Rethinking How Students Meet Course Outcomes – Part 1

In our January community of practice, our colleagues gave us so much to think about in terms of grading for equity that here we are, still thinking about it. In fact, we take as a starting point an idea that Kathleen highlighted at the end of her post: “All too often our grading practices…‘inadvertently [pull] students (and their teachers) farther away from a focus on learning. Rather than teach students to be curious about the academic content, to care about their progress as a learner to invest in the health of the classroom community, and to co-construct productive relationships with their peers or teacher, we teach [students] to care about points” or grades, and we perpetuate inequities (Feldman 35). While we have been asked to consider different ways that students can meet course outcomes, we can’t separate that conversation from grading. Alfie Kohn emphasizes, “We need to grapple with assessment” and find “more authentic and informative” ways of evaluating students. “Why bother,” he asks, to rethink and reimagine our grading practices “if we’re still using…defective method[s] of assessing achievement?” (xviii). 

Welcome, friends. The blog path ahead is full of grappling.

“Are we here to teach or are we here to judge?”: A Sociological Perspective

Someone asked that question during a recent online workshop on ungrading. When thinking about how we have historically taught classes and used assignments with traditional grading practices and this idea of teaching vs. judging, a quote comes to mind: 

“There’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.” 

Paulo Freire

We need to ask ourselves what purpose do our grades serve? Are they for assessment of actual knowledge or are we marking down students for grammar, punctuation, lateness and other factors that insinuate non-compliance (aka not following the prompt)? In other words, are the grades we give on assignments an indication of conformity to our standards or is the grade a reflection of the learning experience of the student? Also, does the prompt allow for flexibility and freedom of thought and exploration, or is there a right and wrong way to do the assignment?

When asked to look at our assignments and grading practices oftentimes we as educators are reluctant in our willingness to change our policies and practices. I’m sure many of you reading this blog may have been challenged recently to move away from giving zeros to our students. I have to admit, I grappled with this idea myself: “How can I give points for a missing assignment? There is nothing there to grade.” Hence the zero. As I reflected on my reluctance to change my own ideas, it dawned on me that my ideas and beliefs regarding the zero and the types of assignments I dish out to my students are the exact things that are perpetuating the inequalities that Feldman (2019) refers to when he states, “we teach [students] to care about points” or grades (35). A student is going to care if they get a zero; it’s punitive and it sends a message: you need to follow directions and turn your work in on time. Points and grades are a measurement of conformity, as well as a message to students. This is the structural barrier that is baked right into our cultural ideas, norms, language, attitudes, and beliefs centered on the “A student.”

Recognizing structural barriers that are in our control and understanding how our beliefs, ideas and norms are the mechanisms that perpetuate inequalities is an important step in freeing our students from the constraints of points and grades. Oftentimes we place focus on support programs as being the solution to inequities on campus, but then we fail to acknowledge that our classroom policies contribute to the inequalities felt by our students. We as educators need to challenge and interrogate our assignments and assessments and ask ourselves: how can we reimagine our assignments and go about assessing the learning experience of our students differently so that we can free and empower the students?

A place where we might begin to think about assignments and grades, is simply asking what is the function of the assignment and grade. Most would agree that the function of an assignment is to determine what the student knows about subject matter; has the student mastered the materials? Depending on the level of their understanding, we assign a grade, either by point system or letter grade. With this we can determine who is proficient, approaching proficiency, or who is below proficiency. In essence, we rank students by performance. We might ask ourselves, how does this ranking of abilities relate to tracking students by ability? Tracking was/is a process that is often experienced in middle and high schools where students are set on an academic path that ultimately impacts social economic status, career choice (or lack of choice) and their overall quality of life. If we are still ranking our students based on ability indicated by grades, then are we doing what tracking was designed to do in American educational systems: placing students on a track and thus recreating social class, forcing conformity and assimilating students into dominant culture where they will become workers. Are we creating a learning environment that allows for flexibility, creativity, and are we freeing our students in order for them to become leaders?

