Monthly Matters in Black History—Jessica Samuel, IRT ’15

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Teaching Beyond a Colonial American Blackness or The Costs of being Black and not really American in the Classroom

By Jessica Samuel, IRT 15
American & New England Studies Program
Boston University

One of the most fascinating (and disheartening) phenomenon I experienced as a first–year teacher in an urban public school was the way in which the Black students I taught assumed that because I was Black—in addition to being a woman, “foreign,” and young—I knew less than my white colleagues, even when those colleagues and I shared similar demographics across gender, age, educational background, and professional experience. Comments such as “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” “what the hell is she saying” or even, “she can’t teach” alerted me to the ways in which my identities had predetermined my capacity, and by extension, that of my students. It became increasingly clear to me that years of indoctrination had led my students to think the way they did about Black intelligence.

Even more than thinking intelligence was colored everything but Black (or Brown), my students had also learned that “American” was the most reliable and legitimate label from which to expect knowledge and skill. As an Afro-Caribbean U.S. Virgin Islander—whose relationship to Americanness is fraught—it had become clear to me that my students had inherited a white supremacist, imperialist, patriarchal framework for being in the world.[1] Who my students believed was most qualified to teach them was not simply about years of experience in the classroom but also about years of experience being American. How American I could be directly informed my students’ ability to respect me in the classroom. That I had a slight accent, was born in a place they’d never heard of, and happened to also be Black meant that I would have to work overtime to establish professional authority in my classroom.

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Viviana Cordero Garcia, IRT ’15 on Becoming a Social Justice Educator

Life in Color

I see most spaces I walk into in color first. I walk into classrooms, the supermarket, doctor offices and check for representation. I often count the number of Black and Brown folk in the room with me. I examine spaces thoroughly. I ask myself: What are the norms in this space? Have I dressed appropriately? Can I speak Spanish out loud? Do I have to enunciate? Will I have to use my “White English”?

These are some of the questions I was able to unpack and process throughout my master’s program at the University of Maryland College Park (UMD). The Higher Education, Student Affairs and International Education Policy (HESI) program not only challenged me to be more critical of our education systems, but also provided the foundation for my diversity, equity, and inclusion practice. At UMD and through my work at Partners in Print and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on campus, I found the language, read scholars of color, and embraced my social justice educator identity. With the help of my advisor, professors, colleagues-turned-friends, sister scholars, and my Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) network, I earned a degree that otherwise would not have been possible for me.

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Alumni Accolades – June 2019

-2002 Cohort-

Congratulations to Women’s Studies Professor LaKisha Simmons, IRT ’02 who is the recipient of this year’s Black Celebratory Cornerstone Award! Selected annually by graduating students, the award recognizes faculty or staff who enhance the academic and social progress of African American students at the University of Michigan.

-2017 Cohort-

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, IRT ’17 was featured in a spring Ms. Magazine article written by Chivas Sandage, “Ms. Muse: What Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s Womanist Poems Tell Us About Love, Language and Race in America.” Mariahadessa is currently a PhD student at Brown University studying theatre and performance studies.

Tashal Brown, IRT ’14  and Eliana Castro, IRT ’15 contributed to the article, The Impossibility of Being “Perfect and White”: Black Girls’ Racialized and Gendered Schooling Experiences, first published in the American Educational Research Journal, May 2019. Read more on Eliana Castro by viewing her guest post.

 

 

Sara Mokuria, IRT ’05 was a guest presenter at Next City for an event in their online seminar series this past May. Sara Mokuria, is co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality and a Next City Vanguard and spoke about creating a world without police brutality.
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