The Problem(s) with Diversity Workshops

On Monday, I attended a series of mini-workshops on diversity and inclusion. In the span of a few hours, I was ready to call it quits. I was tired and irritated. Diversity talks are becoming increasingly popular and sometimes required by employers. However, I’ve concluded that these talks are merely emblematic of the bigger problem in our society- we talk a good game, but lack true action.

In these workshops, we were given handouts over the definition of diversity and why diversity is important. Honestly, most people will never say that diversity isn’t important. However, society often shows how inclusion is a tough pill to swallow. In these small, one-hour workshops, we nodded our heads to the reasons behind striving for social-equity in our classes, places of work, and etc. But we never discussed the need for diversity. We simply started the conversation on how we can become diverse and inclusive in our practices.

These workshops were relatively easy to sit through and didn’t require much critical thinking.

In efforts to appease the predominately White audience, Whiteness was never a part of the bigger picture. The concept of Whiteness was never on the table to be deconstructed. It was completely ignored. Out of sight. Out of mind.

As being a Black woman, I couldn’t ignore this huge elephant in the room. I was bewildered that this wasn’t the first point of discussion in our conversation on diversity and inclusion.

The speakers would speak about ‘the other,’ ‘voice,’ ‘cultural-relevancy,’ and etc. However, there was no mention of Whiteness and how it perpetuates the inequities that plague the lives of Black and Brown people. In order to have a true conversation over this issue, we have to contextualize the issue. There wasn’t any contextualization. The conversation continued as if there wasn’t a reason for why these social inequities persist in our society. I guess, these social inequities are just inherent.

As I shuffled between the mini-workshops, I only saw a handful of people that looked like me. Why? In a place that parades the necessity of ‘diversity’, where was this diversity?

In arriving at the rooms in which these workshops were held, I wanted to scream and pull out my own hair. I was being told the necessity of diversity by a White person in a room full of White people. I was being told that there were external organizations available that could facilitate an easier existence in the space I would occupy for work.

In the numerous diversity workshops I’ve attended in the past and present, I believe they play to lip-service and have no real impact on changing the climate of a space. If the issue of Whiteness isn’t deconstructed then the cause is lost. The content in these workshops are very sanitized and lack real depth. Inequity may be used, but the concept is very much misunderstood. In most cases, structural changes are usually not a part of the conversation.

In being a Black woman, I am deeply enraged by these workshops. I find them extremely nonsensical and unhelpful in the fight for creating equitable conditions for underrepresented and historically oppressed groups.

Diversity and inclusion are two separate concepts.

In my opinion, we must aim for both. We must aim to create, sustain and enforce new ways of including those that are continuously silence and marginalized in our society. There’s no benefit of having diversity if people are being structurally excluded.

If tokenism is the aim, diversity may be the route for you. But if you’re aiming to be inclusive, you’re digging deep to change the structures in place to create space for all voices to exist and maneuver.

 

 

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Making Space for Your Dreams

