What Worked? (A Best Practices Review)

Well.

A lot didn’t.

And I hope you have or are making space for venting and perhaps listing and ceremonially burning on a funeral pyre all of those things that did not go well, and that the group chat will take you back in a virtual hug when you’ve sent your eleventy-billionth frustrated, exasperated, desperate gif capturing all that went wrong.

But this is not that space. We are composing what is possible.

We need to focus on some of the wins – you had them. You learned. You tried things. You regrouped. You tried again. Something worked. Our workshop on May 27 is not a workshop so much as a gathering, a potluck. We are going to stack up our collective wins and share what has worked this year to help your students succeed because though at times it may not feel like it, we have been making progress. Between 2016 and 2020, we have made an increase of 67% in the number students passing English 1A (from 1,984 in 2016-2017 to 3,317 in 2019-2020). But perhaps more important than that overall number is that the number of Hispanic/Latinx male students who succeeded in English 1A has increased by a rate of 96%, Hispanic/Latinx female students by 80%, African American men by 84%, and African American women by 161%.   (Thank you to our Director of Institutional Research, Brandon Owashi, for pulling and interpreting this data!)

In our opening post for this academic year, Dr. Kristi Woods charged us with supporting our students and providing “them with all of the valuable tools they need to direct their energy toward melting the ice of tyranny, oppression, violence, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, classism, misogyny and the soft bigotry of low expectations.” She urged us to “prepare for classes as if [our] future is in the hands of the students in [our] classes—because it is.” She asked, “What will you do to be a partner in their transformation from student to thought leader?” We teach composition – it begins and ends with lifting up student voices. What did you give students the space to speak about? How did you help your students lift their voices, provide them with tools to be heard in and out of the classroom? How did you engage this fire, but also help them to finish successfully? What was your best innovation this year to increase success among your students?

As you consider this and what to bring to our workshop – because that is the ask: BRING WHAT WORKED this year to our May workshop to share – I encourage you to review the work you’ve done rethinking your course as well as some of the conversations we have had here that may have pushed you in positive directions.

Your highest yield changes may have been big, maybe at the level of course theme and design, or small, changing how you organize groups for better engagement; whatever it was, bring it. (Also, please help us organize in advance by thinking about what “category” it goes in: syllabus language, course policy, student engagement and inclusion strategy, accessing campus resources, course reading/themes, assignment, class activity (synchronous), class activity (async), something else?)

I would also encourage you to look back through the posts of the last year and the inspiration and practical suggestions they contain. As Monique Greene, Dr. Dan Hogan, and Dr. Miguel Reid noted in September, emphasizing various principles of validation, engagement, and genuine care, “there is still a need to truly identify which support mechanisms aid in [student] success.” What have you discovered that will, as Dr. Woods said, “allow [students] to revel in their belongingess. Engage their intellects and value them.” As you consider what has worked to engage students, recall also Star Taylor’s October call to “be emboldened and empowered to liberate our students from unclear graduation pathways, unclear and unrealistic assignment/exam requirements, antiquated classroom pedagogy and methodologies, and faculty and staff who make generalizations and tiny racist comments of our colleagues.” If you remain unsure about not how but if or how much to engage in this work down to your individual class, consider again Star’s question: “Why would educators be resistant to making changes in order to implement culturally relevant texts and pedagogy?”

The framework that Rob Hyers suggested in November that he referred to as “critical thinking/critical imagination” will undoubtedly be of assistance. Both Dr. Tammy Kearn and Dr. Audrey Holod returned to this idea in their blogs and workshops. Rob shared this framework as a way to empower students; citing Genevieve Carpio and Juan D. DeLara, he explained Carpio said “’Have your students question why things are the way they are,’ (critical thinking)” and DeLara said “’Ask your students to imagine the way they want things to be’ (critical imagination).” Your colleagues in this community have been imagining the way things need to be for our students to belong and thrive; the critical imagination here has been fired up. In the April workshop, Miguel and Audrey asked us to listen and reflect; I too would encourage you to do that — towards meaningful transformation. Jo Scott-Coe encouraged us in this direction in January, reflecting on our charge and the many times we have been presented with “gaps” in education: “the term [gap] appeared in so many phrases that reflected deficit-minded judgments about students (e.g. ‘achievement gap,’ skills gap,’ ‘readiness gap’). But now, as we look squarely at equity gaps in our classes, we also have to avoid turning that deficit mindset on ourselves.” Emphasizing our capacity to grow, Tammy asked us in March to share “innovative, empowering, meaningful, and memorable assignments that not only make effective use of texts in the classroom, but that act to ‘support Black lives and stand in solidarity to confront anti-Blackness’ as well as to confront all forms of racism, classism, and elitism.” She suggested about text selection that “one way to reimagine possibilities is to ask ourselves what we truly want our students to learn and contemplate—and even act upon” in response to the texts we choose.

This question of texts was one we spent multiple sessions on this year. For some of our students, based on their major, ours may be the only English class they take in college. Knowing that our students may take only one English class, or conversely, that ours might be their first – a gateway course – what authors and texts can we include that will reflect that key feeling of belongingness that Dr. Woods called us to? As Wendy Silva wrote in November about when she first discovered Gloria Anzaldúa: “here was a well-known scholar, telling me … I was allowed to exist in the world as I was. And I have to wonder, how many of my students have had the privilege of feeling this experience of validation? Which have not? And of course, what can I do to make sure that they all do?” Expanding this experience of validation for our students, centering Black, Latinx, indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQ+ authors and validating the experiences of Black and Latinx students may at times be met with resistance. Audrey and Miguel shared strategies with us, rooted in their research, of effective ways to address this resistance, including content that asks “students to confront their own positionality through hearing experiences from multiple voices and positionalities in society,” and that introduces concepts of white privilege and ways to decenter whiteness and emphasiz[e] systematic oppression” through texts and assignments that look at “racial constructs and [their] historical basis.” We have discussed so much this year. Our “umbrella” text has been Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey Malcolm-Piqueux’s From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education. This community of practice has been central for so many of us in the move from talk to walk, but another refrain I have heard this year is that we are weary with talk and words and no transformation or that even when good change is made, it happens in silos. Indeed, McNair explains that “equity work cannot be done in isolation or with a select few. It needs to engage the entire campus community” (16) – from our classrooms, to committees, to the culture of our institution, and right back into the classroom.

To all this wisdom (and do go back and consider again our authors on the blog from this year) I am adding some practical tools:

For myself, and what I have tried that has worked, I know the changes to how I manage deadlines with students, prompted by the pandemic, will become permanent. My final exams have changed because of ideas shared and sparked in this community. My text selections shift and expand from your input and my students’. My asynchronous discussions expanded and improved in quality immediately after deploying Tammy’s metacognitive discussion technique from the March workshop. I’m in progress still about how to grade differently, and excited to learn more about and incorporate the constructivist activities and teaching framework highlighted by Audrey and Miguel. (And I’m already wondering about our conversation next year about the classroom — How will that space be different upon return because of all we’ve both learned and endured?)

The privilege of being a professor is the duty of forever being a student. I look forward to learning more from and with you on May 27 (and beyond).

Addressing Student Resistance to Discourses of Diversity

**Due to the nature of the topic, we felt that it was important to cite from scholarly work completed within the last 6-8 years. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that this is a discussion about classroom dynamics, which does not supersede the vital significance of acknowledging resistance within macro-levels of an institution, namely, resistance among faculty, administration, staff, and other stakeholders.

DIVERSITY DISCOURSES

Diversity discourses in college courses have positive benefits for learners (Cabrera et al., 2016), for instance, by providing a space for multiple perspectives to be heard, mitigating bias, and building a critical consciousness so learners are more apt to understand their role in systemic oppression and prejudice and create larger, positive societal change within their communities (Mthethwa-Sommers, 2010). However, in the college classroom, these critically impactful discourses are often stifled due to resistance. Here are some examples of resistant discourse (taken from the literature and faculty experiences):

  • “Your success depends on how much effort you put into things, not your race. If I need money, I go out and get a job – not free handouts.”
  • “Why do we have to keep talking about race? White people also face discrimination in their own way.” 
  • “Why are we focusing on only black people? All lives matter.”
  •  “Oh ya, of course Professor X has to harp on race; he’s black.”
  •  “I don’t really see color. Everyone is the same.”
  •  “Minorities are just too sensitive.”
  • “Maybe they should make better choices and spend more time in the library than on the ball court.”

WHAT IS RESISTANCE?

