We have spent a great deal of time working with the concept of individual equity regarding the students we serve. To date, the majority of our training and dialogue has focused on what can be considered the macro conception of equity.
Perhaps it is time to look at equity from the micro perspective. It is my opinion that we would be naïve to think that by simply creating public forums the voices of the marginalized would emerge. The status of the marginalized does not necessarily change when a student leaves the community setting and steps onto our campus. Learned behavior, internalized by years of experience cannot be turned on and then turned off when a change in environment or geography occurs.
The college and university environment has long been considered a bastion for free thought. All voices being welcome. All voices being heard. The critical question we must ask ourselves as individual educators and educational institutions is…
How do we teach those who have been socialized to believe that they have no voice and even if they did it wouldn’t matter to begin the process of believing that they have a voice and it can, and does matter?
When examining our quest for equity it is tempting to approach this challenge from the top down; institution down to student. While this strategy looks good on paper and we can all feel good because we are taking action, it is my contention that equity must be built (and learning the skills of ‘voice’ must be taught and reinforced) through individual relationships; one student at a time.
I am not a big fan of taking a complex problem, picking a word associated with the complex process and then creating a mnemonic. However, this strategy can prove helpful when attempting to build momentum toward action. The voice is the physical mechanism. Speaking puts the voice into action. One without a voice cannot speak and one cannot speak without a voice. Again, returning to the critical question; how do we encourage those who have been conditioned to feel voiceless to speak? It is my belief and my practice to give voice through individual teacher-student relationships.
The inspiration to attempt to place my teaching and learning philosophy into words came from a recent career and college promise student taking my sociology course on her high school campus. Through the process of getting to know her, she informed me that she enjoyed composing poetry, offering me the following sample of her outstanding ability and keen perceptions. Her words are representative of the generation we educators have been entrusted with. It is here that we (educators) quiet our voices and carefully listen.
S- Safe-Create a safe space for open communication. This can be accomplished through setting up ground rules in your classes that emphasize that all voices are welcome and valued; without judgement.
No One Stands Alone, Unless They Stand Alone With Others
By Mary Margaret Richardson
Ameliorate a life’s existence
Or disintegrate it with indifference
Hear no, See no Speak no. No.
Like a fading footprint in winter’s snow
When reputation is as crucial as life itself
Is success measured on the weight of a trophy shelf?
P- Personal-Acknowledge students as individuals. Learn about and demonstrate interest in their lives outside of class. Ask questions that demonstrate that you are interested in them, their feelings and their ideas.
Infotainment strikes its match for you
Everyone watched, no one blew
Has society traded in its lipstick for glue?
This cloak of apathy we float on while we swim
How can you not feel it wearing thin?
E- Empathetic-Empathy can be very validating. Use empathy to build rapport and demonstrate that you are really interested and engaged with them beyond the course material.
Silence like a safety blanket for the meek
Appeasing ignorance, letting corruption speak.
Now testimonial card-stacking schemes
Make way for the corrupt to push their dogma, their regimes
And of those I’m told “play the hand you’re dealt.”
But I never chose those cards, at least not myself.
A-Accessible-Be accessible before, after and in-between classes. Encourage students to come by your office for a visit. Accessibility also includes creating opportunities for students to find and shape their voice.
Bite your lip! Hold your tongue!
Isn’t that what we teach the young?
On, so silence is merely the residue of fear?
Odd then they wonder “where go future pioneers.”
Oh, and society is framed as the culprit; the criminal, once again?
So should we all arrest ourselves dear friends?
Now this can you apprehend?
K-Kind-The entire process starts and ends with kindness. The act of kindness and the art of being kind are foundational in building relationships, creating confidence in others and fostering a climate in which voices are welcomed and encouraged.
One flower amongst a patch becomes just a piece
But in solitude, through the sidewalk its worth seems to increase
You’re in the way, until you guide the way
In your voice lies the start of revolution, of change
At Least that’s what the silent say
Unfortunately, it is evident that over the generations, educators have taken a very personal experience (learning) and attempted to educate by turning our learning institutions into factories; raw materials enter the factory and through a variety of standardized processes products are produced en- masse. Personalizing the learning experience through practicing S-P-E-A-K pays dividends and can hopefully build equity in education through giving voice to those that so desperately want to be heard.
About the authors:
S. Joseph Woodall is a social sciences faculty member at Davidson County Community College teaching sociology and psychology courses. Dr. Woodall has been a teacher for the majority of his adult life serving in the high school, community college and university settings.
Mary Margaret Richardson is a student at Central Davidson High School, Davidson County, NC