear on how I'm seeing and interpreted right? How are the ways in which society views and what's projected onto black women impact how they're going to be sort of seen and read right? And so these are these things that I hope to complicate, even if we're not naming intersectionality. Intersectionality explicitly, but hoping that's really driving the compounding nature of impressions and how individual lives are affected differently.
Wilson (Guest): And so, for me, this is part definition work as well because I think sectionality is probably one of the one of those, those ideas that is oftentimes underdefined and oftentimes misappropriated and just. Yeah, so to the point that the originator of those who sort of wrote initially about it to the point that it's almost unrecognizable, right? And we talked about it as multiple identities, for example, and we sort of just leave it there. And so that's why I sort of want to harken back to the assumption of power and the compounding nature of it because if we're not clear, right about what this is, what the, what, the term right? And really what is more than even a term. But what the, the force, and the thrust of the idea is calling on us to do that I think we minimize potential effect in our class.
Rani (Guest): I would say, Milagros, you mentioned IGD being co-opted intersectionality has been co-opt and I think Jennifer Nash’s book Black Feminism Reimagined really gets it. I mean, I've heard her speak. I mean, she's really getting at. You know, taking the origin, and, you know, whether it's a, you know, it's a concept theory methodology however, we want to frame it, but that's been co-opted and it's been packaged in this way. That's in some ways unrecognizable.
Milagros (Host): Right, I know, for sure. And I think that's what I was really excited about this conversation because IGD, even if you don't, those four kind of stages of IGD, even if you don't use the word intersectionality, gets at it, because it is exposure to thinking about the systems and structures. And then thinking about that and connection to self and then thinking about that and connection to others and it's like, this is this intertwining between the self others and systems and how they're operating. And I feel like that to me is the conversation that can maybe make learning around intersectionality possible, because it is a fusion of systems and structures with self and community and that infusion is built into the phases to the structure or rather. So I feel like it's a potentially like, I like what Wilson says, “at its best” IGD is a really powerful way to maybe make that learning palpable in the classroom, so.
Omar (Host): First of all thank you all so much for sharing such a multi dimensional perspective of IGD. To be honest, wasn't not too familiar with it prior to this episode. So thank you all for enlightening me. Um, and, you know, Wilson, you mentioned something that really that really struck me as we're slowly, knock on wood, looking to return to spaces now, physical spaces now that, you know, COVID-19 is, uh, at least in the United States, it's, calming and you mentioned Wilson how how can we re-imagine a new world altogether coming back to and well, not not a world that we once knew, which was not great to begin with. Yet, there are these notions in rhetoric that it once was. And I don't think I definitely don't think you're alone on that one and I'm just, I'm just wondering how. I'm beginning to visualize how IGD can be used as a conduit as a very healthy and loving conduit to dismantle systems of oppression. And I'm wondering for our audience. That are in different spaces, whether, whether we're talking about scholars, whether we're talking about activists, students, and just human beings in general, I'm curious to know what's one piece of advice that each of you could offer to our audience on enacting antiracist teaching with a focus on intersectionality and perhaps in consideration of teaching IGD.
Rani (Guest): I feel like deep listening, right? Listening with your eyes, your head, your heart. Your ear, it's like that kind of deep listening perspective taking for me in terms of thinking about faculty, like, honoring my disciplinary training, but utilizing other disciplines to help you think about your teaching for social justice and particularly racial justice and also part of the issue with I think academia are the challenges is most faculty I meet, have been trained in their disciplines. They haven't been trained how to teach and their discipline, so they haven't even been trained how to teach. So, you know, getting them to make what's invisible visible? What theories? What values? What scholars undergird your teaching? Like, what what is driving, how you show up in the classroom, how you set up the classroom who you call on how you shape your assignments and so I think for me, that's a start just getting them to interrogate. How, and what they teach and then teaching them some skills around IGD just around deep listening, locating positionality, speaking of political when I ask faculty in DEI trainings to locate themselves. They, it's, it's, like, blows their mind.
Rani (Guest): They haven't even thought about who they are. As, as, as folks who are located. In systems, or systems of identity and so, um, those are some of those places and do it in community. Like, I, I'm like. When I come and meet folks, I'm like, let's write together. Let's lets, you know, let's come together and, you know, add to this community dialogue. So those are the things that came to mind.
Wilson (Guest): So, Omar as I'm thinking about your question about how do we begin to imagine differently I think we, I think it begins with our first asking ourselves some type of question. What type of what do we want? Right? And that's where I think we ask that question, we can begin to sort of see how our practice is by pedagogy our general ways of being, I think, create these all sorts of regimes right? Organized sort of ways. Um, that we, and expectations around what we, what we believe should happen in the classroom right? And so they lean into objectivity, they lean into the new child, they lean into some of these perhaps destructive forces that really don't invite this sort of Freedom Dreaming as Robin Kelley might say, that I think it's possible when we participate in an IGD sort of practice and so. What is the sound, look, and feel of this sort of New World? Right?
Wilson (Guest): And how might we invite individuals to consider. Um, what, um, um. That there are multiple worlds and have the capacity to do this type of dreaming. So I'm also wondering, I think, in order for folks to begin to live that out, they need to have places where they can practice it and to rehearse it. Right? And so, I think about the classroom as a site of rehearsal, more than anything is we can't expect the sort of dialogic, practice, outside in our meeting spaces, in corporate spaces, or anywhere else. If we haven't sort of invited individuals to literally rehearse what it looks and feels like to participate in this sort of work in the classroom and so think about so invite individuals to consider what type of world they want and again to rehearse those very things as the political project of the classroom.
Danielle (Guest): Yeah, I love those ideas that you both shared. Was thinking about is so Rani, you had mentioned community. I was just thinking about relationships tonight. I don't think that it's far off. Uh, from perhaps what you mentioned, when you were talking about community, may be a bit different, but just finding people to invest in this work with and to invest in relationships with. And I had the idea of the classroom as a rehearsal, but it's making me think about, Omar, when you first asked the question about going back or, you know, I forget how you initially framed it. But the thing that I immediately thought about was time, because I think in slowing time down, because I think that. There's this desire to kind of, like, jump back into things sometimes, without the acknowledgement that that thing that we're jumping back into, perhaps wasn't great or maybe if it was great for us, it wasn't great for everyone. So slowing down, kind of like the systems that be that force us to move at this pace that isn't sustainable for ourselves that isn't sustainable for others and to really slow that down to see then what is possible.
Danielle (Guest): I remember when the pandemic first hit we would go for hikes I think almost every day, it got us out of the house. Like I said before, I have 2 little kids, and I remember saying to my son, Max, that, if you kind of stand still in nature, there's always something moving all around. You just have to be slow enough to see it, so I just think about what happens when we slow down? What do we see and I'm thinking about Milagros, you and I, when we're teaching the class together. The amount of time that we pour into each other, and that we pour into relationships with our students and if we're not resisting the pace of the university, or the pace of the system, then none of that is possible.