Resistance is synonymous with the words “battle” or “struggle” or “refusal.” In the context of higher education, resistance can be characterized as the refusal to acknowledge/examine/change dynamics of structures of power, present at the macro-levels of society, that function to oppress and create barriers for marginalized identities within that institution (Cabrera et al., 2016).

How Does Systemic Prejudice Manifest in Higher Education Classrooms?

Throughout its history, the systemic oppression and racist ideologies of the U.S. are closely linked to the exploitation of communities of color by a white majority and the barriers and exclusions of people of color within educational contexts (Museaus et al., 2015). This has been specifically related to adult learning contexts in higher education.

Higher education was originally designed by and for privileged identities, specifically elite white males who would be future leaders of the country (Museaus et al., 2015). Thus, policies that reinforce the preservation of elite interests still remain in higher education in a modern context (Cabrera et al., 2016), particularly since the majority of elites in the U.S. are overwhelmingly white (Museaus et al., 2015). Scholars have outlined historical patterns of effort to preserve such interests through policies that served to prevent barriers to the participation of communities of color in higher education contexts through covert segregation and testing policies. Click here to learn more about these policies.

In contemporary culture, structures of power and oppression manifest in higher education in these ways:

  • The growing neoliberal, market-driven shifts in higher education focus on the individual’s market value versus the development of critical consciousness and value of diversity and sharing multiple voices (Hornig & Sambile, 2019; Guarasci, 2019).
  • A lack of representation of faculty of color in the classroom and particular backlash for faculty of color when teaching discourses of diversity (Delano-Orarian & Parks, 2015; Vianden, 2019).
  • The growing cost of education with financial options that disproportionately impact underrepresented students and their families (Museus et al., 2015).
  • The notion of stereotype threat, where students of color are often made to feel that they are inept in academic endeavors, which is a force that threatens students’ performance in standardized testing (Steele, 2011). Colleges and universities have only recently begun to implement “multiple measures” policies.

Are There Any Other Key Factors That Contribute to Resistance?

Structures of Whiteness

In addition to the historical and contemporary issues of systemic prejudice in higher education, it would be remiss to exclude discourses of whiteness as a silent power structure that is inextricably rooted in its foundations (Cabrera et al., 2016). One way whiteness currently functions in higher education is through what Hornig and Sambile (2019) referred to as “revisionist histories” that decenter oppressed voices in academia and make central the narratives of those in power. One central narrative that has made its way into higher education contexts stems from a national narrative to “Make America Great Again,” (Giroux, 2019). However, scholars questioned at what point America was “great” for marginalized citizens, let alone marginalized students in higher education, where oppression, isolation, invisibility, and stereotypes are well documented as affecting the higher education experience for marginalized and underrepresented students (Cabrera et al., 2016; Giroux, 2019; Guarasci, 2018; Museaus et al., 2015). This mantra is also closely linked with the “All Lives Matter” movement, a backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement, which is meant to highlight systemic brutality towards the Black community in the U.S.

How Does Resistance Manifest in the Classroom?

It is important to consider ways that constructs of whiteness both occupy and actively structure and re-structure higher education environments in the classroom. In this context, whiteness and white privilege in higher education is prevalent in the specific ways that white students often interact and react to discourses of diversity. It is well documented that those in white culture often assume America is a post-racial society, and success is achievable through hard work and merit (Delano-Orarian & Parks, 2015). In higher education, as well as a larger American context, white individuals often react to notions of prejudice in ways that dismiss, devalue, or outright reject that prejudice occurs (Cabrera et al., 2016).

Specifically, white students “recreate” white privilege in everyday action or lack thereof (Cabrera et al. 2016). These actions may manifest through silence, anger, invalidation of oppressed voices (Museaus et al., 2015; Tharp, 2015), and body language (Delano-Oriaran & Parks, 2015). Also, microaggressions can be directed at other students (Cabrera et al., 2016) or faculty of color (Museaus et al., 2015; Vianden, 2018), particularly women of color and specifically by white males in the classroom (Cabrera et al., 2016). Resistance is more common among white male students as this demographic is more often associated with inappropriate and disruptive behavior in higher education contexts, such as harassment and discrimination (Harper & Harris, 2010; Vianden, 2018).  Wagner (2015) emphasized that white males are least interested in diversity education because it conflicts with their intense socialization to embody characteristics of hegemonic masculinity that assert power, dominance, and control, preventing them from appearing weak or ignorant (Wagner, 2015; Vianden, 2018). These qualities are often in direct conflict with diversity education, which asks learners to cultivate cultural humility and develop certain degrees of vulnerability (Wagner, 2015).

What Strategies Have Been Successful in Addressing Resistance?

Best Practices – Content & Methodologies

In emphasizing diversity in education, scholars examined various strategies. These are just a few found in the literature:

  • Emphasizing the inclusion of content that asked students to confront their own positionality through hearing experiences from multiple voices and positionalities in society, which is an element of content incorporation that can be effective in mitigating resistance to diversity discourses (Canlas et al., 2015; Delano-Orarian & Parks, 2015).
  • Introducing the concept of white privilege through works from white authors who reflected the students’ own racial positionality.
  • Focusing content on learners with privileged identities through coverage of concepts such as positionality and privilege, particularly white privilege (Delano-Orarian & Parks, 2015). 
  • Decentering whiteness and emphasizing systematic oppression by incorporating content that examined racial constructs and the historical basis for group relations in the United States (Cabrera et al., 2016; Giroux, 2019; Hornig & Sambile, 2019).  
  • Emphasizing content that focused on macro-concepts of oppression (i.e. inequality, unemployment, and economic decline.)
  • Using a constructivist approach to cultivate a critical consciousness in adult learners because it emphasized active engagement and inquiry through examination of multiple contexts of power and privilege (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). Students do not merely accept facts and information in the classroom, but rather, construct knowledge through this active engagement and examination (Dewey, 2011; Swan et al., 2019).
  • Employing inquiry-based learning techniques to encourage ownership of knowledge construction, and facilitate higher order thinking skills (Mthethwa-Sommers, 2010; Swart, 2017). When done through a scaffold approach (Swan et al., 2019), students are provided with a clear, systematic pathway that emphasizes that decision-making processes should be based on rational, evidence-based inquiry rather than mere feeling or baseless opinions (Giroux, 2019). This is particularly vital in higher education, where larger national narratives normalize raw, emotion-based arguments and incentivize decision-making processes, particularly in dealing with social justice issues that affect marginalized communities (Giroux, 2019; Guarasci, 2018).
  • Promoting community building. Bettez and Hytten (2013) discussed social justice inquiry both as a process and a goal that should cause the learner to re-think the concept of democracy in an effort to move towards community-based thinking. This shift from an individual to a more collective-based focus allows learners to consider power structures inherent in society and in their personal lives and contemplate their own power and agency within those structures (Bettez & Hytten, 2013).
  • Emphasizing strategic dialogue. Dewey (2011) emphasized the vital role of critical dialogue in educational contexts in building a critical consciousness through exchanging ideas, listening to multiple perspectives, and building mutual interests. Smele et al. (2017) discussed how dissent during these discourses needed to be met with levels of discomfort. They encouraged situations where course dynamics included “risky” conversations in which privilege and assumptions about knowledge were “checked” or “called out.” Other ways dialogue has been incorporated are through active questioning (Rosen et al., 2017); critical questioning (Bettez & Hytten, 2013); and emotion-based responses connected with radical listening (Hornig & Sambile, 2019).
  • Promoting sharing, particularly in online discussions, which helped change the instructor/student power structure, as well as encourage marginalized voices to convey the lived realities of their experiences in ways that the instructor could not. Sharing also has been found to increase trust and cultivate empathy for others’ experiences, as well as create opportunities for critical thinking (Rosen et al., 2017).

Questions

  1. Considering the problem of resistance, in what ways might you still have room to grow, learn, and adapt in order to address issues of resistance?
  2. Choose a strategy of addressing resistance that is listed from the bullet points above that you have never used or considered before. Describe how you could potentially implement that strategy specifically in order to address student resistance to diversity discourse.
  3. In what specific ways might resistance to change manifest outside of the classroom in higher education?

REFERENCES

Bettez, S., & Hytten, K. (2013). Community building in social justice work: A critical approach. Educational Studies49(1), 45–66.

Cabrera, N. L., Franklin, J. D., & Watson, J. S. (2016). Whiteness in higher education: The invisible missing link in diversity and racial analyses. ASHE Higher Education Report42(6), 7–125.

Canlas, M., Argenal, A., & Bajaj, M. (2015). Teaching human rights from below: Towards solidarity, resistance and social justice. Radical Teacher, (103), 38–46.

