“Minding the gap”

In London, “minding the gap” is a phrase you hear frequently when using the subway. It is a reminder to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform. It can also be a metaphor for paying attention to the space between where you are, and where you are going….or a reminder/call to action to pay attention to what is missing.

Photo by Alessio Cesario on Pexels.com

After the summer of 2020, I, like many others across the globe, committed to being anti-racist. As I prepared for the fall semester of 2020, this also meant I committed to being explicitly anti-racist in my teaching. I used Dr. Ibram Kendi’s framing of the term with my students, with respect to the idea (and I am paraphrasing) that being anti-racist is not a fixed position that I will ever achieve. Rather, it is something I will continually be working on, forever, and something that every day requires the commitment to making anti-racist choices.

Let me be clear: It is something that every day I fall short at, in some way or another. But I am working. I am trying to “mind the gap”.

Across settings, this work looks like examining my own bias, facing the ways in which I have been living in denial, being thoughtful (full of intentional thought) about things I support with time and money. It also requires enough humility to hear the feedback and face the questions when I make a choice or engage in an action that is rooted in racism rather than anti-racism. (Even as I write this I am cringing about something that happened in a community setting, related to a volunteer role that I have. My passive un-critical thinking, coupled with what is a personal trait, led to exclusion rather than inclusion and centered whiteness over other things. Yuck. But I am thankful for the friend who confronted me about it and helped me think through the right action to take.)Anyway, the point is that I committed to being anti-racist in my teaching, having some idea at the outset what that might look like but knowing I needed to keep it at the forefront of my planning each week. And so I plugged along each week, dealing with technology failures and teaching during a pandemic, and parenting 3 children in virtual school, while attempting to live out my commitment to being anti-racist in my own college teaching.

In fall and spring semesters of academic year 2020-2021, I taught 8 sections of classes altogether. Fall saw me teaching a first year seminar, a human behavior/development class, a policy class, and a macro practice class. Spring saw me teaching two sections of the human behavior class, a senior capstone class, and a class on the history of social movements. Some classes are a more logical place for laying out an explicit anti-racist framework than others, but in all I worked to revise curricula. This looked like more integration of sources from more scholars of color, asking hard questions about inequities and waiting in silence for answers/discussion, and constantly acknowledging my privilege and asking students to think about theirs as well. It meant bringing in history, and not just watered down history, and also having discussions about the ways in which our profession has not been on the right side of justice, even though we are a “helping” profession.

Classes at my university started this week, and I am again thinking through resources, questions, class discussion prompts, speakers and more to continue being anti-racist in my teaching.

I am still doing the heart work and mind work on a personal level, as that certainly shapes what I bring to the classroom and how I engage with my students. I am sharing some of the most helpful resources below.

This image below was one of the first things I saw in the summer of 2020 when I set out on this journey. It has been really helpful in thinking about which zones I might be in with respect to different contexts, and why. This image, from Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc is one way to visualize the phases of becoming anti-racist.

My favorite (where “favorite” means “helpful” in making me think and ask questions) resources on social media are: Antiracist Education Now. Teach for the Culture, Teachers for Black Lives, Urban Teachers Lounge, the Equity Matters Podcast, Abolitionist Social Work.

In terms of engagement with students, the biggest thing I would say is that I have had to grow in comfort with discomfort. There were moments of palpable tension in various classes last year…and there should continue to be. I have had to become more okay with not having “closure” with respect to conversations on certain topics. We can’t wrap up discussions on racism, oppression, white supremacy and the like in tidy ways in 50 min blocks or an hour and 15 minute blocks. We have to hold space for all the emotional and intellectual places students might be in any given moment and it is challenging.

It is hard, and I am thankful for the encouragement and support I have with colleagues in person, as well as those I have connected with virtually. If I can be of encouragement or support to you as we are on this journey of growth, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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