Omar (Host): That is so, so beautiful. Thank you all so much for sharing your perspectives and that's such a beautiful way to end. Wow. I want to be mindful of everybody's time. So I'm. I'm sad that we have to end right now. However, um, I would like to thank all of you. Danielle, Rani, Wilson, thank you so much for joining us today and for unpacking what Intergroup Dialogue is, and how it aligns with antiracist teaching. We really appreciate the complexity you've brought to the conversation moving from embodied knowledge, emotions, such as love joy, as well as a complicated nature of intersectionality and how it can be a lens for antiracist teaching. You've all shared such powerful ideas for us to think about to advance our learning. And we're just so grateful for your work, for your teaching, for your willingness to share what you know with others. And so just, thank you and keep fighting the good fight.
Omar (Host): We would like to thank our guests, Danielle DeRosa, Rani Varghese, and Wilson Okello for bestowing us with their rich perspective and for conveying their continued commitment toward not only sharing love and joy in the classroom but also teaching/passing it on to their students.
Milagros (Host): As always, we are thankful for the support of the Office for Diversity & Inclusion and the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning at the University of Connecticut. “Because it takes a village and it takes heart.”
- Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
- Beloved: Baby Suggs, Toni Morrison
- Elsa Barkley Brown
- Jennifer Nash’s book Black Feminism Reimagined
- Freedom Dreaming as Robin Kelley
Dr. Danielle Filipiak from the University of Connecticut, Dr. Johnny Ramirezfrom the University of Denver, and Marissa Martinez Suarez and Briana Aguilar from the University of Denver guide us through their work with community outreach and youth specifically. Join us as our guests share how their community work informs the way they approach antiracist teaching. We'll also hear insights as to what sparked their passion to engage in community work.
Transcript – Episode 8
Omar (Host): Welcome to Episode #8 of the HEART podcast, everyone. This is our final episode of the season. In today’s episode we focus on Community Engagement and Antiracist Teaching. What’s exciting is that all of our guests, including our fabulous students, are involved in community outreach and working with youth. Throughout our conversation we will be hearing about how their community work informs the way they approach antiracist teaching. In addition, we’ll hear about how and why they teach and engage in the work that they do.
Milagros (Host): Thank you Omar. It’s hard to believe we are now in our last episode for season one of the H.E.A.R.T. podcast. It has been an incredible journey and we’re thrilled to be closing our season with our guests today with a focus on community engagement as part of antiracist teaching. Joining us today is Dr. Danielle Filipiak who is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Connecticut. Her research and areas of expertise include civic learning and critical digital literacies, in addition to identity construction of urban school administrators and academic achievement.
Milagros (Host): Also joining us today is Dr. Johnny Ramirez who is a PostDoc Fellow with the Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the sTudy of (in)equality (IRISE) and a faculty member at the University of Denver. His research interests span the areas of Chicanx-Latinx school pushout, youth resistance, Positive Youth Development, and also he possesses a deep passion for community-engaged research and critical pedagogical approaches.
Milagros (Host): We are also excited to introduce Marissa Martinez Suarez, who is a first year, first-generation college student and emerging student leader who is interested in Ethnic Studies, Community-Engaged research, and student activism. In addition, Briana Aguilar is joining us, who is a fourth-year, first-generation college student, and serves as chair of the Latinx Student Alliance at the University of Denver.
Milagros (Host): We are so grateful for you all joining us today and look forward to learning from you during our conversation. Danielle, can you get us started on the conversation by sharing with us how your work with communities and youth, in particular, inform how you approach your teaching and what that looks like in your classroom?
Danielle (Guest): Sure, it's like, I feel like we could talk, I could talk about this all day, right? Into like, forever, such like it's such, it's work, you know, and it's not about even a product. Sometimes we think that we're going to, like, all of a sudden at the end of 15 weeks in the semester that everybody's going to be woke, you know, or you have these predetermined outcomes. Right? But really, it's about this process and it's very it's also a spiritual process, right? And we, a lot of times we like to put our, I think, especially in teacher preparation we're really guided by, like, program goals and outcomes and so on and so forth and kind of like this neoliberal agenda around like, you know, producing numbers, right? Um, but as for me and my work with communities for and young people for almost 20 years now.
Danielle (Guest): Something I've been thinking a lot about is just thinking about creating, you know, pathways between, you know, young people's desires. Especially in this specific, historical and sociopolitical moment, right? And desires, I am also drawing on the language of, like, Eve Tuck, when she talks about focusing on, like, the desires of young people, instead of these damage centered frameworks and seeing young people as broken, right, all the time. So, really trying to think about like, what shows up in these spaces where all of us have been working with young people for several years. You know, what desires exist there? And then what I'm thinking about in the pre-service classroom, which is definitely, like a transition, right from working in these communities to, like, working with pre-service teachers.
Danielle (Guest): I think there's such a tendency, especially in lieu of these hyper accountability and new of these hyper accountability measures and hyper standardization to keep plugging along, right, and not imagine how things might be otherwise. Um, to talk about, like, Maxine Greene's notion of Social Imagination. Um, so. For instance, my work with justice, which is a New York City based youth development program that apprentices youth through youth and pre-service teachers actually, as critical social researchers through the development of critical social research methods as well as cultural and multiple literacy. Um, like hip hop and spoken word, I realized, and my work there, um, that this focus on expression in young people being able to exist fully as they are, right, really was important for them, right? It's not always what comes out, right? So, I've been engaged in this youth research work for a while and young people have explored things like the school-to-prison pipeline and dehumanizing curriculums, and so on and so forth. But it's also about the epistemology, right? And identity work and young people being able to share that right in a space that feels safe. And so, for me, like, translating that into the pre-service classroom, really holding space for that.
Milagros (Host): I’ve got to ask you Danielle, actually, just like yes, I want to know about that. I feel like you're, you're navigating, we're bringing together 2 different worlds. I feel like there's the community on the ground youth work that you're talking about this free expression where youth can just be. And then you were talking about the service classrooms, and every time you say it, you, you sound like, a constraint is in your voice when you are saying pre-service. So I want to know what happens in your classroom? Like, how do you bring those two things together?
Danielle (Guest): Yeah, so so, like, for instance, in thinking about all this work, because I'm also simultaneously trying to create a context, so you kind of understand a little bit about what I've done right? So, just like, for instance, in my pre-service class and multicultural ed, when I was really thinking about at the time, all of this multiple literacy stuff. I invited in a hip hop facilitator, like, okay, let's bring these, let's bring this community teaching artists in, right? Let's think about what this looks like, how can you do this in your own classroom? Right? So that they can really understand first hand what it actually feels like in their own bodies, right? To engage in these, you know. To engage in this work, right? And authentically valuing these cultural and multiple literacy. So I think it's, like, ability to like, specifically change the ways we teach, right? So, we're inviting the identities and literacy of young people into the classroom, right, creating those methods authentically can shift disk courses because the ways that, and the ways that we come to interact with each other part of the reason that racism exists is because for some people who are very privileged, it feels largely invisible. Right. Um, and it's, it's hard to dismantle.