Delano-Oriaran, O. O., & Parks, M. W. (2015). One black, one white. Multicultural Education22(3/4), 15-19.

Dewey, J. (2011). Democracy and education. Digireads.com Publishing.

Guarasci, R. (2018). Anchoring democracy: The civic imperative for higher education. Liberal Education, 104(1), 26-33.

Giroux, H. A. (2019). Authoritarianism and the challenge of higher education in the age of Trump. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, 18(1), 6–25.

Harper, S. R., & Harris, F., III. (2010). College men and masculinities: Theory, research, and implications for practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hornig, B. L., & Sambile, A. F. (2019). Addressing hxstorical amnesia: Proactively combating hxstorical amnesia as a means of healing in higher education. Vermont Connection40(1), 98–104.

Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mthethwa-Sommers, S. (2010). Inquiry based method: A case study to reduce levels of resistance. International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education22(1), 55–63.

Museus, S. D., Ledesma, M. C., & Parker, T. L. (2015). Introduction. ASHE Higher Education Report, 42(1), 1–112.

Rosen, D., McCall, J., & Goodkind, S. (2017). Teaching critical self-reflection through the lens of cultural humility: An assignment in a social work diversity course. Social Work Education36(3), 289–298.

Smele, S., Siew-Sarju, R., Chou, E., Breton, P., & Bernhardt, N. (2017). Doing feminist difference differently: Intersectional pedagogical practices in the context of the neoliberal diversity regime. Teaching in Higher Education22(6), 690–704.

Steele, C. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do. New York, NY: Norton & Company.

Swan, A. K., Sleeter, N. M., & Schrum, K. (2019). Teaching hidden history: A case study of dialogic scaffolding in a hybrid graduate course. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning13(1), 1–28.

Swart, R. (2017). Critical thinking instruction and technology enhanced learning from the student perspective: A mixed methods research study. Nurse Education in Practice, 23, 30-39. doi:10.1016/j.nepr.2017.02.003

Vianden, J. (2018). “In all honesty, you don’t learn much”: White college men’s perceptions of diversity courses and instructors. International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education30(3), 465–476.

Wagner, R. (2015). College Men and Masculinity: Implications for Diversity Education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 48(3), 473–488.

Making Effective Use of Texts in the Class

What an amazing resource those who have preceded us have compiled for our Community of Practice! We’ve been privileged to have been introduced (or reintroduced) to a range of voices propelling the discussion of important and timely topics such as culturally responsive teaching, anti-racist teaching practices, selecting representative and inclusive texts, and making data-informed decisions. We’re humbled by thought-provoking, insightful, engaging, and at times, disarming, blog posts that have preceded ours, and this month we have the exciting task of moving on to the practical application of theory:  We’ll be discussing how to effectively use our culturally responsive, anti-racist, socially responsible texts into our course schedules, our assignments, and our discussions.   

Critically Reimagining our Assignments

This year-long immersion into theory has been invaluable as we struggle to better know and understand not only our students but ourselves, and to reimagine a better present and a better future for all. We are reminded of Rob’s November Community of Practice post in which he discusses Latinx professors, Genvieve Carpio and Juan D. DeLara’s “critical thinking/critical imagination” framework. One of the most lasting insights we gained from Rob’s post was Carpio and DeLara’s response to Rob’s question about how to empower his students:

Carpio said, “Have your students question why things are the way they are,” (critical thinking) and DeLara said, “Ask your students to imagine the way they want things to be” (critical imagination).

This month, we invite our community of practitioners to pose the same questions to ourselves, to be both critical thinkers and critical imaginers, not only with the texts we assign but with the order and sequence in which we assign them, the kinds of discussions we imagine for them, and the intentionality behind the assignments we create for our students to critically and imaginatively engage with them.  One way to reimagine possibilities is to ask ourselves what we truly want our students to learn and contemplate—and even act upon—given these particular texts. Another possibility is to ask what role students should have not only in the selection of texts but in the creation of assignments.

Questions to consider (again, reflecting on Rob’s November post):

  1. Reimagining where and why we address particular texts at a particular time within the chronology of the course.
  2. Rethinking thematic units within the course and how each of our texts inform and build upon one another. 
    • Thinking back to Rob’s post, we might think of assignments as following the pattern of
      • investigating the site of struggle and examining the issues and context of that struggle;
      • investigating how the past affects the present and how both the past and present might shape the future;
      • reimagining a different, more evolved, and/or more equitable future.
  3. Reconsidering our approaches to choosing our texts (as November’s blog captured so well) including inviting students to reimagine their role in the selection of texts and creation of assignments.  If they are creating the future, then they need to have a hand in creating the present.
  4. Reassessing what a “text” is, and reimagining the kinds of “texts” that students encounter on a daily basis and the various multimedia modalities which might be considered “texts.”
  5. Reexamining how we discuss texts, striving always for a metacognitive awareness of how others’ viewpoints influence and impact our own understanding of the world, of the issues, and of ourselves. We might do a better job of empowering students themselves to create the discussion topics and to be the central voices of those discussions.
  6. Reminding ourselves continually that the best assignments provide opportunities to amplify student voices, not to silence them.

Coconspirators for Change

In We Want to Do More Than Survive, Bettina Love argues, “In many intersectional social justice groups, the language is shifting from needing allies to coconspirators” (117). Love explains that in many cases, ally-ship is often “performative or self-glorifying . . . [and] still centers Whiteness in dark spaces” (117).  Instead of Ally-ship, Love argues that we need coconspirators for real and lasting change because coconspirators are willing to use their “intersections of privilege, leverage their power,   . . . and stand in solidarity to confront anti-Blackness” (117). Using Love’s descriptors, we might reimagine ourselves not (only) as a community of educators but as coconspirators for dramatic and permanent change.

This blog, perhaps more than any previous blog post, invites members of our Community of Practice to be coconspirators for change:  to contribute ideas for innovative, empowering, meaningful, and memorable assignments that not only make effective use of texts in the classroom, but that act to “support Black lives and stand in solidarity to confront anti-Blackness” as well as to confront all forms of racism, classism, and elitism.  As Love reminds us, “A coconspirator functions as a verb, not a noun” (117).  Heeding Love’s implicit call to action: Let’s co-conspire!

Invitation to Submit Your Most Effective Assignments

The parameters are vast:  You might post an especially effective thematic unit that brings together multiple voices or perspectives on a particularly salient social issue and that allows students to think both critically and creatively; or you might want to explain particularly effective online discussion techniques that encourage students to think critically and creatively—or more importantly, that amplify their voices and prompt them to engage authentically with one another in the online discussion environment; or you might have especially effective and creative assignments that prompt students to engage with their community in making meaningful change.  In whatever ways that you are currently engaging students with the texts you’ve selected for your classes, we invite you take this opportunity to share them on this blog prior to our meeting at month’s end. (Don’t worry if you don’t think they’re innovative. If they’re new to us, or even being reintroduced to us, they’re innovative.)

Some prompts to get you started (but feel free to send in any other contributions!):

  1. Tell us about a themed unit you’ve used that has been particularly effective in engaging students and exposing them to inclusive, representative, anti-racist voices.
  2. Post an assignment that you think best illustrates one of the “reimaginings” listed above.
  3. Describe any difficulties or concerns you’ve have reimagining your assignments and/or effectively using inclusive texts in the class.  (Note:  Next month’s Community of Practice will cover the topic “Addressing Student Resistance to Discourses of Difference,” for anyone who is currently experiencing that resistance.)

Why Use Data?

This is Part 2 of a post on reflective data analysis and responsive teaching tools. See the first post here.

For those whom I have not yet had the privilege to work with, my name is Brandon Owashi and I am the Director of Institutional Research at Riverside City College. I am amazed by the content that you have put together and am honored to participate.

In today’s world, it seems like everything revolves around data, and I am sure you are tired of hearing about it. The technology and business industries have always relied heavily on data, but in recent years data analytics has even expanded into sports. In higher education, you are expected to know and understand data about your institution without ever being taught how to interpret it, or told why it is important. Think back to when you first started teaching in higher education—did anyone explain what fill rates represent and why the college cares about them? Or how about the dizzying number of data acronyms that fill our committee discussions?  It can definitely be overwhelming and intimidating, and I am working towards making it a little more digestible. Here are some of the things that the Office of Institutional Effectiveness is implementing to achieve that goal.

Why does data matter?