Lauren,
No problem, I enjoy speaking with you. For me is very personal.  As I have said before, I don’t do it for prestige, a title or a job. I look at my life and ask the question, why? Then when I see events transpire in this country and around the world I feel obligated to at least tell anyone who is listening “I know why that is happening”.   Just like Joy Degruy’s lecture. I was motivated more when I heard her speak the words I have researched and believe to be true.  When we came to the same conclusion I was motivated to stay the course.  Just like going somewhere and you’re not sure if you are on the right road. When you see signs and landmarks to tell you that you are going the right way, you get energized.
…….But that’s just me.   
A few months ago, a former doctoral student shared his insights with me on why he continued his academic journey. For me, he was/is a guiding light for me in my path to uncovering new knowledge. In my undergraduate and graduate studies, we would find ourselves in the same library at the same location. Over the span of four to five years, we would discuss the nature of education and schooling. We would ask thought-provoking questions about curriculum, inclusion, pedagogies, social inequities and etc. Imagine, we would find ourselves spending hours on these vast topics. Nonetheless, we persevered. We kept with it.
So, why is this important?
Well, I didn’t know too many people that had similar views as me. I saw myself as an outsider in many classes. I thought I was a bit too emotionally-charged. However, I soon realized that my emotions weren’t unwarranted. I was every bit right about these feelings. I had the right to feel the way I did. In meeting a like-minded individual in a doctoral program, I realized that I had something to share with others. In meeting this Black man in his fifties with a heart filled with passion, I became inspired. I knew that I wanted to go beyond my own limitations. I wanted to embark on this journey. Along the way, he would drop some gems on me about the bureaucratic nature of doctoral programs. However, he told me to go for it. I needed to get the credentials to get heard as a Black woman.
But it wasn’t until I spent two years at a public-school with two women that I knew that I wanted to stay in education. In working and talking with these two colleagues of mine, I understood the necessity of diving deep into your passions. Daily, we would sit with one another and talk about our personal and professional pursuits. We raged against traditional role(s) for women and decided that we wanted to take the ‘road less traveled’. We enjoyed education and kids. Yes, but we wanted to expand our own knowledge-base. We wanted to plant ourselves in an environment that was right for our own needs.
So, what happened?
We all resigned and pursued our dreams. Now, it took some time for us to do that. We didn’t just up and leave in one day. No. However, we were stern on filling ourselves up with what we needed. Look, we talked about this daily. We had daily talks about our lives. It was really therapeutic. It was therapeutic because we had the chance to work through the qualms that we were struggling with internally. We all had different pursuits, but all were equally important.
In reflecting on my personal journey for ultimate happiness, it has been ridiculous. I can’t tell you how many nights I have stayed awake. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had. Yes, it’s been a struggle. Nevertheless, it is definitely a part of the process. Sometimes, we have to argue with ourselves. Sometimes, we have to pick up and go. Sometimes, we have to go against the grain. Yes to all of this. There’s no magic formula. None. You can’t get a book and find it. You have to trust yourself. It is a process that requires trust. Trust and faith in your dreams.
So, what is my advice?
You will go through some hard times. You will find yourself questioning everything. However, if you stand in your ultimate truth, you will be fine. Also, you will find people along the way that will offer you a hand or a few good words of advice. Take it. It will be a lonely journey, but it will be fruitful. Do not become discouraged. Do not get off the path. If you do, get back on and keep walking.
Going after your ultimate-truth is definitely worth it.

Where Are You Looking?

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Over the last two months, I’ve been immersed in a certain topic. I’ve made it my priority to read all of the existing literature out there. In opening and closing different books and putting down journal articles, I was told to stop. I was told to refrain from going down the path I’ve been going down. In this rather unexpected demand, I was shook. Honestly, I didn’t understand the request. I thought I heard wrong. No, I was hearing it right.

“Lauren, I’m going to need you to suspend your readings- completely,” said my professor

“What do you mean? This is my topic. Didn’t you say we needed to review the extant literature for the literature review?”

As the answer carried itself in the air, the book in my lap had closed. He went onto the next student to hear about their research topic and their developments. As the trend continued, I was frustrated that he told me to suspend my reading. However, I was quite done with his request. So, I offered up a question.

“Excuse me, but you said that we can be on two sides of the spectrum- either objective or subjective, willing to research for change or to simply track trends,” I stated

The class was quiet. A pen couldn’t drop without its sound being heard.

“Yes, you’re correct. What do you want to be? Do you want to be an activist or a deal in scholarship,” he responded back.

“I want to do both. I want to be an activist and a scholar,” I argued.

“I understand. However, you need to be clear on what you’re saying. Your scholarship will be your vehicle for initiating change. Look, there’s been numerous scholars that has changed the world through their scholarship- the doll’s test, the stereotype threat study, etc”

I sat there. I looked dissatisfied. Maybe I was. He knew. The class felt the uneasiness. For me, I knew that the world needed a big thinker, as my undergrad Philosophy teacher said. So, I sat there. Twenty to thirty minutes later, my professor dismissed us for a break.

“Lauren, can you come here?”

Once again, I was shook. Like, what did I do now?

“Yes?”

“I understand that you’re passionate about your topic. It shows. Also, I see that you have a grasp of the topic. That’s good. However, you’re looking at it the wrong way,” he said with a stern look.

My mouth dropped.

“Look, you are saying what all of us know. You and I both know that racism and sexism exist in schools. Heck, all of us know that. That’s no surprise”

So, he started to draw an analogy on the board between patients and hospitals. He began to say that patients come into the hospital with an array of conditions. Now, on the other end, the hospital has its own things that it brings to the table. In this exchange, you have two entities/groups/populations that are either work with one another or against each other.