Ungrading, which we’ll dive into more in another post next week, is an idea and a practice that is a departure from the old ways of doing things. Those who entertain the idea and practice of ungrading are the deviants of our campus. Be careful of the crowd you run with – you don’t want to be labeled as a deviant professor! The horror!! But if we consider deviants of the past then we find that social and cultural change often begins with those who depart from the cultural norms. They share new ideas and have the capacity to imagine that there are other ways of doing things. They challenge the naysayers and the status quo and ultimately create cultural change. Our goal is to create cultural change that eliminates structural barriers that exist in our assignments and grading practices.

As you read “How to Ungrade” by Jesse Stommel, think about these questions:

  • What assignments have you utilized in your class that you consider a staple assignment? And why is that assignment and the way you grade it so comfortable for you?
  • What are some of your fears and/or anxieties when you consider the notion of ungrading and changing the way you conduct your assignments and assessments?
  • What are some of the take aways you would love to see your students get from assignments in your courses?  

Works Cited

Feldman, Joe. Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms. Corwin, 2019.

Kohn, Alfie. Foreword. Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), edited by Susan D. Blum, West Virginia UP, 2020, pp. xiii-xx.

Zeroing Out Inequity

by Kirsten Gerdes

During my second year at RCC, I ran into a student on campus I’d had my first year. He asked whether I was offering the class again he’d had with me the previous year since he’d failed the course. After confirming that I was offering the class again the next semester, he commented, “I really enjoyed your class and was surprised when I realized I wasn’t gonna pass simply because I’d missed some of the weekly assignments.” This was a student who’d done well on the midterm and had been an active participant in class discussion, but lost motivation post-midterm when he saw the impact of his missing assignments that had left him with a non-passing grade. In the year after I had him in class, I changed my grading schema to minimum grading—and had I employed this system when he was my student, he would’ve passed my class initially.

Among things considered sacred cows to teachers, grading practices seems to rank high on the list. In Chapter 1 of Grading for Equity, Joe Feldman links teachers’ grading practices with their sense of identity:

Because each teacher’s grading system is virtually unregulated and unconstrained, a teacher’s grading policies and practices reveal how she defines and envisions her relationship to students, what she predicts best prepares them for success, her beliefs about students, and her self-concept as a teacher. That’s why challenges to our grading practices don’t just offend our professional judgment; they can invoke an emotional and psychological threat.

(Feldman 6)

It isn’t surprising that in a system like the American academy, which has played education like a zero-sum game of funding and prestige, faculty believe their grading practices reflect both the difficulty of the subject matter and their own rigor. This is compounded by the ways the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy has shaped this system that has helped shape us as educators. However, Feldman’s challenge to teachers to reflect on the purpose and effectiveness of grades actually leads to greater rigor and accuracy. Central to this discussion is the pushback against giving zeros for non-completion of work.

Minimum grading is not ‘credit for nothing’

I was first introduced to the concept of minimum grading by my partner, who was working as a high school math educator at the time in a school district that used minimum grading, a system in which the lowest grade entered in the gradebook must be 50%. I distinctly remember that before he’d even finished explaining how he wasn’t allowed to enter anything lower than 50%, I cut him off to exclaim, “But that’s not fair! It’s giving credit to people for doing nothing!” This is perhaps the most common response from those who, like me, had only ever known, used, and been assessed by a conventional grading system.

In the intervening years since I was first introduced to this concept, I read more and had lengthy discussions with my partner (who now works on math curriculum in a district K-12 office) about how to structure my grading schema to both accurately reflect students’ acquisition of learning outcomes and to efficiently streamline my process for grading. Initially, I transitioned to minimum grading, but in the last year have moved away from using the 100-point scale almost entirely.

So why is giving a zero for non-completion so inequitable?

I think the answer is twofold. Let’s start with the math of it: while GPAs are calculated on a 4-point scale corresponding to letter grades, most course grades are calculated as a percentage on a 100-point scale corresponding to letter grades. This necessitates a conversion of percentage to grade point, but the ratio represented between each letter grade in the grade point system is not equal to the ratio between each letter grade in the percentage-based system. As a result, the conversion process disproportionately weights the F for non-completion (i.e., the zero) compared to every other letter grade.