Throughout the years at RCC, student success has followed a consistent pattern. Certain student groups experience high success while others are much less successful. While this occurs across different groups, it is quite evident across race/ethnicity groups.

Figure 1. The RCC course success rates disaggregated by race/ethnicity from the 2015-16 to 2019-20 academic years. Grades of EW are counted as unsuccessful in Spring 2020.

As you can see from the above figure (Figure 1), there are clear differences in course success rates across race and ethnicity groups. While Asian and White students tend to have higher success rates, our historically-minoritized groups have, on average, experienced less success. This is considered an equity gap, which is defined by Higher Learning Advocates as “a significant and persistent disparity in educational attainment between different groups of students.” Similar equity gaps are seen in other success metrics such as award rate and transfer rate. Without regular data analysis and observation, these equity gaps may go unnoticed. Data observation helps us identify strengths and weaknesses, while also allowing us to measure the impact of the changes we make at RCC. Overall, data provides a platform to monitor our progress towards achieving our goals.

Data Coaching

Data Coaching is a program designed to increase the number of individuals trained to facilitate conversations about student equity data. Whether it be during the various meetings around campus, or informal one-on-one conversations, data coaches can help simplify the data, identify trends, and explain the importance behind the findings. Data Coaching is relatively new in the California Community College system but has been gaining traction in recent years due to the success of the programs at Santa Monica College and Bakersfield College. While most programs focus on broadly increasing data literacy and capacity at the college, we created a Data Coaching program that is narrowly focused on student equity data. With help from Santa Monica College and Reedley College (“Data Literacy Certificate” in the Canvas Commons) we were able to launch our Data Coaching program in Fall 2020. The data coaches were selected across most divisions and includes Classified Professionals, Faculty, and Administrators. Each data coach has gone through training and has obtained skills to facilitate conversations surrounding student equity data.

Data Coaches:

  • Ajene Wilcoxson (Business)
  • Ellen Brown-Drinkwater (Counseling)
  • Gloria Aguilar (LHSS)
  • Ismael Davila (Student Services)
  • Jo Scott-Coe (English)
  • Paul Richardson (Chemistry)
  • Oliver Thompson (Criminal Justice)
  • Tammy Vant Hul (Nursing)

Power BI

Power BI is a Microsoft data visualization software that enables us to create interactive dashboards. The District Office has recently purchased Power BI Premium, so in the near future all RCCD employees will have access to a number of Power BI dashboards through Office 365. Our Power BI dashboards are designed to be user-friendly and easily digestible so that data will not only be more readily available, but also easier to understand. The data coaches are familiar with the student equity dashboard, which currently looks at course success rates disaggregated by race/ethnicity, and will be able to help navigate conversation surrounding those data. While the data coaches will only have access to high level data, if you would like to see your individual course success data, please send me an email (brandon.owashi@rcc.edu).

Moving Forward

As we continue our journey to becoming an even more data-driven institution, just know that you are not on your own. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness is here to help and additional resources are on their way. We are currently in a unique position where we have the opportunity to be the first generation in higher education to tackle student equity, start to close equity gaps, and support student groups that have been disproportionately impacted for generations. I hope this has helped pique your interest in observing data at RCC! Should you have any questions or want to learn about how you can get more involved, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Minding the Gap

In preparations for the January workshop, I have been thinking about the word “gap” in educational discourse. As we have discussed many times over the past decade, particularly moving through acceleration to answer the call of AB705, the term appeared in so many phrases that reflected deficit-minded judgments about students (e.g. “achievement gap,” “skills gap,” “readiness gap”). But now, as we look squarely at equity gaps in our classes, we also have to avoid turning that deficit mindset on ourselves. We are up to this challenge. It can feel daunting, though, closing the space between what we think we did, what we envisioned or intended, and how that may not match our students’ experiences.

What’s our “why”? As educators, we are often invited to overstate or hyper-perform our altruism, which can perpetuate an impossible “superperson” or “savior” narrative that is unsustainable, nevermind deeply isolating—especially in a culture that feminizes and racializes stories of self-sacrifice or effacement. Crediting Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza for the phrase, Leigh Ann Shaw and Jeramy Wallace suggest that an “obligation gap” offers us a much more student-centered view of our responsibilities. On the one hand, they write, “[A]n obligation-centered framework requires practitioners and educators to continually reflect on their interactions with students and their pedagogies.” I also appreciate how the “obligation gap” calls us beyond our individual classrooms, to improve our networks of collaboration across all the systems we navigate, benefit from, have been hurt by, and seek to change.

Information: Enthusiasm, good intentions, and even a sense of obligation to our students alone is not enough without a focus point, a tool to start with. Reflecting on our data on a regular basis holds us accountable for racial/ethnic and gender equity. But this also has to be collective labor. After I “zoom in” on my own data to ask what I can do to eliminate any disparate impacts on Native American and African American students, I also have to “zoom out” to look at broader trends across the department, division, college, and district. That’s where our networks, or coalitions, of obligation can come in, to advance questions together and follow-up to ensure against complacency. As we support our students’ success, what resources sustain that effort? Who do we need to be listening to?

Hope: Data has been exploited as such cudgel against publicly funded education, like code for a self-fulfilling prophecy. The federal policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top used high-stakes standardized test results for almost twenty years to “measure” student achievement in elementary and secondary education—ultimately re-inscribing patterns of racism and economic injustice. While the impact of teachers on student success has been acknowledged for years now in K-12 teacher effectiveness research, reductive accountability methods in the context of federal policies were highly demoralizing and did little to create meaningful change.

We do not need to repeat those mistakes. I am grateful that the Center for Urban Education (CUE) cautions about the fundamental differences between a “culture of evidence,” which can dangerously oversimplify, and a “culture of inquiry,” which asks us to engage in a recurring practice.

CUE identifies five specific strategies for working with data, with the purpose of achieving racial equity. Consider how these strategies may be useful as you “zoom in” and “zoom out” to mind the gaps you (and we) discover and reflect upon: 1. Diagnose inequities; 2. Locate data close to the work you do on a daily basis; 3. Ask equity-minded questions about the data; 4. Translate equity gaps into numbers of students; 5. Set equity goals.

Cited: The Center for Urban Education (2019). Equity-Minded Teaching Institute Workbook. Los Angeles CA: Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, pp. 58-59.

Here are a few questions I’ll offer as we keep the dialogue going:

  1. What do you think about the concept of the “obligation gap” as a motivator?
  2. Other than in your own classroom, where do you think you can best participate to advance equity-minded questions, conversations, and follow-up at RCC?
  3. How might you go about expanding your current “data reflection” allies?
  4. What is one area over the past two years where you have concentrated on helping minoritized students in your course planning, activities, assignments, or other practices? Where do you see effects? What are your new goals, based on your latest data?

This is Part I of a post on reflective data analysis and responsive teaching tools. To read Part II, click here.

Choosing Inclusive and Empowering Texts — Part II

This is Part 2 of a post on choosing inclusive and empowering texts. See the first post here.

In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Lesbian Chicanx writer, Gloria Anzaldua, shares her personal experience with reading LGBTQ+ Chicanx writers for the first time: “In the 1960s, I read my first Chicano novel. It was City of Night by John Rechy, a gay Texan, son of a Scottish father and a Mexican mother. For days I walked around in stunned amazement that a Chicano could write and could get published. When I read I Am Joaquin, I was surprised to see a bilingual book by a Chicano in print. When I saw poetry written in Tex-Mex for the first time, a feeling of pure joy flashed through me. I felt like we really existed as a people” (82).

In our September Community of Practice Blog, our colleague Miguel Reid shared his experience: “Although I failed almost every class throughout high school, I do remember reading two books: The Color Purple and The Autobiography of Malcolm X – nothing else. Despite being a young man who didn’t care about school, I somehow found interest in those two texts that highlighted the African-American experience.”

When I first read Anzaldua’s work, I felt how Miguel felt reading the work of Alice Walker and Malcolm X. Here was an actual published book, being taught in a college class, validating not only my people’s history and struggles, but my own identity in a space outside my home, that captured mine and my family’s experiences, our traditions, our values, our language. I had never even considered the idea that I was allowed to speak both English and Spanish together anywhere outside my home and my family. But here was a well-known scholar, telling me exactly that: I was allowed to exist in the world as I was. And I have to wonder, how many of my students have had the privilege of feeling this experience of validation? Which have not? And of course, what can I do to make sure that they all do?