Danielle (Guest): But I think it's important to think about ways to disrupt schooling to account for these, you know, literacies and identities and put them front and center. So that the desires and understandings of young people are, you know, do come first, so, I think pre-service teachers need to be able to experience that. And so those are some of the things that I've been thinking about is inviting opportunities for teachers to engage some of those methods in those multiple and cultural literacy. That's one way.
Milagros (Host): Yeah, I have a feeling. Yeah, you have like, one hundred other ways. So I appreciate that you're like, giving us a little snippet and then what I'm hearing deeply in what you just shared, Danielle, is that it seems like there's a really strong commitment for the desires of young people to be what is driving learning in the classroom, and I'm curious how your pre-service teachers to respond to that type of commitment that your evoking through without your teaching?
Danielle (Guest): I think it's exciting in some ways, but we're careful not to fetishize, right. A lot of times this stuff is made as a side dish. You know, but the question always becomes about, like, but what about standardized English? But what if my school administrators doesn't let me do this? And so I think the work of like, these lenses that these, these lenses of history, right? Having presservice teachers understand like the roots of the historical roots of racism. Like getting that knowledge, fair with what they're like, they need multiple ways to connect with this understanding that this is not a side dish. Like, this should be at the center of what we're trying to do. So, not just engaging and fetishizing young people, but understanding the ways in which, you know, this, this is work that can be powerful and liberating. This is what we should be doing every day, and we should be making the case for. So, sometimes there's tensions. But I don't and I think that's what makes it so hard for us as pre-service educators sometimes. You do the work and you're not sure what the impact or result is going to be, right? But you do it anyways because you're planting seeds with hopes that later on down the road that pre-service teacher will remember that moment or experience and. Return back to it, you know?
Milagros (Host): No, thank you for that. Johnny. What are your thoughts about how your community work you know, shapes the way you go about teaching now?
Johnny (Guest): Cool. Thank you, Milagros. And thank you, Danielle, just for sharing that. You got the wheels turning too about really like reflecting on, kind of like, two different contexts. Like, when we're in community space, and we're able to meet young people in their places where they want to be and you don't have the heaviness of these schooling structures and these institutions, that in place all these rules and regulations kind of almost like a policing of how to be. It's a whole different dynamic that occurs and I think for me, that's been one of the things that have been a blessing or strength of doing event intervention work for, for also over 20 years too. Starting off where my journey working with young people was really about this framework of meeting them where they were at. I started off in some youth intervention programs, that focused on gang affiliated youth, but it was also really dealing with young folks that were just struggling in the community as well. Youth that have been pushed out of school, you know, teen parents, right? Like a lot of different young folks that just needed support. They needed a space. To feel, like, connected to. To feel in many ways, I guess, to use scholar lingo, Humanized, in spaces where a bit of their humanity, and who they are, were being kind of attacked. So, I think in many ways. That kind of guided a lot of meeting young people where their at. Learning their stories and really focusing on developing relationship and trust. And one of the biggest takeaways was that wasn't going to be given immediately.
Johnny (Guest): That's where I think a lot of folks in academia, when they talk about some community engaged work or working in partnership with community, that there has to be a measure of time spent and where community can kind of begin to see who you are, and then begin to see if your actions represent those values or are you just being kind of a “drive by researcher” or you're only here because of this grant or if you're only here, because it's your job. So that's kind of like, I think a big thing for me was that. So what I bring, I think, in my teaching, bringing in that work as a youth worker, and as a youth organizer is, I try to meet my students where they're at. You know, literally, in many ways, I think of my classroom as kind of like a community space. I call it a classroom community where I'm trying to really evoke that essence that we're sitting in a big circle even though it's hard virtually at times. But that everyone's going to be seen, and everyone's going to be acknowledged. And I think a lot of my practice in this work has even kind of like, took a whole other dimension now that I'm at a private, predominately white institution, where I have a lot of white students, and I'm trying to shape and kind of put this pedagogy to figure out where I could meet them at a place. Because the whole, I guess kind of framework is meeting our youth in our community where they’re at is the first step. And then seeing if they're willing to walk with you.
Johnny (Guest): In terms of post personal growth, in terms of, like, expanding their consciousness, or maybe picking up some tools that's a whole other step. But I feel like my first, initial step is to meet where folks are at. With no judgment or anything. Of course understanding context. But just really trying to acknowledge their humanity and being one of the pilot professors here on the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies minor. I think one of the first professors to kind of teach with this. Like, pedagogical approach that really is grounding in community, but then, I think also kind of grounding in bringing in those. How can I say, like. Like, frameworks and lenses that anchor itself, like, in Indigineity or anchors itself and like, what is it to have this platica (conversation)? What is it like to bring our community and our family spaces into these institutions? And again, it's little sparks. It's here or there. And it doesn't like, sometimes, you know, you have your moments where it feels like traditional space. But the intention all the time, I think that I approach is to not make it feel like this is a regular class, or this is a regular space and trying to be very upfront with that. With my students when we first open up class.
Johnny (Guest): And I, and I kind of model what it is to kind of share a bit of my authentic self my testimonial. So, I kind of bring it there. And then I give it to the students to see if that reciprocity. And if they're in a place where they can do it. And believe me, I've had the in-classroom engagement with my students that have been very open, and they've shared their story, their healing journey, their traumas. Johnny (Guest): But then, sometimes that happens in office hours, too. You know, and which is amazing as well to be able to have those connections because again we're talking about context. We're talking about doing work that goes directly against what these institutions are designed to do. So, I think I kind of come with a bit of that. Like, framework and sensibility and being definitely a student of epic studies. My Master’s in Chicano Studies. My PhD is in Education with Race and Ethics and then all the community work. I've been blessed to kind of really ground my identity as an active scholar to bring those with me.
Johnny (Guest): And again, then Danielle, like you said, I think it could be contentious and different spaces. I can be read in so many different ways, either by my students, or by the administration. Of, like, “who is this guy he's radical” or “who is this guy he's only for students of color” or whatever? And I've kind of heard a bit of those critiques. But I also know that the work that I'm doing is being impactful, because students have shared that with me. So, I'm co-constructing classes and trying to create space with them. And I think it's been a journey, because I think I'm still learning that kind of craft of how much community I could bring in. And then how much of the students willing to also kind of, like, be a part of that process and see what we could do together.
