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Teaching for Equity – An Invitation

When I first started participating in social justice dialogues 16 years ago, I discovered the immense power that exists in a group of people coming together with the intention to grow. It was challenging, uncomfortable, and we did not always agree. I remember so many feelings – fear, guilt, shame, and anger, but also excitement and gratitude. We stuck with it. We learned to connect with one another toward healing, and we unlearned some of our conditioned habits rooted in systems of oppression like racism, classism, cisheterosexism, and ableism. We were brave, vulnerable, and caring. In these dialogue circles, we created change within and beyond ourselves. 

Over the years, I watched myself engage and disengage in social justice efforts, falling back on my racial and economic privilege when it became too uncomfortable. At this point in my life, I am intentionally not going away. I have made the commitment to stay the course, to consistently practice showing up for equity-based social change. I continue to learn, unlearn, succeed, fail, and feel all the feelings. I am committed to this path of transformation as a lifelong endeavor. 

This commitment informs my work as a LEO Lecturer at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. As a brand new lecturer three years ago, I struggled to integrate my commitment to equity into my teaching. It was daunting enough just to manage the workload of multiple courses with dozens of students. As I’ve become more confident in my instructor role, I am more intentionally aligning my teaching with equity values. I’m engaging in trainings, reading books, attending webinars, and learning from the many contemplative academics who are leaders in this field. What I call “teaching for equity,” others have called “education as the practice of freedom” (bell hooks), “inclusive pedagogy” (Dr. Brian Dewsbury), “healing-centered education” (Dr. Angel Acosta), and anti-oppressive pedagogy (Dr. Beth Berila). These leaders inspire me with their visions for practicing equity in education and beyond. 

What we do (or don’t do) toward equity in the classroom matters. We are either challenging the status quo or we are reinforcing it. In a society that was built on systemic oppression (e.g. the enslavement of Black people, forced removal and genocide of Native Americans, etc.) and that continues to violently marginalize certain groups (e.g. the killing of unarmed Black and Brown people by police forces, separation and imprisonment of Latinx families at the border, dehumanization of LGBTQ+ populations, etc.), we cannot be neutral. As Sensoy and DiAngelo (2017) assert in their popular text Is Everyone Really Equal?, “Society is structured in ways that make us all complicit in systems of inequality; there is no neutral ground.”

What can we do in the classroom to create a more just society? How can we engage with our students and each other in healing-centered ways? Which practices can we use to foster transformative learning?

As a current Hub Affiliate, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to explore these critical questions in my project “Teaching for Equity.” I’m even more excited about the collective growth that’s possible when a group of people comes together with the intention to grow. I am looking to co-create a community of learning and support on the UM-Dearborn campus! If you have interest in this topic, whether or not you’re a member of the UM-Dearborn community, please complete this short survey. Thank you!

NOTES:

Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin J. DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education. Second Edition, Teachers College Press, 2017.

Photo by Priscilla GyamfiHire on Unsplash

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