From all the wonderful Community of Practice workshops we’ve had in the last year, we know that culturally responsive pedagogy means fully engaging with our students by finding creative ways to integrate student interests, identities, experiences, and knowledge into the classroom. Part of this work in our discipline requires strategic and intentional (as Kathleen mentioned last spring) incorporation of texts that also reflect who our students are, their experiences, and the types of knowledge they value.

As we know, the new language for the first SLO in the ENG 1A COR emphasizes that students learn to “analyze rhetorical strategies, content, and contexts in a variety of non-fiction texts written by authors representing and reflective of students in the classroom, including those written Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and People of Color and the LGBTQ+ community,” which really requires us to not only include a wide variety of voices in our text choices, but also revise and switch texts out as needed to reflect who are students are.

In Equity Talk to Equity Walk, McNair, Benisimon and Malcolm-Piqueux give an example of how to go about (and not go about), experimenting with new texts in a classroom, when discussing obstacle #2 (Not being able or willing to recognize racialized consequences) in blocking the path toward racial equity (24).

This is a huge task, but a necessary one. Dr. Jeannine L. Williams discusses in her article “Representations of the Racialized Experiences of African Americans in Developmental Reading Textbooks,” how historically, “ ‘reading material was used to inculcate dominant ideologies as common sense’ and how ‘books written for African American students were designed to reproduce dominant ideologies as natural, commonsensical, and universal’” (Williams 41). These dominant ideologies, that so commonly contained racist (and surely also sexist, classist, and homophobic) foundations, didn’t give students of color many choices beyond acceptance or rejection of the texts that perpetuated those ideologies. And many of these students of color rejected them (Williams 41). This rejection further emphasizes the obstacles our institutions have put in place impeding their success, which is why Williams suggests that “instructors should assign readings that speak to the students’ experiences” (Williams 40). Though William’s study focuses primary of African American students and African American representation, I see her argument informing the experiences of other students of color as well.

Al Weyant-Forbes mentioned in an equity-related workshop during fall FLEX, that often times equity feels like a loss to those in power. It feels like something has to be given up, and they are right, but that doesn’t mean what is being gained is not as valuable or more so, than what is being “lost.” RCC is a Hispanic Serving Institution, for example, which means that if we are really reflecting our students in our text choices, then a good amount of texts we teach should be written for and by Latinx voices, right? How many can you name? How many contemporary Black writers can you name? African? Native American? Middle Eastern? White? Chances are, many of us can probably name more white writers than any other race. Maybe it is time we examine this, and substitute what we’ve been taught to value as traditional literary texts (predominantly white texts seeped in racism, capitalism, and white supremacy, as Williams mentions) with new texts that the majority of our students can see themselves in and gives us insights into perspectives we didn’t even realize we hadn’t considered. Williams argues that often “college faculty ignore the role of race and its systematic complexities … further disadvantage[ing] students of color. Emphasizing the importance of reading curriculum and pedagogy that reflects the racialized identities and experiences of African American students,” along with other students of color, is a great tool for getting students engaged in our classes, in their own college experiences, and in their overall success (Williams 43).

As Rob mentioned in his post, this anti-racist work goes hand in hand with anti-capitalist work because racism and capitalism are when Dr. Ibram X. Kendi calls the “conjoined twins” in his book How to be an Anti-Racist (163). Dr. Kendi argues that “the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural…it is impossible to know racism without understanding its intersection with capitalism” (56). He then adds that “to love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body” (Kendi 163). To me, this speaks to the importance of acknowledging our students lives experiences in the texts we choose, not only because most of our students are student of color, but because they are predominantly working class, our “essential workers,” the ones who are most vulnerable to what Angela Davis calls “super-exploitation.” If we hope to contribute to the process of liberation and dismantling oppressive structures concretely, we have to give students the tools to engage with critical thinking and critical imagining, as Rob encourages. Our text choices can help them not only better understand the systems that shape their daily lives, but how to begin imagining a world where these systems are no longer in place.

I’ve begun this work by gauging students’ reactions and thoughts on the texts we read each semester (though projects, critical reflections, discussion posts, and in-class conversations.) When checking in with my students this semester, I asked them about the importance of exposing students to texts that reflected who they were, their identities, values, experiences, and knowledge. Here is what just a few of them said:

1) “I think it is important for students to see themselves in the stories because this allows them to relate to the situations that are happening in the stories. It also builds confidence in the reader because if student sees the character in the story doing something exciting, important, and adventurous, then the student will understand that they could do it too!”

2) “I think it is very important for students to read texts that reflect who we are and our identities because if we’re just being thrown random text that we have no connection to, we start to become less interested. Therefore, less attention will be given to the subject by us and we leave the class without learning a thing. However, I think it is important to read articles to read articles such as the one we do for this class because it brings a lot of relevancy to our lives that keeps informed.” 

3) “I think it’s crucial for students to read texts in an English class that reflect who they are because visibility makes students feel like they’re not alone. Reading shared experiences makes students feel included and like they belong in certain spaces. It’s especially important now because academic spaces have historically been predominantly White, cisgendered, heterosexual males and the texts that higher academia tend to study are usually eurocentric. Having that representation makes the learning environment feel a lot safer and more inclusive of experiences that are not centered on the White cis, het male perspective.”

4) “I believe that it is valuable for students to read texts that reflect who they are, identities, experiences, etc. because the student can most likely relate with the text. Making it easier for them to make strong arguments in their writing. For a long time schools have had students reading books that are heavily based on white characters. Not showing any cultural representation when it comes to minorities and POC’s. By having representation students will be able to relate to what they are reading.”

5) “I truly believe that it is important for students to read texts in an English class that reflect who they are, their identities, their experiences, and their knowledge. I think this because doing so makes meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages, and life experiences. These connections help students develop higher academic skills and see the relevance between what they learn at school and their lives.”

As we can see, our students themselves KNOW that higher ed. has been a white-centered space for a long time. They get it. They are counting on us to disrupt this tradition.

Here are a few anecdotes pulled from critical reflections in both my English 1B class and English 1A class that further exemplify this point. Student are asked, as the final question, what they learned this unit and why they find this lesson valuable:

“I learned a lot in this unit, I learned to appreciate poetry a lot more. Before I was not a huge fan on poetry because I could not understand it. That is because I always over thought it when I had to read poetry. In high school we had a unit based on poetry and the main poet we had to focus on was Sylvia Plath. She had many good poems, but I could never understand them and frustrated me to not like reading poetry. After this unit I got to read some really good poems that I enjoyed and understood. I also learned to appreciate for who am and love my culture even more. Life is hard and many of us complain, not understanding the struggle others face and we tend to take that for granted. I plan to embrace my culture even more in the future and to not feel shame for who I am.” (referring to Eduardo Corral’s “Border Triptych” and Ada Limon’s “The Contract Says: We’d Like the Conversation to be Bilingual”)

“I have always understood the importance of literature and its impact on the world. That being said I have never really felt that impact or actually been involved in it too much. When writing this essay I felt like I was a part of it and the impact it has on the whole world. My topics are something that is looming in today’s world and only seems to get worse or avoided. I feel like a voice even though I know not many people will get to read this and it is not as good as some top writers out there. But I see as it’s not a topic that should be read by important people alone but everyone. We can all add things to literature and make an impact which I feel I did or could do.” (referring to Natalie Diaz’s “Why I Hate Raisins” and Jericho Brown’s “Bullet Points”)

“During this unit i learned a lot, the two pieces that impacted me the most were “White Privilege and “ The New Jim Crow” because as a black person it important that someone is speaking up for us as a whole, there are a lot of bad things going on right now with racial injustice and as a black person when people speak out no matter their race or background, to help our cause we notice it and we appreciate it. I’m glad i read two pieces that i can relate to because in high school the only type of black people we would read about were Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa parks. I’m glad that [we] read current pieces that everybody can relate to in their own way.”

Are we listening? Are we really listening?

Choosing texts, as I mentioned above, is difficult, and it does require a lot of time and effort. Most of us probably began teaching using texts we were familiar with, texts we read in college, or for fun on our own time. But, if we are still teaching only the same texts we did when we started teaching, chances are we need to make some changes, and with change, comes push back. Part of our anti-racist work as equitable instructors, however, is to change and adapt to the needs of our students, and as the research above indicates, our students need us to do just that. To be anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and an ally to marginalized communities, we need to acknowledge their lived experiences. If we don’t know what those lived experiences are, we need to educate ourselves. We need to take initiative to read texts outside of our own comfort zones by voices different from our own. As Professor. Taylor said in the last blog post, we need change now, and this is just one way we can do something concrete, here and now, to further our anti-racist and equity work.