In bringing this full-circle with my topic, the professor said that I need to understand that schools are structures/institutions with their own beliefs and cultures. In these institutions, they function to produce something outcomes.

“Cultural hegemony, Lauren. I’m talking about hegemonic beliefs”

“I see what you’re saying. These schools function to keep out individuals or groups to produce the outcomes that they strive for. For those individuals and groups that aren’t serving the interests of the structure, they are marginalized until they are pushed out,” I exclaimed in an epiphany.

“Exactly. However, you need to bring this to your research. You need to look at the history of education, schools and teacher’s education programs. You need to understand the historical nature of why certain groups and individuals are pushed out of schools. We are talking about structures. Systems. Machines.”

“I understand. I will make sure to do the research. However, will any of this change?”

“Revolution, Lauren. Revolution.”

Week after week, I have argued and gone back and forth with my professor. We’ve butted heads about the trajectory of my research and now I understand. In life, you may think this but it could be that. You are sometimes looking in the wrong place. Sometimes, you are looking at things wrong. Sometimes, there is a bigger picture. In our fifteen-minutes break, I became aware of an issue that plagues the American landscape. I mean, I knew that schools were cultural producers of dominant values, but I didn’t have the research to back up my claims. So, my professor challenged me. He said, “research”.

In educational reforms, we hear about this new law or regulation, but we don’t hear about revolts. Well, I don’t think you will. Revolutions usually occur when the oppressed and marginalized are fed up. It’s very Marxist. The underdog bites back. The marginalized carves out space and occupy it.

So, I ask you, “Where are you looking?”

My First Debate: Lessons Learned

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In 2007, I learned about Debate and Forensics from my younger brother. I didn’t know much about the class, but he never could stop talking about it. So, I thought I should add that course to my schedule since he was raving about it all the time. Now, my brother isn’t a huge fan of school but there was something about this class.

In having the benefit of a doubt, I had my counselor add the class to my schedule. Was I freaking out? Yes. Why? Because my brother is a bit more experimental with his choices than I am. However, I trusted him on this one. It’s a class at school. What’s the worst that can happen, right? Actually, a lot did happen.

The following semester I walked into a classroom with peers I had known and others I didn’t know. In walking into the class, I looked away in awe and was trying to find the teacher. Believe me, I started to believe there wasn’t a teacher. However, I saw a man rise from an overrun desk by students. Heck, I didn’t even know a teacher was under them. Honestly, I had never seen students gravitate towards a teacher like this. I was absolutely freaked out! What was this place? I wanted to talk to management. Haha.

So, as the teacher had arisen from his desk, I simmered down. I was very close to walking out of that class and getting it dropped. However, that wasn’t the case. As he walked to the front of the room with a slouch, I knew this would be an interesting class. He introduced himself and introduced the students that had overrun his desk. They were debaters. For me, I wanted to be one. I don’t know why, but I wanted to debate.

In being taught different LD (Lincoln-Douglas), Policy (a year-long topic), Public Forum, and individual events, I was extremely excited to participate. I’m not sure if my brother debated at a tournament, but I wanted to. So, I went to my teacher and asked him if I could join the debate team. Of course, he was a bit sarcastic, but he was willing to teach me about my specific event- Lincoln-Douglas debate.

So, I would listen to the elders (accomplished students) and the other debate coach to gain insight on the logistics of debating. As you would think, I was ready to take on my first tournament.

For my first tournament, my parents came to root me on! Not only did they come to root me on, but they spoke to my debate coach after my first round of LD. I couldn’t be more embarrassed. Understandably, you want to make sure that your child is on the right path. However, I knew that I did horrible in my first round. I didn’t know how to synthesize my information and I didn’t know how to connect my philosophical framework to my argument. It was a bit messy. Nonetheless, I didn’t allow that to stop me from going on to round two.

In undergoing this exciting, but frightening experience, I learned many things about myself:

  1. You must never be afraid to try new things.
  2. You must never get comfortable.
  3. You must never be afraid to get messy or to go through messy situations.
  4. You will only grow through difficulty.

As a Black woman, educator, and student, I am learning that life is very much layered for me. In working in a space as a multi-layered individual with various identity-markers, I have to honor myself in any place I may go. It is much more frightening to stay stagnant than to progress in uncertainty.

