“If you wrote this paper, you did a very good job,” were the words of one of my professors. As my professor spewed these words to me, I wanted to retreat and not return to class. I was absolutely stunned that he questioned my academic-integrity, despite the known passion that I had for the research topic. In replaying that comment over and over again in my mind, I am often left speechless. What exactly did he mean? Was I not expected to deliver a well-written paper? Was I not expected to deliver a thought-provoking thesis? I’m not sure. However, I am often faced with these scenarios from White professors.
Back in May, I remember wrapping up coursework for the semester and feeling a bit of relief for the work I had done. For one of my classes, I remember giving a presentation over the criminalization of Black girls in PK-12 schools in America. Specifically, I looked at the impact(s) of zero-tolerance policies for discipline. After class, I asked my professor clarifying questions for our final-paper. In giving advice, she jokingly stated that I should add a narrative about a time that I was kicked out of school in order to really bring the reader into the research. As I stood there, I felt angry. Why? Because I’ve never had this experience. Furthermore, she felt as if this issue was laughable. I didn’t approach this research through an autoethnographic lens. I didn’t center myself in it at all. However, my professor felt that I should’ve added a personal touch to really engage the reader, as if the research wasn’t sufficient by itself.
In completing coursework and balancing college-teaching for the Spring semester, I can recall working with an organization that centers it work in urban schools. In working with the organization, I quickly realized the underlying racist and classist undertones of the group. The employees of this organization were middle to upper-class White women from the suburbs of Leawood, Overland Park, and Olathe, Kansas. In spending several hours and days with the same group of women, I would often hear comments about students’ dirty clothing, a student’s foul odor, the spelling of students’ names, how these students were affected by trauma and how this organization was necessary to prevent students from going in the wrong direction. Coupled with these disparaging remarks, these women would often engage in conversation on the greatness of the suburban schools in which their children attended. These interactions were indicative to me of the importance of checking one’s positionality and personal biases.
As a Black woman, I would often find myself disengaged with these women and the organization because I saw the attitudes in which they held about the students they were seeking to serve. As a young, Black girl that attended these same schools, I was frustrated. I felt bad for the students because I was able to hear the conversations held behind these students’ backs. The women would often go back and forth with one another and not see a problem with the comments they were saying. It was bewildering to me. You’re working with a population that you truly disregard as inferior to you. In this eye-opening experience, I have vowed to never place myself in another organization that doesn’t value the people that it serves. For them, I guess it was for the accolades.
In reflecting on these most recent scenarios, I continue to fight for social-equity in education at the intersections of race, class, gender and dis/ability. It is truly disheartening to see how students of color and faculty of color still face unfair conditions. Unless systems change, little will be done to dismantle what is happening. Honestly, this isn’t a call for individuals to change, but to get a collective understanding of what needs to change. People make organizations. People carry ideologies. Ideologies form the way we see the world. In looking at the world through a certain ideology, we are able to engage the world in that capacity. Ideologies matter. People matter.