Not sure where to start? Last year, our wonderful colleagues Star Taylor, Miguel Reid, Jon Anguiano, Tucker Amidon, and James Ducat took time to compile a list of culturally responsive text ideas for our English classes. They have been gracious enough to share this list and allow all of us to continue building upon this collaborative work for the years to come.

Here is a link to the editable Google Sheets. This is a living document that we can all contribute to collaboratively and revise as needed. I have begun organizing the original text list on this document, but still have a long way to go. If you are interested in helping transfer what we have on other various other lists, into this one master list, please feel free to reach out to me. I can use all the help I can get.

In our workshop, Rob and I will spend some time sharing techniques we use to choose empowering, inclusive texts for our classes that are not only culturally responsive, but also allow for critical thinking and critical imagining. We look forward to having you all there!

Sources:

Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Borderlands/La Frontera, Aunt Lute Books, 2007, pp. 75-86.

Kendi, Ibrim X. How to Be an Antiracist, One World, 2019.

Williams, Jeanine L. “Representations of the Racialized Experiences of African Americans in Developmental Reading Textbooks.” Journal of College Reading and Learning, vol. 43, no. 2, 7 July 2014, pp. 39-69, DOI: 10.1080/10790195.2013.10850366, Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

Questions:

  1. What is one text you read in college that was of particular interest to you and why? What impact did that text have on you and why?
  2. How often to you reflect and challenge yourself to change texts you’ve been using for a long time, to better meet student needs and interests?
  3. How do you decide what texts you will include in your course? What criteria do you use? Where do you go to search for them?
  4. If you have not already, how might you set up a system in class to gauge how the students feel about your text selections, to allow your students to have a voice in text selection?
  5. Does your text selection tie to your anti-racist work? Why? How?

Choosing Inclusive and Empowering Texts — Part I

In thinking about antiracist practices, as a white professor, before I work through my thoughts on choosing antiracist texts (which I hope will be helpful to you), I first need to acknowledge and credit the Black and Latinx thinkers who have informed this process for me. 

First, I need to talk about the framework I use. I call the framework “critical thinking/critical imagination.” It comes from a talk I attended given by two Latinx professors, Genvieve Carpio and Juan D. DeLara. Both professors had written recent Marxist histories of the Inland Empire. I am relatively new to the Inland Empire. During the Q&A, I asked what I as a 1A professor could do to empower my students. Carpio said “Have your students question why things are the way they are,” (critical thinking) and DeLara said “Ask your students to imagine the way they want things to be.” (critical imagination). 

With that being said, I also need to back up in time a little bit. I’ve been practicing antiracist andragogy for 10 years now. This antiracist practice has recently, in the last 5 or so years, also become anticapitalist. This is due, in part, to Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983). One of its arguments builds on the idea of racial capitalism, and argues that capitalism needs racism to function. Capitalism needs groups of workers to be utilized for, as Angela Davis argues, “super-exploitation,” and we construct race to figure out which workers meet that criteria. And as Robin D. G. Kelley explains, “There is no such thing as non-racist capitalism.” 

Over the years, when I review my antiracist/anticapitalist text selections and the units in which they exist (and by text I am referring both to written articles and multimedia) one thing I have noticed is that some units speak to something universal and unchanging about racial capitalism, while others speak to specific moments and therefore need to be changed out when that specific moment changes. This is because, as Robinson argues in Forgeries of Memory and Meaning (2007),  “racial regimes are unrelentingly hostile to their exhibition,” and

are subsequently unstable truth systems. Like Ptolemaic astronomy, they may “collapse” under the weight of their own artifices, practices, and apparatuses; they may fragment, desiccated by new realities, which discard some fragments wholly while appropriating others into newer regimes. Indeed, the possibilities are the stuff of history.

And I realized, as I moved from my Spring to Summer classes this year, that we were moving into a new historical moment after the public execution of George Floyd. As Angela Davis argues: “This particular historical conjuncture holds possibilities for change that we’ve never before experienced in this country.”  This change includes demands not only for the police who murder to be brought to justice, but for things like police defunding and prison abolition, for a re-imagining of social relations which would empower workers, especially Black and Latinx workers. 

But if we look at the current bourgeois sanctioned political landscape there is very little for our Black and Latinx students to feel invested in. They are forced to watch, powerless, as one political party is determined to march us into a fascism crafted onto an existing structure of white supremacy, and the only other viable political party is unable to ultimately stop that march because they have been forged inside a tradition which refuses to understand the racialization of the liberalism they desperately want to save, caused by a cognitive dissonance regarding race identified by Charles W. Mills in The Racial Contract (1997), which produces “the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.” So, as instructors, how do we begin to change that? How do we select texts which will create a site of struggle for our students which will leave them empowered rather than defeated? 

To begin this journey for myself at this particular historical moment, I returned to one of the many texts I’ve been reading over the past few years to familiarize myself with California, Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (2007) which charts the whys and hows involved in California becoming the largest carceral state in the largest carceral nation on the planet. And while this text is too advanced to use in class, it is a place to start in thinking about my criteria for new 1A selections because its arguments are related to this particular historical moment.

One argument stood out to me: Gilmore’s argument regarding how labor functions within the spaces of the prison industrial complex. She argues that the super-exploited under racial capitalism have suffered “organized abandonment” as their jobs have been displaced or replaced by forces like globalized capitalism and technological change. This abandonment stems from the government at all levels who, in this current iteration of neoliberal capitalism, see their role, as Reagan so famously put it, as getting “out of the way of business” so that money can be made. (We can see this in the two major political parties today: Republicans see it as the state’s sole purpose while Democrats see it as the primary purpose). Of course, because surplus value can only be derived from labor, this then is at the cost of the worker. 

And as more workers’ livelihoods evaporated in the name of increasing profits for less owners, there are two groups of workers who emerge and fuel the rise of prisons: those excess workers who have been convicted of “crime” engaged in to survive and are now being housed in prison, and those workers who, desperate for any job that will provide them with something close to a middle class existence, are in charge of transporting, housing, monitoring, and disciplining those caged excess workers. I then thought of my relationship to this second group of workers, as the first stop in college, or in the human capital development they need to ultimately find employment within one of the many and overlapping areas of the prison industrial complex, which include policing and healthcare. I had found my starting point. 

Once identified, the first step for me is to problematize the issue. I try as much as I can to put as many of the things “on the ground” for students using texts which contain narrative elements and, whenever possible, are local. I came across “Somebody’s Gotta Help Me,” a ProPublica investigation into the 2017 death of a Latinx man from Indio while in Riverside Police Department’s custody and in the care of the Riverside University Health System. All of the boxes are checked here: it presents the problem, it is local,  and it uses narrative elements. 

Once the issue has been problematized, I move onto critical thinking. One place I like to go for this is NPR, especially its “Hidden Brain” podcast. And in looking through them, I found one, “In the Air We Breathe” which deals with implicit bias within the framework of policing. One thing I like about “Hidden Brain” is that it shows students how to work through critical thinking; it shows them that exploring different angles on an issue, and even questioning your own thesis, is not only okay, but should be encouraged. But while it is good for critical thinking, it is not good for critical imagination. And now we are at the point where our Black and Latinx students may feel ultimately defeated within a framework that offers no viable solutions for them other than “reform,” which can at its best only aspire to a performative version of actual change. 

To move on to critical imagination, I turned to the thinkers who are engaged with these issues and returned to Gilmore who, because of this new historical moment in which our conceptions of race are being reworked, has been doing interviews on prison abolition, something she and others like Angela Davis have been arguing for since at least the 1990s. One podcast in particular “Ruth Wilson Gilmore Makes the Case for Abolition” stood out to me for three reasons. First, you have two African American scholars, Chenjerai Kumanyika and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, in conversation. This is very important. Not only should our Black and Latinx students consume texts by and about people like them, they should see people like them in the academy, especially if we as instructors are serious about diversifying our own ranks. Second, they talk about issues already talked about in the last two texts, so connections can be made by the students. Third, Gilmore not only critically imagines a new future but also discusses different areas we can work on right now to move towards that future. 

To finish out the unit, I am using the concluding chapter “Abolitionist Alternatives” of Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003). I like to use concluding chapters of works in my 1A, especially towards the end of the semester, because it shows students that a conclusion can be complex and that it can span more than one paragraph. Davis’ work here, like Gilmore’s interview, frees itself from the confines of what is to imagine what could be and offers some concrete first steps to get there.  Both this work and Gilmore’s interview model critical imagination for our students; and while some may reject it, others will be empowered by the model to build their own solutions from the first steps outlined by Gilmore and Davis, free of the confines of racial capitalism, which we are taught to regard as inescapable. 

