[Campus Conversations] Teach Your Children Well: Racism in Education

October 29, 2020

Every year, Gwynedd Mercy University offers Campus Conversations, a series of lectures, panel discussions, and presentations whose purpose is three-fold: to generate conversation as part of our commitment to intellectual inquiry and lifelong learning; to address relevant, timely, and meaningful topics that speak to our mission and core values; to highlight the expertise of our faculty and other scholars in relevant disciplines. This year’s theme is Systemic Racism.

The fourth event of the series, “Teach Your Children Well: Racism in Education,” focused on the lack of equal opportunities for minority students, how racism affects student success, and the anti-racist frameworks necessary to eliminate systemic racism and institutional discrimination.

Tiffany Cresswell-Yeager, PhD, Assistant Professor of Higher Education Leadership at GMercyU, served as the moderator and introduced the panelists: Derrick Coleman, EdD, Superintendent of River Rouge School District in Detroit, MI; Angela Campbell, PhD, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Germantown Friends School; Shonda Goward, EdD, Director of the Student Center for Academic Achievement at California State University, East Bay; and Ron Whitaker, EdD, Professor of Education and Co-Director of the Center for Urban Education at Cabrini University.

Dr. Cresswell-Yeager began the discussion by asking the panelists how they initially got involved with their work in social justice.
  
“I believe that my work within the realm of social justice, how it intersects with equity and also going deep with issues related to race and racism, is a calling,” said Dr. Whitaker in response to Dr. Cresswell-Yeager’s first question. “If we’re really going to deal with social justice, we have to be like the Old Testament prophets where we have to be truth tellers. We have to not be afraid to speak truth, and talk about the conditions within society.”

To keep the presentation flowing smoothly, Dr. Cresswell-Yeager directed specific questions to each panelist to answer and afterwards opened the floor for other panelists to chime in.

“In Higher Ed, in general… our hiring practices are often classist and very racist,” explained Dr. Goward in response to a question about educational practices and policies that have historically led to institutional racism. “In my current system, we serve a majority of black, brown, and Asian students and yet our faculty are overwhelmingly white. Those systems that put things in place, where those people who make budgets, structures, classroom decisions, is one of those things that people aren’t aware of.”

The panelists then began discussing how racism is enabled in education and how it affects student success.

“A lot of the knowledges that people need to be successful in schools is actually not made available, not made explicit, but those who have it are rewarded,” responded Dr. Campbell. “If we think about how schooling, as opposed to education, redirects our thinking and our resources to reward, and then to punish those who don’t fit the mold, don’t have access to either language, to a particular vocabulary, or to a set of skills or a pathway to gain those skills... Then there’s a reproduction of inequities through curricular tracking or through other practices that are not made explicit but are rewarding or punishing students and families. [It is] punishing or leaving out students and families who don’t know how to navigate those systems.”

Throughout the presentation, Dr. Cresswell-Yeager shared audience questions to the panelists to further engage the participants in the discussion.

One viewer asked, “How can white people be better allies and elevate the voices and concerns of the BIPOC community?”

“I encourage you to identify others who have a greater base and join that movement, that fight against injustice,” advised Dr. Coleman. “If there are enough local movements that can create enough energy that can then impact a region, it can then impact a city, a state, and then the country. But it will not happen without having allies who are willing to commit to that movement and understand that, in order for something great to happen, it requires sacrifice.”

To view the entire recording of this Campus Conversation, visit GMercyU’s YouTube Channel.