Consequently, a student who misses an assignment and receives a zero in the conventional percentage-based system has not earned a zero on the grade point scale; mathematically, it is more like they landed on -6.0 in the 4-point GPA scale.[1] [The 1.0 difference between 4.0 and 3.0 translates to 10 percentage points between A and B in the conventional system; if the difference between A and F in the conventional system is 100 percentage points, then on the GPA scale, the F would translate to 10.0 points away from 4.0, or -6.0.] Minimum grading, on the other hand, issues 50% as the failing grade, which puts it at the same relative distance to a D as a D is to a C, a C is to a B, and so on.

Take a look at this graph that shows how disproportionately weighted the F is compared to the other letter grades in a conventional system. The GPA scale is written across the top of the graph with the corresponding percentage point range across the bottom (where each 5×5 square is 10 percentage points). The F area of the graph is the largest, and earning a zero (on the far left of the graph) puts you at a greater distance to the next grade up than at any other grade in the graph:

To demonstrate how (unintuitively) detrimental a zero is to the student’s grade, let me give a very simple example. Rosie is a student in your class in which there are 11 assignments total, and for which you grade using the 100-point conventional grading scale on each assignment. She receives a 95 and a 95 on the first two assignments but misses the third assignment. Her average is now 190/300 = 63% (D). If she receives 100 on the next eight assignments, she’s brought her average up to an A, but if she scores below a 100 on any assignment, she remains below an A despite earning a high A on 10 out of 11 assignments.

This scenario raises a couple initial questions here. First, how many near-perfect As does it take to bounce back from a zero in the conventional system? In Rosie’s case, it took eight perfect 100s to earn an A after just one zero. Second, if someone doesn’t score the number of near-perfect As needed to earn an A average after just one zero, does the lower grade accurately reflect her level of proficiency on student learning outcomes? In contrast, minimum grading accurately translates the ratio of the 4-point grading scale into the percentage-based grading scale by eliminating the disproportionate weight on zeros compared to every other grade earned. In Rosie’s example, her average after three assignments would’ve been 80% (95+95+50/300), and it would’ve taken half the number of As to raise her average to an A.

Once we consider the mathematical reason the zero is inequitable, the second reason becomes obvious. The students most affected by this disproportionate grading scale are those who are already disadvantaged: students whose work schedules shift, or whose caretaking responsibilities suddenly change, or who don’t have easy access to the technology needed to complete assignments, or whose neurodiversity is unmanaged due to poor access to affordable mental healthcare, or whose housing situation is unstable. Seeing the distance one must cover to make up for one zero does not foster motivation in that student. Feldman writes, “There’s no research that finds that failing grades motivate students, and plenty of research that has found the opposite—that a student who receives 0s and Fs becomes less motivated, not more motivated” (76).  So not only does the zero not make mathematical sense, but it does not have the effect on our most vulnerable students that we want grades to have.

Alternatives to minimum grading

Once I implemented minimum grading, I saw a significant change in student success among those who’d have failed under the conventional grading system I’d used in the past. In the past year, I’ve been experimenting with translating the 4.0 GPA scale to an equitable distribution across a 100-percentage-point scale, attempting to assess each assignment on a 4-3-2-1-0 scale. Thus, I do give out zeros, but there are an equal number of percentage points between each letter grade from 0 to 100. (E.g., this makes 50% in my system a C.)

There are other options that emerge once we seriously reflect on what we see as the purpose of grades. If they’re meant as markers of a student’s proficiency or mastery of student learning outcomes, Feldman suggests that averaging a student’s performances may not accurately reflect the level of proficiency gained over the course through the student’s work. Weaker performance at the beginning of a course reflects the student’s relative privilege in preparedness for the course; averaging their performance over time codifies that privilege into a grade. A more equitable method would be to weight the most recent assignment(s) in the final grade to more accurately reflect the student’s knowledge and mastery of learning outcomes.[2]

One final alternative to minimum grading that I’ll briefly pose is specifications (“specs”) grading, in which the professor creates “bundles” of assignments that outline the minimum work needed to earn the letter grade the student wants. Each assignment must meet all requirements set out by the professor in order to receive credit, so each assignment is graded as P/NP. While this requires both significant and timely feedback to students, and careful and thoughtful preparation in creating each grade’s bundle, it likewise empowers students to work toward the grade they want and motivates them to meet the standards of each assignment in order to receive credit.[3]

The journey to equity in grading must include thoughtful and honest reflection on what grades are supposed to communicate, why we have chosen our particular grading methods, and whether we find these methods effective at fulfilling the purpose of grades in the first place. It is from this place of active self-reflection that we can hopefully begin to envision new tools to use in our efforts to eradicate inequity in our teaching.

