As Black females working in a predominately White higher education institution, we were mutually excited to be presented with an opportunity to create curriculum around Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT). To many, culturally responsive teaching practices are viewed as a valuable tool educators utilize to help students achieve academic success. For us, this workshop means much more than teaching instructors how to utilize another tool. As our institution moves towards becoming an antiracist college, we find ourselves in a privileged position where we can call in employees to engage in crucial and vulnerable conversations around cultural competency and its direct impact on the academic success of minoritized students and employees alike.
One characteristic of our college community is the need for data and research. Relating something scientific to the topic leads to finding common ground for which to build these challenging conversations on. Pairing this concept with the decades-long experience Dr. Turner has in early childhood education allowed us to identify CRT as a catalyst for achieving our goals. Using Zaretta Hammond’s book titled ‘Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain’ as a guide and resource, our conversations start by walking through the nuances of neuroscience, learning about how the brain operates and how cultural experiences inform how the brain processes information. We’ve found that this groundwork must be discussed first, as it builds the foundation needed to hold conversations around building trusting relationships, cultural identity discovery, and creating spaces that allow for inclusion, discovery, collaboration, and innovation.
Terminology is key when speaking about inequities among our Black, Indigenous, Latino, and People of Color (BILPOC) students. Many higher education institutions refer to ‘equity gaps’ or ‘achievement gaps’ when collecting and analyzing student data. We both quickly recognized the harm these terms can have on our BILPOC population, as both place the onus on the students, and it is implied that somehow the student is at fault and not meeting the standards. If our goal is to remove the disparities in educational outcomes between different groups of students, then we must use terminology that focuses on the current systems and structures in place, many of which are not meeting the needs of BILPOC students by design. This is how we came to agree with Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, that instead of looking at equity or achievement gaps, we need to look at institutional performance gaps. By focusing on the policies and procedures that provide inequities to minoritized students, employees become empowered to recognize real-time data with their students, use the data to identify systems and structures producing student inequities, and then adjust practices to provide continuous support and remove barriers to student success.
We often find ourselves challenging coworkers on what “the data” really means and exactly how much progress has been made towards closing institutional performance gaps. Research shows that these performance gaps still exist for minoritized populations in higher education, yet it is common practice for these institutions to continuously look for more data to prove inequities still exist. We agreed this workshop must be different if we are to move away from centering Whiteness and towards centering antiracism. We represent employees of color who have been subjected to negative experiences with White colleagues, regularly engaged in environments that felt unsafe and unwelcoming, and carried the psychological stress that comes with microaggressions. Yet as we navigate through these harmful events, we have learned to take these experiences and center them around actions that dismantle rather than support systemic racism.
Our Culturally Responsive Teaching workshop does more than educate employees on how to be culturally responsive towards our diverse student population. We provide employees a place to learn the science behind creating learning environments that support the needs of diverse students, identify how their positionality aligns with our institution’s current state, and engage in discussions about how culturally responsive practices can lead to positive student outcomes. We give employees a window into the world of our minoritized students and employees. Our educational background provides us with the credentials to share out our knowledge on culturally responsive practices, and our lived experiences fuels the motivation necessary to deliver a professional development opportunity that helps advance racial justice within our Wolfpack community.