Milagros (Host): Yeah, John, that was powerful. Powerful Johnny and you were going to bring you because your soul what I hear you seeing is your soul is intact. You know, like, everything you do is the same, whether you're doing it in the community organizing space, or in the classroom. Because you're bringing soul work to the work, your intention is the same, is to meet people. And when you say what I'm hearing you say, like meet students where they're at, I think you're saying to the effect of, like. Wherever they are in their own humanity, their own human experience, and their own lived experiences, meeting them there and then seeing where they want to go and can go and want to go in terms of their. You know, transformation of consciousness, and then putting that consciousness to, to work right. To create change wherever they choose to, to create that change. So, I feel like that's really powerful and something you raised also, I want to ask you to elaborate on, is you mentioned that this is the first time you're kind of doing it in a predominantly white space, you know, in a private institution. And I'm curious about how you stay intact or how you approach your teaching so that it stays in tact, you know, given that context. Like, what does that look like for you?
Johnny (Guest): Yeah, thank you, Milagros. I think what's really kind of, and I've heard this from other amazing colleagues that kind of do this work too, is that the students hold me down a lot of times, because I've used this phrase with some of the student activist group so there's a student activist group at DU called RAHR: Righteous, Anger, Healing, Resistance. And that group in particular it's almost like the saying that I passed on to them was something I learned growing up, like, being in neighborhoods was, “somos pocos, pero somos locos,” “we might be small, but we can get crazy.” Like, we could do, we could do some work. Right? So, a lot of times that vibe, I feel vibe when I'm leaning on my students or different allies that are tenured faculty, come around and do that check-in and kind of see how things are going. But ultimately, I think was about building community with students, with faculty, and with staff, and having times where we could come together for either an event or some meetings. And with those RAHR students, it was about us having some Sunday meetings.
Johnny (Guest): We just recently had one and we all were masked up, we were at a park, it was about like, 77 degrees. And we all just did basically kind of like pulling a page from the healing resistance and activism work. We did a total check in: where folks at, how are they feeling, what are some next steps for either the summer, or if you're graduating, what might be your next steps, how can we support you? And then the very last 15 minutes was kind of like, these are some ideas of how we want to pass to work on to next year and stuff. And at that moment, I thought, wow, like, look at this community, that kind of grew out of a bit of like activism, but then now we're starting to feel more just like a community where there's a sense of connection and a sense of restoration that it's the community care piece, is what I'm getting at and I, and I think in in a, in a way, maybe being in a private, predominantly white institution that oftentimes hostile and all that, it kind of helps in terms of, like, really pushing us to connect. And not let ourselves be siloed and be divided around a whole bunch of things that we're able on on a Sunday afternoon to make time for and to be able to come and link up. And if we would have had our phones up, we would have like, 3 other people sitting on the phone call, too.
Johnny (Guest): With us at the park, so out of that kind of answers your question. But I really do think that being in this context, like, even those lines of, like. You know, of course, as faculty, there's so much privilege. I have my education, I have a salary, I got benefits, medical benefits, you know, I know it's in a different context of the students, but when it comes to dealing with all the, the excuse my language, but the [censored] of white supremacy and colonization there that in many times is over. We have to look to each other for that support and sense of community. And that would just be one of the messages because I was told early on. Well, if you do that, you're not going to be if you have 2 strong relationships with students, it's going to be a backlash. You're not going to be seen as a serious professional. You're not a doctoral student anymore. You're a professor now, you've got to kind of take up this posturing or whatever, and I'm looking at them going. Well, first of all, that ain’t me. And second of all, I've been doing what I've been doing and it got me here now. So, of course, there has to be healthy relationship boundaries that might be there.
Johnny (Guest): But the fact that I can't see myself in community with my students, their community, their family, their relationship is like, right? That's that that goes against that's an antithesis as to how I do this work. It's, you know what I mean? Like, if I want to be able to show up authentically and connect with folks, I'm thinking the students, if they want to build in the same way, we should be able to do that.
Omar (Host): Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that Johnny very, very powerful. You know, I gotta say that as I was listening to Danielle and Johnny share their thoughts. I couldn't help but be reminded of my former mentors and teachers that I've had along the way that have given me that sense of humanity. When I haven't been able to find that in other communities before, you know, there's this. There's this sense in, like, students of mixed status that you're not from here nor there. I moved to the United States when I was a little over a year old and so I just know Mexico through pictures and videos and stories and yet I'm in a country that doesn't quite accept me, you know, and so what you were sharing Johnny just really spoke to me because of that reason, you know, where it's like, you can, you can find home. In people and communities it's incredible the power that it gives to the students, or the individuals involved in those communities to hopefully create a positive chain of events where they will help other people and then they will help others. And it's just a beautiful chain of events. But I'm really curious to hear from Brianna and Marissa, it sounds like you are both incredibly involved and you're both very passionate and so I'm just curious to hear where did that come from exactly? So, if you could share about where, maybe the genesis was of your interests and your passions and what brought you to do the work that you do currently?
Brianna (Guest): Personally my first two years at DU I was a commuter student, so that alone I already feel more isolated from the community, but I wasn't aware of all the stuff that was going down, you know, like, Johnny said all the [censored] that would go down in terms of what DU was doing to, with students of color and to students are underrepresented here in general there were emails sent out. There's just so much going on in terms of. There like all, these are white counterparts, you know, get away with and. I didn't know anyone really, until my second year once I started seeing the protests and the rallies on campus, and I was like, oh. There are some students here that are actually fighting back on this, and I just wanted to help. I've always been a person who loves helping the community, loves helping out and especially because it was such a hard time for me being on campus that the student leaders would come to me and be like, hi, what's your name and be welcoming more than the university welcomed me itself and even though it wasn't funnest context to kind of meet them at these protest rallies, it's really what brought me and to see such hardworking individuals, and they didn't have to be doing this type of work, but when I started seeing that no one else was going to do it, so that's why they're doing it and just trying to help other students like us feel like they belong on campus.
Brianna (Guest): It really gave me that drive and passion as well to realize that, hey, I do belong here and I have my voice. I'm a student here as well. I shouldn't just feel like I'm isolated right? That I don't matter, and once I started hearing, like, everyone else's stories and connecting that thoughts of, like, hey, you're not the only students in that class either. Like, you know, I had so many experiences of feeling annihilated in class. There was a moment where my first class I ever took on campus, it was a full 100 student class, and the 3 seats next to me remained empty for the first few weeks. I didn't know why. I was like,yo, do I smell? Like what's going on here? And they would get chairs and move it to the front but purposely those 3 seats should remained empty. And I felt like, why did I do wrong? What is going on here? And I was the only student of color in that class, the only woman of color in that class. So it annihilating that like, wow, no one really doesn't want to talk to me. And then when these professors tell the students, like, let's go into groups, lets talk. I always feel like. I looked down upon. Like, oh, she’s just the token child that got in to the university, right? They don't really actually know that I am smart. I do know what I'm doing, and it always made me question my own intelligence of, like, oh, maybe I shouldn't speak up or I shouldn't say anything on top of that, there's been more experience where one time in class.
