Dismantling Racism in Education

For this week’s bog, I listened (and read the transcript) the Dismantling Racism in Education podcast. This podcast resonates with me on so many levels. The interview takes place with Dr. Cornelius West & three Heinemann Fellows (Sonja Ahmed, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Cornelius Minor).

While this entire transcript is mesmerizing and memorable, the part that sticks out to me the most is the section that states,”¬†Racism looks like teaching children that race doesn’t matter when in fact race does matter, to borrow from Dr. Cornell West.¬†When we teach kids these sort of canned narratives that race doesn’t matter, we’re all the same, we’re all equal, there really needs to be a paradigm shift where we’re teaching our children race does matter in this society. It shouldn’t, but it does. And for some of your peers and for some citizens, they’re having a very different experience because of the color of their skin. In our household, we see that as unjust and unfair and we are pushing back against that, but it’s important for you to know that as you are going to school and celebrating the uniqueness’s of your peers. That racism is real and it does matter in this society because there are people who make it matter. I wish that was the narrative that parents were taking in their homes and then teachers can pick up in schools, in developmentally appropriate ways to help kids understand this.” (source: Dismantling Racism in Education)

This resonates me on SO MANY LEVELS! As a child, I was taught that in order to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as they (read: white) people are. I didn’t understand this thought until my senior year of high school where I was told that I should consider trade school or community college but don’t expect to advance any further than that. (side note: and now here I stand about to graduate with a MASTER’S DEGREE! Look at me now!). I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Black woman in today’s society, particularly in higher education, until I began my collegiate career. The ivory towers are not built for me, in fact, they’re built to keep people who look like me out. So much of the word that I live in, the 21st century, is not built to support me and my salient identities. Race does matter unfortunately. If it didn’t matter, many of the hardships and trails that we as African/African American/People of Color face would’t be real challenges for us.

I always find it interesting to listening to my white peers and colleagues discuss their experiences both in the academy and in the world. Often they face their own set of trails, but I’ve never heard of them not being served at a restaurant in 2018 simply because of the color of their skin, or being pulled over and handcuffed while their possessions are searched, or being declined a job interview once the interviewers realized that they were a person of color. As much as we may want to turn a blind eye to racism and say that it doesn’t exist, it does. And the people in power (read: politicians, college presidents, CEOs/CFOs, etc.) who have the opportunity to change this, don’t. Why? I don’t think there’s one clear cut answer, but from my experience, a lot of the thinking is that this is the way that it’s always been done and as such, why rock the boat?

As higher education professionals (bth student affairs professionals and faculty), I believe that we can begin to dismantle the system from within the ivory towers. We have a responsibility to our students to engage them, teach them, broaden their horizons and perspectives. We cannot allow students to remain the same as they did when they walked through our doors. Although we cannot control the outcome, it is our responsibility to at least have a call to action for our students. It’s our responsibility to bring in the omitted narratives, to bring forth the truth in our classroom, to stretch our students minds. Often, college is one of the few if not the only place this is allowed to happen. I challenge my peers to think about what they can do to disrupt the system and begin to dismantle racism in the academy and in education holistically.

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4 Responses to Dismantling Racism in Education

  1. Kadie Britt says:

    Really, really, really great post, Ashley. I’m sorry for any of the situations you’ve been forced to experience just because your skin is a different color. It’s not at all fair. I think that racism is the dumbest, most stupid thing – everyone is equal and deserving of fair and equal treatment and why would anyone EVER think that it would be okay to base treatment on the color of someone’s skin. Your opinions, your story, and your experiences are all extremely important and they deserve to be heard and I am so so glad that you share them. I’m thankful that you are open about the things you’ve experienced because it makes me more conscious about situations in society and the education world.

  2. A. Nelson says:

    Thanks so much for this, Ashley. I will add to what Kadie says about being sorry that you’ve had to put up with this racist system and society. And I thank you for leading by example. You’re right — you did have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to get half the credit, and you have done amazing work and overcome so much. I agree that we have an obligation to our students to engage and challenge them — to open their minds to the pervasive problems we face — and racism is a big one — and to empower them to take on those problems.
    I will add that I think we need to figure out (more effective) ways to get white people to lean in on this one. Racism isn’t going anywhere until that happens. Help me be a better on this front, please. Also, we will really miss you tomorrow evening.

  3. Kristin says:

    Thank you for your post, I really appreciate hearing your thoughts. I remember that while I was growing up a lot of friends would boast that they were “color-blind” or some other similar term, and I always wondered whether the way they meant what they said was actually helpful or not. As was said in your quote, this is not helpful. The same quote from the podcast stood out to me as well, and it reminded me that I need to help students/peers/children/people around me understand that “racism is real and it does matter in this society because there are people who make it matter,” even though it shouldn’t matter. How to convey this message is something that I am still figuring out, but I am glad that you wrote this post to remind me.

  4. CorlH says:

    As always, I appreciate what and how you voice your story. It would be easy for someone to get caught up in the negative situations that he or she experienced. If you do not already feel empowered by what you have accomplished then you should. I agree that the only way to dismantle racism is to work your way, rather force your way, into the ivory tower. Do not stop speaking your truth!

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