Melinda Gonzalez, M.A.
PhD Student in Anthropology, Louisiana State University
Panel Organizer & Moderator
Indu Viswanathan, M.A.
Ed.D. Student, Teachers College of Columbia University
Presentation Title: “Transformative Anti-Racist Practices: Addressing Institutionalized Racism and Paradoxes in the Academy & “Safe/Brave” Spaces”
Abstract: Racism is an institutional tool used to sort and exploit people to support systems that ensure that some people are given opportunities (gross and subtle) that are denied others. In the United States, the economy, and the institutions created to support it (government, education), were founded on stolen land, on the backs of enslaved peoples. In academia, intellectuals have worked for centuries to make privileged identities appear normal and neutral in order to perpetuate these societal hierarchies. My experience as a transnational woman is rich with paradoxes. I am both given entry to and am restricted from full citizenship in multiple – and sometimes apparently “opposing” – spaces and groups. Too often, I find myself watching in amazement at the predictable patterns that emerge when a person of color speaks out about institutional racism, and white people everywhere begin clinging onto their own experiences of oppression or their goodness in order to not get washed away.
What is it that sits at the heart of this fragility, at this need to create distance from the oppression that is being revealed? (Or even more alarming, trying to find ways to recenter the conversation on whiteness?) One possibility that occurs to me is the idea of moral injury. “Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress their own moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.” Because being “a racist” is considered an ultimate moral transgression in some paradigms, it is natural to want to disassociate from it. But this is precisely how systemic racism is perpetuated. In order for us to have constructive, generative conversations and communities that dismantle racism at a structural level, it is imperative that we turn and sit and listen inwards just as much as we look and listen outwards, not only to confront, but to heal the injury that has been done to everyone. This work is not new and it is certainly not just relevant to the U.S.. My goal in this talk is to suggest some guidelines, based on my own struggles and learnings as a transnational woman, about how we might ready and maintain ourselves to create and engage in generative, anti-racist spaces in places of learning with passion, compassion, and dispassion, drawing examples from both embodied, ancient practices and wisdom and some modern day radical love.
Dr. Pamela E. Harris, PhD
Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, Williams College.
Presentation Title: Helping Dreamers succeed in higher education
Abstract: There is a group of students who is often overlooked when discussions of diversity and inclusion occur, but who rightly deserve a seat at the table. They are our nation’s Dreamers – young men and women who were brought to the US as children, often by no choice of their own, for the opportunity to have a brighter future. The reality remains: These young people finish their K-12 schooling with few options for higher education, and, worst yet, have been recently described as criminals. In this talk, I’ll discuss some of the challenges Dreamers continue to face, as well as ways we can help Dreamers succeed in their academic endeavors and goals.
Katrina Phillips, PhD
Assistant Professor of Native American History, Macalester College
Presentation Title: Conversations about Race and Privilege and Well-Meaning Allies
(Usually) Well-Meaning Acquaintance: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a history professor.”
If I had a dollar for every time I have had this conversation, I could pay my kids’ childcare for a year and still have money left over. As a young Native woman in academia, I stand in front of my classes as an anomaly. My students have rarely, if ever, seen a professor who looks like me. As a Native professional, I am both invisible and hyper-visible on my campus and my neighborhood and community. I am simultaneously a poster child for diversity and passed over for campus conversations. My story is both unique and commonplace.
As a panelist, I would hope to have a conversation about the hurdles that young WOC face in the academy, whether it’s in our classrooms, in our departments, and in our institutions and disciplines writ large. This is not to say, of course, that white women and other members of minority populations do not face issues of their own. But, as younger WOC in the academy (and also in our respective nations and societies), we bear unique burdens that include heavy doses of invisible and emotional labor that few of our colleagues similarly face. Those who want to be our allies, those who wish to help us battle these often-daily micro and macroaggressions, have to reckon with their positions of power and privilege and hold themselves accountable for their actions and reactions. As a WOC, it is hard enough to face the pressures of the world without also having to hold up and protect our supposed allies. Those who praise us for our strength do not understand that we often do not have a choice: if we are not strong, everything we have fought for collapses.