Brianna (Guest): I don't know how we got to topic about what our parents do as jobs, but these students all my counterparts are talking about my dad’s the manager, the business deal, all these things and it came to me and I was, like, my dad is undocumented and my mom is a cashier supervisor for a small company that does catering and at first I was kind of embarrassed because I was like, why even the teacher allowing to still are like, why are we doing this? But at the end of the day, this moment, this spark was like, you know, all these students and their parents, all they got all this handed to them, you know, but at the end of day I'm still in the same seat, in the same room, ask them. And if anything, I’m on a full ride versus them, where their parents pay for them to get into there and I worked my a** off. I know I have and really that's really what brought me to this type of work to not only help the community, but also empower students who felt that same way of isolation from, in these classes because, like Johnny said, it’s a predominantly white institution and it's hard being these classes, where I feel like, I have to wear a mask or switch switch up and not show up as myself.
Brianna (Guest): I always feel like, okay, well, I have to come, in this way, be on my smartest, be on my top notch of, like, my name is Brianna, like no. After a while just being able to be involved with student leadership. That's where I started to feel at home. That's where I started to feel like I have a voice. I have power and I won't be quiet. Now I'm definitely the individual or I'm like y'all need me. Where do y'all need me? I got this voice for a reason I'll like, I don't care if you need me to yell if you need me to preach. I don't care. I am not shy anymore. I am not scared any more or intimidated by this university, or these institutions in general, and just calling it out as it is, and helping the communities that again need it and it's an important line of work.
Omar (Host): Thank you so much. Marissa, would you like to go ahead?
Marissa (Guest): Yeah, so my work took a different pathway than Brianna’s. Mine started like, my junior year summer when I took a course on the History of Education and how it's like, where it started and who was allowed an education who was in the education, and it was in that moment where I really started, like like. I feel like I was so numb to the point where I just accepted my curriculum to be what it was. And I, when I saw that, I realized what I deserved. And it was like, such a moment of realization. I was like, why is it that I'm basically 17 by this point and I've never heard the stories that you've gone on the Chicano walkouts why is it that I've never heard about all these leaders in my community and I guess I just had gone to the point where I didn't even think that Latinos could be leaders and I know that sounds totally not true but at the moment, I was in that stage in my life where I just, I didn't see those points of representation and once I saw it, I felt kinda like cheated and I felt like robbed for my history and I just sort of like like there are so many kids that deal with issues of identity. Like, for me, like, I, I really will use it like, I was growing up in this atmosphere.
Marissa (Guest): My grandma would be calling me a gringa, but my documentation status would not be saying the same thing. And I just I know there's so many students who deal with those issues of identity, and just having that space to heal, as profe Johnny says, like, it really makes an impact when I'm in Profe Johnny’s class. He does like, if you see any way that the content that you're learning, like, relates to you speak on that and heal from that. And, like, also realize that, like, the experience that you. Experiences that you've lived through, like, those are lessons within themselves. So, in a way, like, whatever I learning in class, I also learn it within myself and I feel like that's what I don't get from. Some of my other classes is that they don't show me, like. How it relates back to me and since then my work just goes around, like, making sure that kids have that representation and also have that space to heal. And I'm really early in my journey. But, like, um, just like these several points in my lifetime where I've been like. Exposed to, like, what I deserve has really taught me a lot what I want to give back to my community.
Milagros (Host): I mean, with the two of you just shared is both the way education can deplete us when it's not nurturing who we are, what our cultures are about, you know, what, what is possible within our own communities and then you also both shared, you know how powerful it could be when you do have the opportunity to be in classrooms where you are being nurtured, where you are getting exposure to the way in, which there's beautiful, amazing skills, knowledge and wisdom within your own cultures and communities. And then what you could do with that, because once you have that voice, you were saying, Brianna, you can put it into work and into action to uplift other people. That's super powerful.
Milagros (Host): I want to ask Danielle and Johnny, kind of like your reactions to what you heard and how do you see it connect particularly to this one thing. Everyone's bringing up these complex issues, like interlocking systems of oppression that shape experiences. It's not like one identity, but like, the whole system at play. I'm curious about your response to what you just heard and curious about how you potentially bring that intersectional lens into your own antiracist teaching. Danielle you want to weigh in, or Johnny? Either one?
Danielle (Guest): I'm like just processing all this, all of this honestly. I mean, this is the work, right? Like, this is a space where also like this intergenerational space where we're able to build upon each other, this notion of relation of relationality is so crucial I mean, even just to go back to what Johnny was saying, like. This ability to sustain yourself in these systems is so much about. You know, being able to build community and to be able to dialog that like this and come together. Um, I don't even remember what the question is, but I'm just like this is where it's going. This reminds me a lot of. And I've spoken to her a lot I've spent some time in her living room of Grace Lee Boggs, who talks about this idea that. Like, you can't change any society, unless you feel responsibility for it. And unless you see yourself as belonging to it. And responsible for changing it. So what you all as young people, Marissa and Brianna, I just feel so inspired by your words, and just kind of going back to this notion of dignity and belonging and also the sense of agency. And I think our ability as teachers and my ability and Johnny, And when I hear Johnny talking about his work and with you all as well, making sure that this classrooms space that this pre-service space.
Danielle (Guest): Now, just how important these notions of belonging an agency are that it's not always just about, like, let's just get through this, meet these standards, but let me model what this idea of belonging looks like. Let me model. Let me give you opportunities to see how this work can be transformative for communities and if we're not doing that in our classrooms, and there's times I've been called out. You know, it’s a hard space like I have been so humbled by my experience here at UConn, because it's a very different context of New York City and Detroit right? And so you're working with all kinds of identities and all different people's ideas of what social justice teaching looks like. But what you are again, reminding me is just how important it is to. That, like, the revolution is attached to making sure young people feel like they belong. And also feel like there's pathways to be able to do something about these systems that exist and that there is possibility and hope and disruption.
Johnny (Guest): You know, Danielle too, and I wanted to build on something that was kind of clicked a little light in my thinking, too. When you early talked about kind of like. Like, in this work, sometimes there's always like a push for the outcome. The numbers. Um, by kind of community work, the sign in sheet, how big, how many people attended with and then it and as educator/professionals the push is well, how rigorous was it? Did the students like, how many assignments? What was their points? But that's that's one part of it, but I think what gets lost in all that is the process to get that, and I think through the years, that's a big point of my growth in an area where I think as a young organizer, and a young person doing this work. I was always about the outcome. How big could we get this event? How crazy could we get taking over city hall or going into the chancellor's office or whatever? I was kind of that driven on the outcome piece. But if you really sustain this work, you recognize that the power, the transformation, is in the process, it's actually in the journey. Yes, you always want that positive, impactful outcome, but if we're hurting each other or causing each other harm or silencing each other and dehumanizing on the way to get there, then really are we doing?