Works Cited

Feldman, Joe. Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2019.

Nilson, Linda B. Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2015.

Reeves, Douglas. “The Case Against the Zero.” Phi Delta Kappan,vol. 86, no. 4, 2004, pp. 324-325.


[1] For more discussion on the math of the zero, see Douglas Reeves, “The Case Against the Zero.”

[2] For a more detailed discussion of this, see Feldman p. 97-99.

[3] For more on specs grading, see Linda B. Nilson’s Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time.


Addressing Hot Moments in the Classroom through Democratic Participation Strategies

THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCUSSION IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Critical thinking and discussion are important parts of the higher education classroom, let alone important skills for a thriving democracy. Adult education theorist John Dewey (2011) describes the necessity for challenging discussion as a democratic imperative. Discussion is a fundamental strategy for developing a critical consciousness and promoting an educated citizenry that is capable of making effective decisions in a democratic society.

Steven Brookfield (2013) details the way discussion should reflect democratic values in the higher education classroom. He defines a democratic classroom in three specific ways: (1) It is a space where multiple voices and perspectives are always included, and participation occurs in ways that do not always privilege euro-centric ideals, such as speech. (2) Learners are directly involved in the decision-making processes, which allows them a certain level of power and control over their own learning process. (3) Unfamiliar perspectives that often challenge dominant perspectives are constantly incorporated into the discussion.

Enacting democratic principles is a rigorous learning process that is always a “partially functioning ideal,” and discussion is a vital way that this process thrives (Brookfield, 2014, p. 123).

COMMON ROADBLOCKS OF EFFECTIVE DISCUSSION

However, for many reasons, discussions can lead to more problems than to enlightenment. For instance, most people may lack skills that allow them to communicate effectively, to resolve conflict, or to view the subtle nuances of social situations in order to address those situations in ways that acknowledge the needs of others who are different from them.

Additionally, given the highly polarized political environment in the country in the last 4-5 years, students, particularly those with privileged identities, are more resistant to discussions that include diverse perspectives (Cabrera et al.). Specifically, this is referring to white students, as the scholarship documents many white students’ assumptions that America is a post-racial society, and success is a result of hard work and merit (Delano-Orarian & Parks, 2015). These assumptions can make an instructor want to avoid challenging topics altogether to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Also, there is the ongoing conundrum of reconciling notions of “freedom” and “democracy.” In other words, as Brookfield describes, living in a society with other citizens requires that we “acknowledge their presence and adjust our lives accordingly” (2014, p. 125). For many, it is a challenge to promote individual rights and “freedom” (however this is freely defined), all within a context that should seek the welfare and benefit of the larger group.

OTHER ISSUES

Finally, as instructors, Brookfield details how we often make the following assumptions…