Iris Jheni Kaifa, M.A.
Adjunct Faculty, County College of Morris and Graduate Student in Computer Engineering
Presentation Title: Making Room for Excellence and Encouraging Overachievement for the Differently Abled in Academia
Abstract: As the mother of a blind, brown, female child, an academic and non traditional student, I want to speak on the ways that academic systems beginning from early childhood are biased against people with both visible and invisible disabilities by lowering and removing normal standards of achievement. I have struggled tirelessly to have my daughter placed in the least restrictive learning environment as faculty’s knee jerk reaction is always to opt to remove her from the general population due to their perception of how she will be limited due to her handicap. Educational systems and the people within often take a “one size fits all” approach to working with differently abled individuals. Attempting to force those needing services into existing processes and settings rather than making reasonable accommodations in a mainstream setting therefore allowing students to blossom. The onus is then placed on the parent or individual to prove that the district or system is not providing a fair and appropriate education. This is an extremely low bar, when neurotypical peers are expected to rise up to and surpass regular challenges placed before them. As a professor I am well aware that this type of bias continues well into college and higher education settings where students who learn differently are viewed as being intellectually inferior. In this talk, I will address these concerns as well as discuss my own personal experiences in academia where professors challenged and question my intelligence due to my unusual teaching methods that take into account my students propensity to have differing learning styles. Instead of researching and creating innovative ways to teach students, professors tend to subconsciously label differently abled as unteachable and allow their bias to push those students out of the realm of academia.
Tatiana Cruz, PhD
Assistant Professor of American History, Lesley University
Presentation Title: Mothering While Brown in Academia: Overcoming Challenges & Raising “Woke” Children
Abstract: In this presentation, I will explore some of the unique struggles women of color face as mother-scholars in the academy, particularly as young undergraduate and graduate students. I briefly link these issues with historical understandings of black/brown motherhood. Drawing from my own experience as a mother of three, I then focus on how mother-scholars from all backgrounds can raise “woke” children, ones who are socially conscious and budding activists. I outline several strategies to talk to children about race and other identities and ways to involve children in social justice discussions / organizing.
Dr. Brigitte Fielder, PhD
Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Presentation Title: Antiracist White Colleagueship
Abstract: A particular mistake of predominantly white institutions is the assumption that people of color’s absence is a matter of their personal abilities or choices, rather than one of white exclusion. As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently misconstrued Historically Black Colleges and Universities as a product of black “choice” rather than of white segregation, we can see this error of judgment seeks to deny histories of white supremacy and segregation. This brings me to a rather uncomfortable, though potentially obvious truth: predominantly white academic institutions are historically unwelcoming to people of color. Recognizing this truth brings us to the difficult work of determining how we can make academic institutions – groups of all scales and degrees of formality – welcoming to people of color. Because such institutions are both historically and predominantly white ones, this is work that cannot be done by people of color, alone. I am a mixed-race black woman who has built my own academic career having attended and worked at predominantly white institutions, in predominantly white departments, and in various predominantly white fields. Following from my own academic experience and my research in the longer history of race and racism in the United States, my conclusion is that many (though not enough) white colleagues can and do become allies of people of color, but that real, consistent, and widespread allyship is difficult to achieve. My discussion on this panel will be devoted, then, to best practices for antiracist white colleagueship. These best practices will include strategies to help white colleagues to do some of the following:
1) Consider nonwhite voices and perspectives.
2) Presume the competence, rather than the incompetence of colleagues of color.
3) Respect the additional emotional burdens of nonwhite people’s antiracist labor.
4) Extend antiracist practices into their own fields and research.
5) De-prioritize racist perspectives among white colleagues.