Johnny (Guest): Are we really honoring the work in our ancestors? Like, no, and if you do, if you're a student of social movement history and those types of organizing, unfortunately, some of those organizing spaces and movement building spaces, where some of the more toxic spaces that were there for women for LGBTQ folks, right? Like, it's, you know, so I think I bring a bit of that sensibility. I'm all about process. I think, like, when I come in and I open up space with folks, I guess, ready to share a bit of my story, a bit of my testimonial but they also show some examples that motivate my attention to work. So one of the things I share with the students is a documentary called Precious Knowledge that outlines that kind of yeah, that talks about the Mexican American studies fight at Tucson Unified School District in Arizona. How the research was indicating that students were achieving, like, higher test scores. There was an increase in Chicanx/Latinx graduation rates, like all this good stuff. And then, of course, racism, the structure, it all comes, and they shut it down. And then it shows. The students mobilized with their family, embracing their Indigineity and move forward into a movement to fight for their education for the future generations.
Johnny (Guest): That piece is very intentional when I share with my students. And I think that in the nod to, “tu eres mi otro yo,” “you are my other me,” that kind of Mayan indigenous philosophy, that kind of again, when we think about all of our identities and how we could show up. I think at that discussion is just a recognition of our humanity I think, at first. And then we build that our humanity is those identities as well. We bring those with us and can we create a space where we could show up and see one another and acknowledge one another and validate one another? And again, that's bumpy work that doesn't those spaces. Sometimes what? I would kind of call sacred spaces. They don't happen all the time, whether in community, or in university but I've been blessed and to have certain moments where that's happened, and I would say, I don't know if Brianna and Marissa would agree, but that fall quarter the recent Her Story/His Story/Our Story.
Johnny (Guest): Chicanx/Latinx student, resistant activism, I think, was the closest to me feeling like, we were really having Chicanx/Latinx Studies at DU because it was majority of students of color, we had so many student leaders and organizers, and there was a big shift in the course. And I feel like, and again, those are intentions, but they don't happen unless the students feel that connection. And if they feel like it's their space to be able to do so.
Brianna (Guest): Johnny, I can add to that. I think earlier someone mentioned that, like, what it's like to even be in one of Johnny's classes and really honestly, I didn't take one of John's classes until my third year and that was when COVID began. And so had to be online and that was my first time, but honestly on campus all of my classes, I dreaded going to them. I was never feeling comfortable and I always felt like on the edge or anxious going to these classes. But when I come to Johnny's class, I felt like I could let my guard down and be myself. Like, it makes me want to cry low key. Because you think for an institution, that likes to advocate diversity and inclusion, inclusive excellence and they cost more than Harvard but I'm not feeling like the product of that. But going to Johnny's class I never, I was always was a smile. I always was, like, well, I'm going to wake up on time for this email and actually, I didn't feel nervous to raise my hand and to actually engage with the class. Every time I left Johnny's class.
Brianna (Guest): I felt like I actually got something out of it every day and not only just felt like a robot. Let me just turn in this paper and this assignment no, it was actually personal good self development to myself and to the community in general. And I really just, it makes me frustrated that it took that long. And that there's not a lot of classes, like, Johnny's in like, I really do think that, like, the reason why like, a lot like, our community loves Johnny in general, like his teachings again. Like, he says, like, you know, Johnny shows up as himself too, that made me feel like he's being real, like my teacher listens to the same type of music I listen to finally. Like, it feels like I'm at home. I’m a first-gen student too until finally someone gets there or someone's trying to get it. And it makes me. You know, sad to realize there's professors who are like, well, this has to be a professional like, you, you call me by my name, Dr. Dah Dah Dah and I'm like, okay, that's cool. But you're never gonna get to your students that way, trying to act like, you know, you have this role, you have this title, this authority. Cool. But that honestly, that pushes me away from professors here on campus interest in general. Like, I'm like, you're not even trying to get to know me. Johnny's at the carne asadas. Johnny's there! That's how that makes me want to be more engaged. Makes me want to take more of his classes. That makes me feel like I'm actually getting my education at the end of the day, I could only really say that most of the things I really am learning have been from taking Johnny's classes. And that was towards the end of my third year up into this point and my first two years. It feels like a blur. I don't really remember much material again. Most of the professors here are just more like you give us our product there. You goes kind of like that capital is structure of, like, we do this work our labor. You grade it. Cool, onto the next set of 100 students we gotta teach.
Brianna (Guest): Versus Johnny. It's like, you know my first name, you know, my, my prima, my tia's all this stuff, and he's trying. He's actually trying to build that connection with students and again not. Everyone is that same way of, like, oh, I like it takes a minute and like Johnny said, it's a lot of these professors too, want to come in thinking that we could just trust them right away or that we just need to believe in them and we'll go in and have faith that they're going to do us right, but really, I appreciate Johnny’s patience and always letting us know that. Hey, if there's anything I'm doing wrong, let me know or, hey, what do you want to talk about today? Johnny never ignored the outside issues that were happening outside of classes versus other classrooms it was always like, okay, we're just going to next lecture, next slide, not did you not just hear about the mass shooting that happened? Did you not just hear about the police brutality that's happening you're not going to address that? You're not going to? You're just going to act like, we come to this classroom and everything's gone. You know, of course, my white counterparts have the privilege of doing that, but I'm sitting here thinking oh, my goodness. Like, what's next? Like, and all these thoughts run through my head versus these other professors again, I don't feel comfortable or going up to them being, like, hey, can I get an extension on this paper? You know, I'm planning this huge protest, you know these events and stuff like that.
Brianna (Guest): I'm doing the dirty work of DU of diversity and recruitment basically. And versus Johnny, I feel comfortable letting him know, like, hey, can I please get like, and it was always because he knows he's seen it and he's there versus other professors. They're not there. Then I have been here in the community, they're just here to teach the 100 students they got to teach, and then they leave, they dip out and leave and they don't build that connection. They keep it like Johnny said that professionalism, which I respect. Right? But also there's a line of that's how you're never going to be able to connect with us and really build that community with us.
Omar (Host): Thank you so much for sharing Brianna. It's really, really powerful and I really I appreciate all of us, you know, being vulnerable. I think Johnny, to, to build off of one of the points that you made that really stuck with me is that, you know, you. You had mentioned that oftentimes in this work people forget about the process. In addition to that, I feel like people don't create sustainable systems also. You know, sometimes really great initiatives happen once. That's great. And then they disappear because no one's leading that initiative. And I think you and Danielle are not only facilitating a better process, but you're also creating sustainability and Brianna and Marissa are the example of sustainability you are teaching them you are giving them the tools you are giving them the voice that they can one day be a Johnny, be a Danielle, be a Milagros, you know, and I think that's super, super powerful. So kudos to all of you. Um, I'd, I'd really love to hear from Marissa and, you know, just, I'd really love to get your perspective on, you know, when we think of professors, and we think of creating powerful antiracist teaching education, what is it that you think of Marissa or who do you think of?