  • “Discussions are Free & Open Conversations”
    • We often assume that classroom conversation is “open” and “free,” a “safe space” to express one’s feelings and experiences. In contrast, the classroom is the very place where structures of power and privilege manifest. As Tatum et al. (2013) state, the classroom is merely the microcosm of the larger society, and therefore, it is riddled with social hierarchies that allow some voices to dominate, while others are silenced. This silencing is not always explicit, but expressed through subtle methods, for instance, through microaggressions. Additionally, because discussion is often directly connected to one’s participation grade in the class, it can become a highly competitive atmosphere that can focus less on genuine inquiry, and more on a battle for the students to demonstrate how smart they are, or what Brookfield refers to as “intellectual besting.”
  • “Discussion Is a Democratic Process in Which Diverse Voices Are Included”
    • The field of Adult Education is ever changing, yet higher education still shares a foundation with ideologies rooted in imperialism, colonization, and white supremacy (Cabrera et al., 2016; Museus et al., 2015). With this in mind, it is misinformed to think that hierarchies of privilege and power contextualized within notions of identity, particularly race, do not continue to manifest in the classroom, affecting the ways, for instance, that students of color feel comfortable or encouraged to participate (or do not). For instance, studies have shown that African-American students tend to enter college with the idea that they do not belong in the academic atmosphere and feel like outsiders among other students who are more likely to assimilate (Dancy, 2014; Ford & Moore, 2013).
  • “All Students Are Equipped to Participate”
    • Not all students are equipped to (or want to) participate in the competitive “one-upmanship” that discussions can represent. Also, not all learners possess the cultural capital to participate in ways that allow them to feel confident or compete with other dominating voices that do. Brookfield defines cultural capital as having abilities, such as a varied vocabulary, confidence and ease in public speaking situations, and an assumption that one’s commentary belongs in that context, is valued, and will be listened to. This cultural capital, or lack thereof, is emphasized as significant for determining the academic success of certain groups of students, such as black males (Brooms, 2018; Brooms et al., 2015).
  • “The Instructor is Part of the Respectful, Democratic Process”
    • In assuming that an instructor has the best intentions to tease out important concepts and perspectives in a discussion, Brookfield reminds us that the situation is still a panoptical illusion, referring to Foucault’s (1977) point that the “judges of normality are everywhere,” or more specifically, as they are established by the instructor. As the facilitator of the discussion, we set the tone and establish norms within that speaking context, and students are often looking for verbal or non-verbal cues that their participation is in alignment with those expectations. Seeking to “please” the instructor in this way can encourage a more competitive atmosphere of who has the most cultural capital to compete, and it can also distract from genuine and critical inquiry.
    • One last point with this assumption is that often as a facilitator, instructors ask questions to ignite good discussion without giving student sufficient time to think about a response. Students who are able may respond quickly so as not to appear stupid, which can prevent deeper thinking and critical reflection. As Brookfield emphasizes, “good questions needs time for a response” (2013, p. 67).

IMPLEMENTING A DEMOCRATIC FRAMEWORK AS A FOUNDATION

So, how can we facilitate discussions that accomplish the following tenets of democracy and appropriately handle classrooms that might normally generate “hot moments” or conflict? Brookfield outlines important aspects of democratic conversations along with specific criteria that might produce more fruitful conversations:

Students must have opportunities:

  • For structured silence to reflect and think deeply, aside from typical Eurocentric patterns of communication, such as speech.
  • To have power and control over their own learning process, including content and materials
  • To be heard – by participating in multiple ways
  • To hear the varied voices of others in order to develop empathy for others’ experiences that are different from their own and recognize that they live within systems of power and privilege to which they both contribute and relate.
  • To learn about and challenge dominant ideologies that they contribute to and/or are affected by, such as white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, classism, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, eurocentrism, etc.
  • To contribute, consider, and value the voices and experiences of others and take these voices and experiences into account during important decision-making processes.

QUESTIONS

  1. What kind of misguided assumptions might you make about discussions in the classroom?
  2. Considering the list of criteria above these questions, how might you incorporate 1-2 of them in your in-class discussions?

Sources

Brookfield, S. D. (2013). Powerful techniques for teaching adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  

Brooms, D. R. (2018). Exploring Black male initiative programs: Potential and possibilities for supporting Black male success in college. Journal of Negro Education87(1), 59–72.

Brooms, D. R., Goodman, J., & Clark, J. (2015). “We need more of this”: Engaging Black men on college campuses. College Student Affairs Journal33(1), 106–123.

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.

Dancy, T. E. (2014). (Un)Doing hegemony in education: Disrupting school-to-prison pipelines for Black males. Equity & Excellence in Education, 47(4), 476-493.

Delano-Oriaran, O. O., & Parks, M. W. (2015). One black, one white. Multicultural Education, 22(3/4), 15-19. 

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

Ford, D. Y., & Moore, J. L. (2013). Understanding and reversing underachievement, low achievement, and achievement gaps among high-ability African American males in urban school contexts. The Urban Review, 45(4), 399-415

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.) New York, NY: Vintage. (Original work published in 1975).

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

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.