When the two were collaborating on the original Rainbow Coalition in Chicago, Hy Thurman of the Young Patriots, a white street gang, was given the following advice on organizing by Bobby Lee of the Black Panthers, a radical organization which had evolved into multiple chapters across the country and was administering different types of mutual aid programs for its communities, including free breakfast for children to maximize their education: “If you don’t know where to start organizing, you walk to your front door and you look in front of you, you look behind you, you look to the left, you look to the right, and then you pick a direction.” This is, ultimately, the kind of empowerment I want my students to have when they leave my classroom at the end of the semester. And one of the first steps towards that empowerment is my selection of antiracist/anticapitalist texts. 

Below are a few questions to get you thinking about your own practice:

Questions

  1. Have you been resistant to making changes like this in your classroom, and if so, why do you think that might be?
  2. What sites of struggle do you want to set up in the classroom for your students?
  3. What areas of critical imagination do you want your students to engage with and why?
  4. Looking at your current text selections, are there any that could be used for critical imagination?

This is Part I of a post on choosing inclusive and empowering texts. To read Part II, click here.

Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a post on anti-racist teaching practices. See the first post here.

My three friends and colleagues Dr. Kelly Douglass, Dr. Jan Andres, and Carolyn Rosales were gracious and brave enough to partner with me on this important venture. Here are their wonderful and powerful contributions to the blog.

Dr. Kelly Douglass, Ph.D

“We have come across faculty who resist examining the quality of classroom interactions between themselves and students who are not white by claiming that it is not their prerogative to assign identities to students” (McNair et al. 33).

Anti-racist and culturally responsive pedagogy teaches us that we must build trust with our students. If I am not considering the racial dynamics of my classroom interactions, then I am already not being trustworthy about what is happening in my classroom. Doing this is not “assigning identities to students;” it is acknowledging identities, those assigned and those claimed.

McNair et al.’s From Equity Talk to Equity Walk has me asking where I have been an obstacle to equity-minded solutions. To paraphrase Chana Joffe-Walt in the podcast, Nice White Parents, white parents in school systems aren’t asked to explain their behavior as a group in the way that parents and students of color are; they are allowed to make choices assumed to be individual and separate from systems. What choices, what policies, what attitudes have I, a nice white professor, adopted from educational systems that for too long have simply tolerated inequitable outcomes for Black and Latinx students?

Undoing this means that is not a rhetorical question. It means looking for what actually is getting in the way of students succeeding — reading about student needs, looking at college data and surveys, reading and talking about how to teach and grade differently, listening to MY students right now. I am the subject matter expert, but I am not the expert on the lives of students. What are my students telling me about how they need me to show up for them? What can I do to answer them? What could I do? What am I still tolerating if I don’t hear them and act?

Carolyn Rosales

In, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi recalls witnessing various examples of racist abuse as a child, and describes one incident when a Black girl in his class was once again ignored by the teacher in favor of a White student. Kendi writes about how his fury and sadness welled up within his young body. With no other outlet for his emotions, he acted out, refusing direct orders from his teachers, and choosing instead to sit still and process the racist abuse he had just witnessed. In retrospect, Kendi wonders how the teachers would have responded if he had been a White student. Would they have sat with him and talked through his feelings rather than “chalked up [his] resistance to [his] Blackness and therefore categorized it as misbehavior, not distress” (48)

I had to pause here as a reader and ask myself: What would I have done in that same situation? But perhaps a better question that we can ask ourselves, is: What have I actually done in similar situations? After pondering this question and taking a very painful inventory of my successes and failures, I couldn’t help but wonder: if we don’t take the time to really look at our own shortcomings in our efforts to develop antiracist pedagogy, will we ever really get there?

We can talk all we want to about being equitable and antiracist, but until we are actually being antiracist, then we are not moving forward. And by not moving forward, we are damaging the voices and spirits of our students through our non-actions.

Dr. Jan Andres, Ph.D

“[T]here is no neutrality in the racism struggle, writes Kendi. “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist” (9). As teachers, this means that doing nothing is not an option, not when our students of color are fighting for their humanity. One cannot be antiracist without action.

For antiracist educators, action is not just about classroom practice but, crucially, how it translates outside the institution and into our communities. Kendi himself concludes that “educating for the sake of changing minds” is not enough – changing policy becomes his aim (230-31). In teaching, we can “channel… students’ energy against the very social conditions that undermine their existence” (Camangian 30). Encouraging our students to act – that’s the goal. And it’s not just about helping our students succeed academically or helping them develop the tools to recognize and fight injustices that threaten their survival and wellbeing – part of our work needs to be fighting alongside them, too. 

Here’s a small action that’s helped me remember the work that needs to be done outside my classroom. I’m teaching American literature, and partly because it’s a new class but also because these works, written by and about BIPOC and immigrants, are so relevant to our present, I’ve asked my students to write how the literature informs their day-to-day as citizens and humans. My students recognize their world through this literature; they are disappointed, angry, and scared that we are seeing these same injustices today. But they are also, it turns out, committed to change. Asking them to reflect is not enough on its own, but it’s a reminder that my students and I are fighting the same fights, and a reminder to keep working towards policy change while building mutual aid and collective care at RCC and beyond.

How are you fighting for your students in and out of the classroom? What are you doing in the classroom to prepare your students to change the world around them into a place they can thrive? 

As you continue to engage with us over these next few weeks, please take the time to read over both part 1 and 2 of the blog and really internalize what we are saying and what we are asking you to do. We are asking you to transform and not simply change.

Anti-Racist Teaching Practices – Blog Part 1

My grandparents were both born in the 1920’s South where racism ran and currently still runs rampant in the streets and institutions of what is falsely called “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” And yet here we are, in 2020, still talking about racism in America. 

I do not have to tell you nor remind you of what ails America, nor do I have to remind you of the protests, the verdicts, the unrest. But what I do want to point out is that all of the aforementioned occurrences are sheer reactions to a broken justice system. Now our system, the educational system is just as broken. It may not be causing bodily harm to our students, but we, the educators, the leaders of this campus have said something, assigned an assignment or exam, or implemented a process/procedure that has created institutional barriers which prohibit our students from being their magnificent selves in the classroom, therefore truncating their growth and development as young men and women. We need to fix that; we need to fix us; we need to fix our classrooms. We need to fight for educational freedom. We need to change!

Bettina Love in her book, We Want to do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom defines abolitionist teaching as “choosing to engage in the struggle for educational justice knowing that you have the ability and human right to refuse oppression and refuse to oppress others, mainly your student” (11). She goes even further as to claim “Abolitionist teaching asks educators to acknowledge and accept America and its politics as anti-Black, racist, discriminatory, and unjust and to be in solidarity with dark folx and poor folx fighting for their humanity and fighting to move beyond surviving” (12). I want to point out that Love is calling all of us as educators to become abolitionists and set the minds of our students free in order to thrive and not merely survive. This will in turn set their bodies free – free to bring their full authentic selves to the classroom and to discussions in class. The great abolitionists both recognized and not put their lives on the line to ensure that those who were enslaved both mentally and physically were freed from a system that sought to hold them captive for the rest of their lives and the rest of the lives of generations after them. And we need to be emboldened and empowered to liberate our students from unclear graduation pathways, unclear and unrealistic assignment/exam requirements, antiquated classroom pedagogy and methodologies, and faculty and staff who make generalizations and tiny racist comments of our colleagues. We can make the change!

It is quite evident from the verdicts in the courts, the protests in the streets, the bodies in the streets that we have not been freed from the institution of racism that has plagued this country from its founding. It is evident when we continue to teach material in class that is not representative of our minority majority serving campus. It is evident when we facilitate discussions in class that empower and embolden the oppressive viewpoints of a few while harming the many. I know some of you who are reading this belong to ally groups both visible and invisible, and I thank you because we need your voices, support, and love. I know some of you belong to task forces, working groups, councils, and other leadership positions that are trying to work to see some of these systems dismantled and replaced with good meaning policies and procedures. So please, keep working, keep pushing, keep fighting. But have we seen anything change? Any real change? Any long lasting change? Love puts it best when she says “[We] must move beyond feel-good language and gimmicks to help educators understand and recognize America and its schools as spaces of Whiteness, White rage, and White supremacy, all of which function to terrorize students of color” (13). If you disagree with that sentence, I beg you to really listen to the responses of our colleagues as they respond to discussions of racism and students of color in meetings and FLEX sessions. Read between the lines of what is not written in email threads. Read what is on their syllabi. Look at the work that has not been done. 

