There have been numerous incidents that I’ve sat in classrooms and stated my research interests (which center around all things Black kids and equity in k-12 education) and have then either watched the professor's face deflate or listened to them try to explain why that interest would be particularly challenging to pursue. -_-
When the professor walked into the room we were told we would have no longer than 10 minutes to present and that she would ask questions along the way. I listened as the first group talked about charter schools and how districts assess their success. I watched closely as our professor let the group go 15 minutes past their 10 minute mark (a whopping 25 minutes in total) and listened carefully as she engaged with the group and asked them questions as they presented. Her interactions with them made me both nervous and excited to present. I wondered what questions she would ask us and how we would engage with those questions in front of the class to encourage them to think about some of the issues with disciplinary practices education.
My friend and I presented next. Five minutes into our presentation, I was taken aback when I was interrupted in the middle of my sentence to receive a five minute warning. I became flustered when exactly four minutes later we received a one minute warning. And at the ten minute mark when we were told to wrap up and return to our seats, I became thoroughly pissed off.
Because the issues we were engaging with were thought-provoking, challenging, and perhaps even somewhat uncomfortable for many people in the room, we were robbed of the opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation around our research interests and dismissed as if our project were nothing more than an exhibit at a third grade science fair.
I would like to assume the best about that professor. I would like to think that she cares about the well-being of Black and Brown kids and how we exclude them from education by using disciplinary practices. Although, my guess is that she did not engage because she had a limited understanding of the topic and she was uncomfortable with the racial discussion that lied at the root of our project.
However, simply dismissing or undermining an issue because of one’s own ignorance or discomfort is inadmissible. Continuing to live in a false reality and ignoring the issues at hand gives you no capacity to change what is going on no matter what topic you study or what research methods you use. Academics who study education have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If change is actually going to occur for the kids who need it most in America, those who sit in places of privilege within the ivory town need to wake up and smell the inequality. Data and numbers and rigor might all be really interesting, but at what point do you question whether or not your research is making a long-lasting impact or just hitting surface level issues? At what point do you start to think about the questions you are not asking and how they may have played a role in this mess that is America’s education?
I say all of that to say that regardless of how academics choose to respond or react to what I say, I know that my research is valid. It is who I am, speaks to what I’m passionate about, and is a continuance of the work that those before me have done in an effort to make space for all of the silenced narratives. And when I’m in your class, you’re going to hear about it.
You gon’ respeck my research.
Until next time,
The Blackademics - Tiffany & Autumn
Autumn is a former middle school literacy educator. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Teaching, Learning, Policy, and Leadership with a concentration in Language, Literacy, and Social Inquiry at The University of Maryland - College Park.