Marissa (Guest): Yeah, so when I took the class appropriate Johnny, it came out, like, I feel just the right time because it was very much risk at DU and all my other classes. Like Brianna said, like, in high school, went to school there was like, predominate, like 80% Latinx and now I go to a school where I’m the only one in the classroom and my teachers definitely made me feel that even if they care they would microagress me, like, so bad, and sometimes, like, unintentionally, like, with no, like malicious intent, but they just couldn't relate to my experiences. And when I look at Profe Johnny the first thing that he does, when we enter class is that he tells us his story, his testimonial and he lets us know like, this is what I had to do to get here. And, like, know that, like, my family, I come from a family that's also like first generation, like all this and he really lets it all out. And from there, I can see that, like. I can relate to him in a way that I can't relate to any of my other professors, ‘cause my other professors. Like, I'm not sure if they were also first generation students, or if they also went through the same struggles. But Profe Johnny really lets me know that. Like, you're not alone.
Marissa (Guest): And, like, if you're struggling right now, like, it doesn’t have to be like that. And I don't feel like I get that from my other professors in the same way. And sometimes, like, when I reach out to my professors and I'm struggling, I kind of feel like a burden. And, I don't know, like, I know it sounds bad, but I don't know sometimes like, you're scared to reach out because there are those, like hierarchical relationships with teachers that like. I'm the one who carries the knowledge and I'm just giving it to you and I don't know, it just, it comes out like wrong and so bad. Like, I remember 1 time this was in high school, and we were learning about the civil rights movement. And we're like, you know, we will always learn about like, MLK, Rosa Parks and I was like, well, I want to bring in like, a little bit of a different perspective. And when we talked about Rosa Parks, I told the teacher. I was like, hey, did you know that she wasn't the first black woman not to give up her seat.
Marissa (Guest): Actually, a lot of other stories that aren't told is because of that concept of, like, fitting like the like, the model minority image, and, like, being a worthy victim and then he's like, that's not true. And then he moved on. And this, I feel like that happens a lot. It's like your points are cut off and they're not saying that they are valid or it seems like, oh, you just want to bring up this perspective or I don't know, it just. It gets so frustrating to me, because when teachers always try to do, like, how Danielle was saying that it's kind of like it's seen as a side thing. And when people treat it as a side thing, it goes into, like, this realm of, like, almost like, oh, we only have stories of oppression and we don't have stories of excellence. We don't have stories of us being leaders. We don't have stories of us, like, community organizing and we don't have stories. We're like, we're doing great things. We're only seen as victims. And that's all that we're ever going to be, and even that in itself, it gets degrading to only see yourself, like oh, wow. Yeah. Well, I guess I'm only going to be like a migrate farm worker or this or that.
Marissa (Guest): But, like, when you actually get to hear these stories, it becomes empowering and it becomes the sense of there's so much I can do in my life. And I feel like it's so frustrating. When you aren't taught those perspectives, and I feel like I get that a lot with Profe Johnny and I love how he always like validates anything that any of us say, because I feel like sometimes when I speak up in some of my classes, it's like. Oh, okay, well, now, on to the next to me, and I don't know, I don't feel like I get that. Like, I feel like when I’m in Profe Johnny's class, it's more dialogue than repetition, and I feel like when I'm in my other classes, it's more like. Okay, well these were the key points of the reading. Next today, and I don't know, but I feel like it's more engaging in community and having, like, how you said this being together. And healing together.
Milagros (Host): Wow, that's super powerful, Marissa. Send me what you're sharing about how again like, how we could feel when, when faculty when professors are only telling a single story. Of particular communities in this case racially minorities a condition is Latinx, Chicano, Indigenous communities for sure. There's always an impression story and there's truth in being able to say. These are systems operating systematically against specific groups of people, but it's not a complete story. It's not the full story. There's so much knowledge and wisdom and love and things that we know, and are cultivated within our own communities and households that can be rich knowledge. That can actually advance the disciplines if we let it into the classroom. And I value so much the leadership and and the, and the work that you're both doing and and some and I say it was some hesitancy, because I wish you didn't have that burden to do that work.
Milagros (Host): You should have the ability to just be a student to be a learner. Right? And what you're seeing on is I have to do some of the institutions' work, because they're not doing it and. I wish you didn't, but I'm also grateful that you are because I know every time you show up, you open the door for 3 other people to show up and to be able to be in that space to see themselves in that space. So, I hope one day that burden is shared and that institution does more of what it needs to be doing. And I'm talking about all institutions, not specifically DU, you know, the, you are all institutions, including the University of Connecticut. But in the meantime, I'm really grateful. For the work that you are doing, because it does make a difference, and it has a huge impact in the communities that you serve, and the people that you build relationships with in the process. While my heart is filled. It aches but it's filled at the same time, like a lot of complex emotions.
Milagros (Host): And as we wrap up today's episode, I just want to turn it back to to Johnny and Danielle for maybe some closing thoughts about what you just heard from Brianna and Marissa, and just a conversation about
what would you say to faculty or professors who want to do better? They don't want to do the harm that we just heard about. They want to do some of a better work in their classrooms to be antiracist in their teaching. What, given what you just heard today, and also your own thinking, what advice would you give to faculty who want to try this on. You know, to work towards this path, or for those who have been doing this work and sometimes feel like gosh, “how do I sustain that?” Maybe what advice would you give? Either way you know? Curious.
Danielle (Guest): I want to build off of Brianna, Marissa were just sharing because I think it's really powerful and, um. Just reminding me again, and again that this idea that we don't give students a voice. They already have it. Um, like, and this assumption, you know, the ways that we position ourselves in relation to young people, in relation to ere-service teachers. This hierarchy of knowledge, right? I think it's really important to just. It doesn't matter. So what? So, I went to school 12 years after high school. Like, that doesn't whatever that was my experience. You know, my dad tossed newspapers. Your mom, was a clerk for, you know, I can't remember. We all come from these working class companies, working class families, but. Like, all of it is valuable. You know, all of these, like, we need to throw out these deficit perspectives, which we say again and again and again, like, not seeing what.
