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As GSE thought leaders are recommitting to preparing the next generation of professional educators, they are simultaneously taking responsibility to bring about educational reform that will help fight against racism.

Institutional racism has been embedded in the educational landscape for so long that it has insidiously and generally manifested itself in admissions, course offerings, and hiring practices. Because of this, students and the public are demanding an end to racial injustice within education, as elsewhere.

Policies, Protocols, and Professional Development

One of the most critical elements of fighting racism is having clear, explicitly stated policies and protocols. A vigorous example of this type of work is being done through the Graduate School of Education’s Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs (ACMA), chaired by Jane Bolgatz, interim associate dean of GSE. The ACMA has identified five specific areas in which GSE can combat racism—and specifically anti-Blackness—and institutionalize equity practices: admissions; curriculum and pedagogy; recruitment, hiring, and retention; dispositions and standards; and social justice advocacy and support. While Bolgatz notes there have been significant accomplishments, she emphasizes that the next step is to build on and expand these efforts.

Bolgatz points to professional development as one important tool in that work, and one that must be ongoing. She further emphasizes the need for all faculty to understand policies.

“Recognizing and addressing anti-Black microaggressions helps everyone be more conscious of implicit bias in grading practices and hiring, and to know how to mitigate its effects,” she says.

One form of professional development available to educators is the professional learning community (PLC), defined by researchers in the Journal of Educational Change as “a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way.” Last year, GSE interim dean Akane Zusho, Ph.D., and GSE professor Shannon Waite, Ed.D., formed a PLC at GSE called R.A.C.E. (Relevance, Access, Culture, and Equity for All) to Learn, which brought together a group of faculty members around issues of learning and motivation of students of color and racial literacy.

R.A.C.E. to Learn’s goal, as stated in its proposal, is “to examine, through the lens of critical race theory and existing theories of motivation and learning, GSE’s characteristics and practices that have been successful in helping all students—but especially students of color— achieve at high levels, and [to]focus on addressing ways to bolster our students’ ability to navigate potentially racially-hostile schooling environments.” The group, which Waite continues to lead, read Dolly Chugh’s The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist as part of their discussions last year.

Another crucial element in dealing with institutional racism in education is strengthening a commitment to attracting and supporting more Black students. One of the ways to do this is by increasing key funding, which GSE accomplished by shifting monies to provide public interest scholarships like the Holmes Scholarship, according to a letter Bolgatz and ACMA sent to the GSE community. The deans also identified undergraduate courses that doctoral students could teach to increase funding toward their degrees. 

Another area ACMA highlights in their letter is curriculum development and, specifically, ensuring the GSE curriculum reflects anti-racist values. Through the work of both that group and the Curriculum Committee, criteria for new courses and programs now includes attention to accessibility, multiculturalism, combatting structural racism, and universal design. These criteria are being utilized to review and revise existing syllabi and to guide and judge teaching practices in order to reflect an emphasis on respectful, equitable, and anti-racist pedagogy.

Significant efforts are also being made related to hiring practices for faculty and staff, according to Bolgatz. For example, because having at least two candidates of color in the finalist pool makes it much more likely that racial diversity will increase, ACMA has created new guidelines to share with everyone involved in hiring searches. The guidelines encompass a number of topics, including how to write job ads and evaluate interview discussions. Hiring committees are also being asked to learn about and implement anti-racist hiring practices, which are slated to be institutionalized in GSE’s policies.

Combating Racism in the Greater Community

GSE is focusing, too, on ways to further bolster mechanisms for surfacing and addressing grievances at all levels: for students, faculty, staff, and the greater community. Justin A. Coles, Ph.D., assistant professor and program director of adolescent English language arts education in the Division of Curriculum and Teaching, was recently named a Co-Editor of the highly regarded journal Equity & Excellence in Education, which publishes research on issues of equity and social justice in education, considering marginalized populations and systemic oppression in relation to learning. According to Coles, the publication of this research can aid in exposing those inequities in education and beyond.

“Academic journals can function as gatekeepers of knowledge, what matters and what doesn’t,” Coles says. “We hope to use our time as editors to expand what counts as knowledge and who can be knowledge producers. To be able to work on this journal and make an impact on its readership, especially given the world’s attentiveness in attempting to address racism and equity in our current socio-political climate, is an honor.”

The editorship overlaps with Coles’ ethnographic research on Black urban youth and their communities. His recent articles include “Trading Spaces: Antiblackness and Reflections on Black Education Futures,” “Preparing Teachers to Notice Race in Classrooms: Contextualizing the Competencies of Preservice Teachers with Antiracist Inclinations,” and “A BlackCrit Re/Imagining of Urban Schooling Social Education Through Black Youth Enactments of Black Storywork.”

Meanwhile, GSE professor Shannon Waite, Ed.D., who serves on New York City’s 13-member Panel for Educational Policy and recently guest hosted a “Race in the Classroom” Q&A, is currently developing a research agenda with the goal of dismantling institutionalized oppression in schools and systems. Waite offers the following plan: “Schools can create the conditions to support teachers in becoming actively anti-racist by 1) seeking out and uplifting the voices of the Black students and families in their school communities; 2) partnering with those students to examine and problematize discriminatory systems, practices, and policies in schools; 3) analyzing, revising, and abolishing practices and relationships that do not serve Black communities; and 4) creating space and providing the resources necessary for teachers to do the internal work of becoming critically conscientious, reflective practitioners equipped to shift mindsets.”

Other attempts to support anti-racist efforts in the community are being planned by Angie Sjoquist, Ph.D., director of the Hagin Center for School Consultation. The center, led and staffed by professors and graduate assistants in GSE’s Division of Psychological and Educational Services, serves as a training facility for students in the school psychology and counseling psychology programs. Its offerings are designed to support improvement in school achievement and adjustment for all students, regardless of their school affiliation.

This year in particular, Sjoquist says that the center is fortunate to have Alea Holman, GSE assistant professor, join her as a clinical supervisor this fall. Holman’s expertise in therapeutic collaborative assessment, non-biased assessment, and racial justice will help guide the center’s policies and procedures. Sjoquist, Holman, and other supervisors at the center identify as people of color and understand the importance of making racial justice a priority to best serve its clientele. Holman expects that “trainees will develop outstanding clinical skills, including increased cultural awareness and sensitivity.”

Through these measures, both within the classroom and beyond, Zusho says that GSE’s ultimate goal is to support all members of its community in fighting white supremacy and anti-Blackness and making that community one of equity and belonging.

“I know that this year will bring additional, unforeseen challenges,” she wrote in an August message. “But I also know that in many ways, GSE is stronger than it’s ever been, and I very much look forward to getting into some good trouble with you all.”


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