Rhetoric vs. Reality

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A few days ago, I was invited to attend a school-tour of a local Kansas City school that is praised for students’ high-performance on standardized tests. In the first few minutes of the tour, the school official introduced herself and began to tell the group about the school’s approach to education. The first statement that was stated after “Welcome” was “Our school serves some of the most disadvantaged students in the local area and their neighborhood schools are failing, but since our school is accessible to anyone within the immediate area, we are able to take in students from various parts of the local area”.  Now, I had to give the side-eye to this statement. Why? In listening to this rhetoric that streamlined throughout the tour, I felt as if this particular school had the view that their students needed to be saved.

As we continued our tour, we were led into a number of classes for observation. We had the chance to see: teaching style, students’ responses to instruction, academic work and etc. In the classrooms, students were expected to take in information, regurgitate it and to be quiet. Structurally, students were placed at desks in a traditional format. It felt very formulaic. The school official was noticeably a product of the school-culture from the way she communicated with the group- quick to question our knowledge of what we saw, slow to actively listening to responses and a bit aloof to her own child-like behavior with us. For one group member, she called on a gentleman to reprimand him for his silence during the tour. After our responses to questions posed to us after each classroom visit, she would remark with canned responses and a smile that would scare anyone.

Okay, I can’t say that the school is a bad choice on grounds of their selected tour-guide for visitors but there was a leery feeling that raced down my spine during the entire visit. During the visit, I saw various college banners placed on walls and classroom doors. I saw only two students in the hallway for disciplinary action. In all of the classes, students were placed at their desks in an organized fashion with the minimum chaos of books and papers. I didn’t see much laughter or smiles from students. In the week prior, I went to a similar school that was college-prep and students were visually happy and joyful upon seeing visitors. But for this school, the vibe was a lot different. For me, I have the belief that school should be engaging, pleasurable and rigorous. However, this wasn’t quite the case for this school. Yes, coursework appeared rigorous but students weren’t enjoying their classes nor engaged with the content.

In a recent journal article I read “Engagement of African-American college students through the use of hip-hop pedagogy” that was published in 2013 and written by Tracy Hall and Barbara Martin, the article argued that Black students will not graduate college at the same rate as White students because curriculum and instruction isn’t representative of or geared towards the Black-experience. In reflecting on this argument, it is more than important to advocate for students and to get students to become advocates of their own education.

At the end of my undergraduate program, I went to the chair of my department and argued that the curriculum lacked diversity and centered Whiteness. Now, I can’t see if much has changed over the years but speaking up is vital. I do not agree with the idea that a student has to go through an ancillary department to get what they need. No. I believe that students should be able to take required classes that are fundamentally diverse in nature. In all of my years of schooling, I have never felt that school offered me space to feel confident in my identity.

For many students of color, school is an extension of greater society. Yes, you will hear the rhetoric that school will propel you forward and give you the ability to find a great job after you’re done. Sure, this could be the case. However, the curriculum at many institutions is steeped in Whiteness and further marginalizes the marginalized.

A question I frequently ask is, “What good is an education that doesn’t care about your existence?”

Yes, I will fight tooth and nail for schools and institutions that are truly as diverse and inclusive as many have claimed. Yes, you may have prepared my child for college, but have you taught them that #Blacklivesmatter is equally as important? Just a question. Have you taught them that their humanity is not up for debate and that their right to exist and live is a right and not a privilege? Just a question. Or have you taught them how to pass a test, answer questions and get an acceptance letter to their top schools of choice. Just a question. Or have you taught them to think critically abou the world around them and to fight for the rights of those that are marginalized and invisible. Just a question. Since I hate binary-thinking, I believe that you can prepare students for college and have them prepared to be citizens of the world. However, its not always the case.

 

Black Panther: Envisioning Our Future

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After watching Black Panther over the weekend, I knew that there would be writers pouring out their thoughts on the movie’s politics. In the days following, I started to see an ongoing flow of think-pieces by major media-outlets to local bloggers in my city. In consuming these articles and positioning them next to my own thoughts regarding the Marvel film, I knew that I wanted to write my own piece.