As a campus, department, discipline, and district, now is our time to show our students and the students after them, and the students after them that they matter. We have the people in place, the money in place, the training in place to really transform RCC in the name of Educational Social Justice. We can do it, so lets do it!

I leave you with these questions as we start thinking about Ant-Racist Practices and Pedagogy:

  1. Is there racism in the educational system? 
  2. What is your definition of Anti- racist teaching or abolitionist teaching?
  3. Do you take into consideration students’ race or even your own when you enter a classroom?
  4. Why would educators be resistant to making changes in order to implement culturally relevant texts and pedagogy?
  5. Why are we still talking about race and racism in 2020?
  6. Bonus question (do not respond in blog). What are some biases, prejudices,  preferences, fears that you’ve had to admit you have as you’ve worked with faculty,  staff,  and students? 

This is Part 1 of a post on anti-racist teaching practices. To read Part 2, click here.

Student Voices Impacting Change

By: Professors Dan Hogan, Miguel Reid, and Monique Greene

The community college system has played a monumental role over the last century in helping students in higher education to bridge their education to future career choices. Although there are foundational structures that support the students’ experiences, there is still a need to truly identify which support mechanisms aid in their success. As an institution, it is our duty to better understand the complexities of the students’ lives as well as the wealth that they bring so that we can respond to their needs, strengths and ambitions in a timely and effective manner.  

The student experience should be at the core of our decision-making process as we work to redesign our institution in a just and equitable manner.  The three of us have spent the last three years researching various topics on how to better serve students at our college.

Dan Hogan – Doctoral Candidate, Educational Leadership, Cal State San Bernardino 

In my research, I wanted to study how the big structural changes in English associated with AB 705 might affect the ways students and faculty interact in the classroom. Barhoum (2017) notes that while structural and curricular changes in education are easier to assess and change, the andragogical and relational elements of education (i.e. how professors actually interact with students) are often equally important; research confirms that addressing these non-traditional success measures correlates highly with traditional success markers like course grade and transfer (Cuellar, 2015; Garcia, 2019). One such non-traditional measure is Rendon’s (1994) concept of faculty validation, which consists of actions initiated by the faculty member, including but not limited to affirming student abilities, celebrating a student’s culture, maintaining high expectations, initiating personal connections, and demonstrating genuine care – all of which have been shown to mitigate equity gaps (Barnett, 2011; Gardenhire-Crooks, et. al, 2010; Newman, et al., 2015; Rendon, 1994).

In fall 2019 I surveyed 1,044 English students about faculty validation; then in spring-summer 2020 I interviewed nine Black and Latino men to ask them about their experiences taking English. Here were my major findings:

  1. The average male Black or Latino student reported feeling “somewhat” validated by their professor, but faculty validation was significantly predictive of course grade: the higher the validation, the higher the course grade. 
  2. Male Black and Latino students in co-requisite English classes reported higher levels of validation than those in standalone English courses, partially because they spent more time in the classroom developing skills and relationships.
  3. While professors validate students in a variety of ways, the most salient ways reported by the Black and Latino men I interviewed were individualizing instruction (i.e. offering freedom for project topic choice); providing clear feedback and support (i.e. comments on an essay that clearly explain how to improve); having high expectations (i.e. assigning rigorous projects and encouraging students that they could complete them); and demonstrating genuine care (i.e. taking time to provide individual feedback; slowing down to answer questions or re-explain concepts; inviting students to office hours; or checking in on how students were doing both emotionally and academically).
  4. While cultural identity was important to the students, the identity of the professor was not a significant determining factor for whether students experienced validation; this supports Noguera’s (2008) claim that “Differences in race, gender, or sexual orientation need not limit a teacher’s ability to make a connection with a young person… They tend to respond well to caring adults regardless of what they look like.” While Noguera referred to K-12 students, the adult men I interviewed felt similarly about their professors.

Dr. Miguel Reid 

My research was prompted by my experience as a Black student. Although I failed almost every class throughout high school, I do remember reading two books: The Color Purple and The Autobiography of Malcolm X – nothing else. Despite being a young man who didn’t care about school, I somehow found interest in those two texts that highlighted the African-American experience. These experiences inspired my research, which focused on bolstering the success of African-American students, especially Black males.  

Rather than spending energy and time on practices that may impact only a handful of Black students in one class in any given semester, my research suggested the importance of developing larger-scale support systems, such as a culturally-focused, first-year English composition learning community within a student success programs such as Umoja. My research yielded findings such as these:

  1. Programs with culturally-responsive learning communities have proven success in raising the self-esteem in African-American students and a sense of purpose in society.
  2. The success of first-year experience initiative/mentor programs, such as Umoja, demonstrated the importance of promoting engagement, meaningful connections, and self-empowerment as a means of navigating school more successfully.
  3. Studies recommend networking and connecting among Black males in support programs and the development of groups that highlight rites of passage programs emphasizing an Afrocentric model with mentoring from older African-American male models and proximal peer mentors.
  4. Through support-affiliated classes such as Umoja, Black men focus more and apply more effort to academics when encouraged by Black staff and faculty through validation, accessible services, and promotion of help-seeking behavior.

Equity-minded discourses in academia often fail to acknowledge the data-supported impact that culturally-focused initiatives such as Umoja can have on Black student success. This kind of resistance is addressed in the anchor text that we have all been asked to read for this year, From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education. On pages 21-51, the authors point out ten obstacles blocking the path toward racial equity:

1. Claiming to Not See Race

2. Not Being Able or Willing to Notice Racialized Consequences

3. Skirting Around Race

4. Resisting Calls to Disaggregate Data by Race and Ethnicity

5. Substituting Race Talk with Poverty Talk

6. The Pervasiveness of White Privilege and Institutionalized Racism

7. Evasive Reactions to Racist Incidents

8. The Incapacity to See Institutional Racism in Familiar Routines

9. The Myth of Universalism

10. Seeing Racial Inequities as a Reflection of Academic Deficiencies

In what ways might your well-intended, equity-minded efforts reflect these obstacles?

In what ways can you understand/support/promote a culturally-focused program such as Umoja? 

Dr. Monique Greene 

My research was on the Career Exploration Process for Non-Traditional Students in the California Community College System undergirded by the theoretical framework of Donald Super’s Career Development and Life Span Theory (1984).  I was curious to understand how life roles shaped or influenced the career decisions of our older student population.  Through this research, I found that enrollment in the community college system is a huge part of the career development process for many students.  Our student’s expect to gain valuable knowledge,  transferable, and career skills needed to secure employment in the workforce.  

However, many CCC students have various life roles and responsibilities that they juggle in addition to their education.  On top of their roles and responsibilities, the CCC system has designed barriers (whether intentional or not) that they have to hurdle through in order to be successful in completion.  Key findings from my research include the need to address the following: 

  1. Access to resource support (evening and weekend hours)
  2. Curriculum redesign (culturally inclusive content, programs that can be completed solely in the evening or online)
  3. Building a Sense of Belonging (Andragogy vs. Pedagogy teaching practices, building on previous life experiences in the classroom, social engagement opportunities for older students on campus)
  4. Adult reentry program (bridging the gap from Adult Education, Formerly Incarcerated, Community, and NonCredit Programs)
  5. Career Center Services (direct connection to employment, internships and networking opportunities)

Based on these key findings, we have discovered the meaningful impact of student voices in guiding the change that is needed inside of our classrooms and across our campus.  

Incorporating the Student Voice

We will hear throughout this series from different faculty members, but using students’ voices to frame the discussion is critical.  Many of us use assessment measures throughout the semester that allows for students to provide critical feedback of the course.  Here are a few questions about the student voice to consider:

  1. How often do you take into consideration the feedback that you receive from students to make your classroom more engaging or conducive for learning?  
  2. How often do you stop and chat with a student outside of class who may have questioned or challenged the content or the relevance of an assignment? 
  3. How often do you allow your students to choose the topic that they want to write on?
  4. How often do you allow your students to choose the topics that they engage or dialogue in the classroom?  
  5. In what ways do you facilitate the centering of students’ experiences/voices in the classroom, whether through writing or other activities?
  6. What does “faculty validation” mean to you? How does it manifest in your classroom?
  7. In what ways do you gather and examine student feedback in order to improve practices?

Through these meaningful interactions and dialogue with students you begin to gain insight into their lives, their passions, and their minds.  Open discussion and intentional conversations about how to relate your content to real life experiences in which they see themselves could make the difference between increased success rates or drop rates for your class.