Danielle (Guest): People from lots of communities, especially historically disenfranchised communities is not having knowledge or not, you know, not knowing things, you know? And seeing ourselves and positioning ourselves. In a manner that we are, we're just going to deposit this knowledge into into students. I think it's really important to disrupt that. Um, if we're really committed to, um, these notions of like, liberatory pedagogical and antiracist teaching. And also that we can't do this work alone. I cannot do this alone. It's humbling. It requires a stance of vulnerability and that anyone who wants to do this needs to make sure that they're, you know, calling on, you know, brothers and sisters in the struggle, you know, and building that community is so, so crucial. I learned from my colleague Grace Player, you know, we check in. I have some friends from the UCLA Urban Schooling Program who I'm really cool with. So, Johnny, as soon as I was, like, okay, of course, of course, he's awesome. I call on young people that I still communicate with when I was in Detroit. I think there's. It's really important and worth continuing to learn and grow in this work to make sure we're open to learning from each other. So that's what I would say.
Johnny (Guest): Yeah, thank you, Danielle, that was beautiful. I echo everything that you shared. And I would, I would just say, like, in my experience, a kind of observation, when I've seen some educators, whether they're kind of K-12 teachers, or even in higher education, that I think there just needs to be a real genuine desire to want to be able to really like, you were saying, activate students their voices. Their experiences. So, I think one, it just, it starts with that humble intention of wanting to do it and then starting to look at potentially what resources that might be there to be able to do that, because we definitely need more community of educators that, one check on each other's care but that also could collectively come together to do some of the lifting, like pedagogical lifting, curriculum lifting, share strategies on how to build. And, and I think one of the things that, I think doing community work through the years is always kind of schooled me on was a lot of times is sometimes a smart move is to build relationships with folks that are doing the work or that hold those identities or that have that experience and bring them in. And honor them in.
Johnny (Guest): So, I think a lot of this just has to happen with the agency that you first need to kind of engage in to want to do it versus saying, well, can't do that. I hold all these identities of privilege. It might be white, middle class. Well, I don't share this experience. Will then, yo, start going on your journey. Start plugging in, reach out to, like, a teacher of color group. That does this work. Plug into, like, an ethnic studies campaign or, you know, I think a lot of times it's about folks, like getting past that if you really want to do it, you've got to like, now take the next step in your journey to go out there and make those and make those connections. And find that, because I know that there's folks out there I know at UConn, that there's amazing folks, like yourselves, and other educational leaders that would be there to help you on that journey. If you really wanted to do it.
Omar (Host): Well said, Johnny, well said to really everybody. I think Milagros and I are very thankful for today's conversation. So, with that said, Danielle, Johnny, Brianna, Marissa, thank you so so much for your vulnerability for your willingness to share such wisdom about what liberatory education could be like when we center trust, authentic relationships, and are truly committed to communities as you express Johnny. You're all so inspirational and we're so grateful for the leadership and education you're offering both inside and outside the classroom. So thank you so much. Keep fighting the fight, the good fight and just remember we're not alone.
Omar (Host): Since this is our last episode, we, Milagros and I, as well as Henry--who supported this podcast through his work as a student worker at the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at UConn, want to share some closing reflections.
Milagros: In thinking about all our episodes this season, my heart and soul is filled with what I’ve heard and learned. Something that stands out to me across all the episodes is that antiracist reaching is not only about what this teaching is against, which in this case is white settler coloniality and patriarchy in our teaching and learning environment and experiences, but also what this teaching is for: It is heart work that cares about students’ full humanity; It is soul work that requires not only caring for students’ souls but also being educators whose souls are committed to liberatory praxis inside and outside of the classroom. This is not a temporary approach to teaching, it is a way of living and being as an educator.
I also loved the synergy between the episodes in terms of resources shared during our conversations. Anyone who wants to get a list of those resources, please visit cetl.uconn.edu and click on the banner for the HEART podcast. Each episode has a transcript and list of resources.
Milagros: Lastly, I really enjoyed expanding my view of what antiracist teaching means and where it can happen. In episode 2- Dr. Santos, Joseph, and Leyva provided great examples of the necessity for identifying the levers of change needed in higher education and the work antiracist educators have in pulling those levers they have access to. In episode 3- Drs. Lori Patton Davis and Frank Tuitt showed us what it looks like to take antiracist teaching approaches and stance into administrative work in higher education. In episode 5, Dr. Nienhusser, Cantu and Brownlee showed us the collective work that is needed to make antiracist teaching an organizational culture at community colleges. In episode 7, Danielle DeRosa, and Drs. Varghese and Okello immersed us in the necessity to unclass the classroom, to disrupt normative views about the process of learning to create liberatory educational praxis. I can go on and on, honestly. I’ve learned a great deal and have lots of reflection to do this summer.
Henry: Season one had a lot of highs, and it provided a great introduction to many of the concepts and practices that are utilized within antiracist teaching. There were also many moments for self reflection such as when Dr. Funk discusses centralizing language and ideas that are solution oriented rather than problem oriented. He offered meaningful guidance on how discussions should be framed when he elaborates on the difference between being “anti-something” and “pro-something.” Wisdom of this nature was common through many episodes in the season. It provided learning moments for us, as well as for any practitioners interested in fine tuning their strategies. I particularly loved how various conversations either intentionally or unintentionally recognized that higher education and antiracist teaching is not unique to the university. Within the theme framework of higher education, there were more specific discussions that touched on antiracism in community colleges like our episode 6 theme did, or on the development of students up until they reach higher ed like Dr. Player mentions on episode 4 while discussing education’s inherently political nature through all levels.
Omar: Season 1 provided a glimpse of the sheer vastness that intersectionality in antiracist teaching has to offer scholars, activists, and students. Two common themes stuck out throughout the episodes: urgency and love. Urgency regarding this issue because of the lack of uniformity that it brings about, which yields students feeling the resistance in their efforts to make the world a more equitable place. In addition, there is an incredible amount of love that’s shared among the professors that were interviewed. Professors and scholars value the humanity of the past, present, and future of their students, which allows them to approach their curriculum in a more wholesome way.
We even had the opportunity to hear from undergraduates who were directly impacted by one of their professors and the results speak for themselves. The students were beyond appreciative of the support their professor provided them with and they were also learning from his leadership, by being student activists at the University of Denver campus. Sandy and Chris touched on elements of analyzing oneself in relation to others - asking ourselves, “who are my people?” They emphasized the importance of being better relatives to each other and asking ourselves what’s at stake if we don’t embark on certain endeavors right now, such as climate change. Danielle and Johnny reminded us that building trust with community members takes time and that there is power in the journey of building capacity for change in students and their families.
In conclusion, we hope you learned just as much as we did. Get ready for an upcoming season filled with fascinating speakers and topics that touch on antiracist teaching in specific disciplines and the gaps that exist within.
Milagros: We are grateful to the many teams at UConn that supported us this semester in creating this podcast including the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning; the Office for Diversity and Inclusion; and the team at UConn 360. We are also grateful for all the guests that participated in this first season. They were inspiring, incredible teachers, that I hope we have all learned from. Thank you to all of you. “Because it takes a village and it takes heart.”