As I sat through the movie, I began to see the diverse representation of Africans/Americans. In Wakanda, a country that is isolated from outside interference, it is technologically advanced and culturally intact from invaders. Wakanda is intentionally isolationist and seeks to keep itself from colonialism. In preserving oneself, Wakanda is sustained through vibranium, a metal that is used for its technology.  In this techno-savvy country, Shuri, a young woman is in complete control of technology. Shuri is only one of many women in Wakanda that keeps the country going daily.

However, Wakanda’s politics of keeping out outsiders, including those Wakandans that were taken to America through family-members, has an incredible spin on the story. As an audience-member, I saw myself as Michael B. Jackson’s character. As African-Americans, America is home. However, American hasn’t always been home due to the slave-trade and the forced migration of enslaved Africans from Africa to the Americas. Nonetheless, Wakanda is not a real place and the forced migration of millions of Africans to America has been an issue for centuries.

What is home? Do we have a home to go back to? If there isn’t a Wakanda, what does the future look like?

Wakanda may be seen as an ideal place to go, but it doesn’t exist. Throughout the African Diaspora, how do envision a new future for us? What does it look like?

Some people say that we must move beyond tactics used by the oppressor while others say that we must be armed in resistance. However, what makes us different from our oppressors if we are using their tactics to achieve liberation?

In a recent Facebook post, a woman asked the question of why T’Challa didn’t go to the AU or the African Union when seeking to share resources? Why the United Nations? Furthermore, many movie-goers asked the question about the CIA agent and his role in Black liberation. In seeking out liberation, do we become isolationists, form alliances with others or create a new paradigm for liberation?

In envisioning this new future, will there be space made for all people within the African Diaspora- poor, LGBT, Muslim, etc? One of the concerns from women across the diaspora was concerns about Black female representation. For others, it was the representation of BOKO Haram at the beginning of the movie and the representation of Muslims. In going forward, how do we make sure that liberation is loving and inclusive for all within the African Diaspora?

Learning Self-Care In The Basement

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At a young age, I could remember my dad being in the basement and having the house plagued with the tunes of Kenny G, David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson,  Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force, Parliament, Herbie Hancock and others. The smell of his cigarettes would creep up from his cave and stain the walls of the house. Down below, he was at peace. His cave, the basement, became a place that I didn’t understand. His CDs, tapes, albums and DJ equipment would be scattered across a wooden countertop in the corner of the basement. Occasionally, my brother and I would go down there to play in the cardboard boxes as if they were tunnels to another world. My dad didn’t mind. As we played, he would keep an eye on us while switching between different tracks. In replaying these memories like a broken record, I have finally come to realize that my dad was sending us a message.

In our lives, we may find ourselves in the midst of hardship, trials, and chaos, but you must find peace. You have to mentally disconnect and engage in a space that is solely yours. Self-care? Of course. My mom would get frustrated at times because of the volume, but we realized that the basement was his space to attain equilibrium. To us, we didn’t understand why he would venture down to the cave and sit among endless albums in a cold basement. I never asked. I never did research to figure out the psychological reasoning behind it. However, I get it now. We have to keep a part of ourselves to ourselves to keep our sanity in a world that is continuously engaged in issues that can drive you to become drained.

When looking back on the students that I have worked with in the past, I can remember times in which some students would shut down. Why? Stress. Irritation. Internal and external conflicts. In helping the student, I would often talk to them, offer time to themselves, take them for a walk or just let them take a break from classwork. However, I never taught them self-care. I never told them about this concept that I had recently learned and what my father had practiced in my years of adolescence.

We all need to find ways to gather all of our parts and make peace with them. We don’t have to stay in the chaos. We don’t have to succumb to mental and physical drainage. We can find a place to just be alone. We can pull out that notebook and write. We can pull out that crayon and color. We can put on that song and listen. We can simply sit and look at the sky.  This is self-care. This is self-love.

As I grew older, we moved and so did the cave. My father would no longer find solace in the basement of our home and my brother and I wouldn’t find happiness in our cardboard boxes. However, my dad did teach me a lesson from a young age- never let go of that which brings you joy.

In the years to come, I hope to practice this self-care that my father taught me. More importantly, I hope to share the power of self-care with others. Self-care is no easy task, but its possible.

“Not all wars have casualties, Vee. Some struggles between old and new ideas, some battles between ways of seeing have only victors. Not all dying is the physical self.”
—Sophie Heywood

“Hello, Miss Twenty-Six. Life-Lessons”

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Dear Self,

I have exactly twenty-four days remaining until I turn the big 2-6! Yes, twenty-six years old. Now, I can’t say that I have all of the answers nor do I have groundbreaking discoveries to land me in research journals. However, I do have epiphanies. As a motivated, introverted and charismatic lover of life, I am more than apt to douse you with some of this magic.

“What magic?” you may ask.

In these riveting, but treacherous years, my twenties are a rollercoaster of events that are always unraveling with more and more mystery. I have encountered a multitude of adventures that are worthy of a book or a series of books. One of the most trying times of my life was when I was in a longterm relationship with a man that was physically and mentally abusive. In the two years of this emotionally and physically trying experience, I realized how patriarchy kept me silenced and ashamed of my traumas. Often, I found myself second-guessing my own self-worth and compared myself to other women. In this insecure relationship, my partner’s world became my world. I stopped engaging with friends, stopped participating in activities that I took joy in and became engulfed in changing myself to the point that I forget who I was. Eventually, I lost interest in myself and encountered my own death.

In this downward spiral, I was sexually assaulted a year ago by a man that wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. In this daunting experience, I went inward. I didn’t love or like myself. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed. I felt scared. Still, I have never reported the crime. Still, I have never shared this story with family members until now. My rapist remains out there. He is probably living his life without a second thought about what he did to me. I don’t know. I will not assume. However, I still struggle. I still refuse to speak to a counselor about this experience, but I have written to myself. I have vocalized it to two of my closest friends. I died another death.

In trying to swim upstream, I would find solace in teaching English at a local elementary school in my city for those two years. In those two years, I listened, watched and saw the growth of young and smart students that looked like me. Often, they would tell me about events in the news or things going on in their personal lives. For a few, I would hear about their traumas with absentee parents, drugs in the household, sexual violence, gun violence and other unfortunate events that plagued them. As a Black woman that grew up in the same city within the same socioeconomic class, I knew their struggles intimately. I knew their growing pains. However, I never allowed students to forget that their dreams and goals are attainable. From me, they would know that our current circumstances should never be indicative of our future. In them, I found hope to continue striving in my own life despite my own personal traumas.

In coming into 2018, I decided to take a deep breath and to sit down with myself. I’m not a big fan of resolutions at the start of the year, but I do believe in the art of reflection. One thing that I learned in my years of college is that reflection is paramount to transformation and transition. We can’t become better or seek transformation if we aren’t self-aware or aware of the world around us. I knew that I wanted to begin a new life. Not a new life with a clean slate, but to start where I was and to progress. So, I gathered all parts of me and decided to accept and to love myself even more than before. I decided to accept my experiences and to center my own pleasures. So, I have made this year and those to come as the beginning of a new life.

It is time to make space for me.

In my own magic, I have discovered the importance of self-care. Daily, I do something that moves me closer to my personal goals. Daily, I invite love that is healthy and free. Daily, I thank God for my blessings. Daily, I appreciate everything that I have. I am finally choosing to let go and to welcome beauty in its many forms. I will no longer accept negativity and things that are not aligned with my own personal values. I am working on making myself feel safe, beautiful and lovely.

I am whole and nothing will ever make me forget that ever again.

From me to you, I pray that you are living your best life. More importantly, I pray and wish you endless beauty in all facets of your human-experience. You do not deserve anything less. You need not settle for that which brings you tears, pain, and doubt.

Take a gamble for this one time and bet on yourself.

 

You are more than worthy! Expect Greatness!

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I received a call yesterday from someone asking about college. Now, this individual was straightforward and asked the reasons for why they could be denied in the admissions’ process.

So, I told the prospective student that there are a few reasons for a denial, but there are many reasons why he could be accepted. He was a bit shocked.

In working with transcripts daily and seeing the accomplishments of students far and near, I do not place restrictions on students. I don’t work according to a deficiency model. If you are struggling, but you are wanting to aim high then we will work it out.

Listen, I failed and dropped out of graduate-school the first semester. I was academically dismissed. I was done. For me, I thought the world was ending. Yes, I was appreciative that I could get to that point, but I knew that I wanted to keep going. So, a good friend of mine told me to get back into the game and ‘talk to that school’. Well, I did exactly that. I talked to a few folks and I was able to get back into my program on academic probation.

Listen, I came out of my program with a GPA over 3.0. So, I told the prospective student. I let him know that a struggle doesn’t have to stop you. A struggle is just a challenge, but not a full stop. You can do anything if you have the willingness to do so.

So, the student went ahead and made plans to apply.

Lesson of the day: You must never allow your current circumstances to determine your future.

Now, it isn’t going to be easy, but it is possible.

“Back home, people are dying to learn…”

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Over the course of three years, I have met peers and friends from countries near and far. In the meeting these individuals, I’ve learned of the struggles that one may encounter in seeking to get an education. As being an American, I’ve never thought twice about getting an education. Yes, college is and can be very expensive, but I never questioned the accessibility of college. As a working-class Black American, I know how expensive higher-education can be if your parents or family doesn’t have money to pay for it. Nonetheless, financial aid would be an option. However, is this the case for everyone? Is education truly accessible for every individual that we may encounter in our classes or in our personal lives?

If you hold American citizenship, you are afforded privilege. Yes, that is a huge statement to make. Yes, it is a political statement too. However, I know the layered reality of being American and how it is very nuanced. Nonetheless, American citizenship entitles an individual with a lifestyle that is free from many of the struggles of those that do not hold citizenship and those that aren’t documented. Now, how do I know about these struggles as an American with privileges due to her citizenship? Well, keep reading.

About a year ago, I encountered students that were unable to travel on a trip with their classmates because of their immigration status. Due to their lack of documentation, this group of students stayed behind at school and had to miss their end-of-year trip. As I spoke to these students, I began to understand how privilege doesn’t come without its responsibilities. In the case of these students, some could argue that they were being punished for their immigration status. While others may simply state that they were out of luck. For me, I asked the question, “how are we making education accessible to those that aren’t documented, without citizenship or aren’t financially able?”.  Now, this is just one scenario to think about as we travel down this journey of accessibility and privilege.

In my college experience, I’ve met undocumented and international students that have forced me to check my own privilege. For some international students, working isn’t optional. Why? Families are unable to fund their child’s education and housing while in American. Also, the dollar can be valued at a higher rate than their country’s currency. In putting this in perspective, if you are an international student that is taking undergraduate courses at a full-time status (12 credit hours or more) at the international rate at a currency-rate that is much higher than where you are from, your family can go into poverty in trying to sponsor you. Now, I’ve met students from several countries and their parents are able to sponsor their student’s housing and education. However, this isn’t true for some international students. In the case of those students that are coming from poor families, working doubles or triples and going to school full-time becomes mandatory. Not only is this mandatory for students without a choice, but many of these same students are working extremely hard to send money back home to family that has sacrificed savings to send them here to study.

Over this past summer, I observed at a local Kansas City, Missouri high-school within two ESL (English as a second language) classes and some of the students would tell me how they would come from school and work full-shifts afterwards and during the night to help their families since they knew more English than their parents. For one older student from Tanzania, he shared with me that he wanted to join the military like his older brother in order to acquire American citizenship to make his life easier. In conversing with these students, I knew that their narratives and those from my college-classes had to become centered. I never knew about the struggles of undocumented or international students. Honestly, I thought education was extremely accessible because of financial-aid.  However, this is simply a fantasy and a realization of unchecked privilege.

Yesterday, I went on my usual coffee-break and saw a good friend of mine. As usual, we engaged in small-talk and eventually changed the topic to education. As a Sudanese-American, my friend began to tell me of the trials of those in her country and how the youth are dying to get the chance to come to America to become educated. In her life, she told me of the struggles of her parents and how they have sacrificed for her to be in America. As she spoke of the struggles of her parents and those back in her country, tears began to roll from her eyes. She told me that I would never understand and only those with her experience could know the hardship(s) associated with trying to get an American education.

As I reflect on my own position in this world, I know that there’s no space for unchecked privilege when people are “dying” to have the thing(s) that I have or take for granted. Quickly I am reminded that I need to take back-seat and allow others to take charge of their narratives. As a person of privilege, I can’t control the narratives of others. As a Black American, I understand oppression well, but I understand my position as being an American. For many, it is easy to complain about the cost of education and how it would be nice to simply go to school without working, but for those that aren’t financially-able and for those that aren’t given the privilege to simply go to school without work, please stop and check your privilege. As someone once said, “the world doesn’t revolve around you”.