Six reasons why we shouldn’t worry about the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria

kids in a cafeteriaDr. Beverly Tatum just released (September 5th) a 20th anniversary version of her ground-breaking and well-informed book Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race.  She discusses the phenomenon at Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.  This is a topic I think about a lot as the mother of a Black child.

In my son’s small, private, predominantly White school I noticed that in his particular grade all the Black students are in one classroom and all the East Indian students are in another classroom (those are the two major non-White groups in his particular school). This got me thinking. School has begun and at public and private schools – elementary through high school – the Black students, the Latino students, the Asian students, etc. are probably sitting together in the cafeteria as I write this.  And on that note, so are the band students, the drama students, the athletes, and so on…AND here are some reasons why school social workers, teachers, or administrators should NOT be concerned:

  1. Yes, they are sitting together and it is o.k. We like to sit, play, live, and work with people who make us feel safe and comfortable and the fact is, that is often people who look like us. If I spend all morning and all afternoon in situations that make me feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable or with people who are different than me and I am the minority in numbers, then I want to be able to share a meal (a sacred joyful time in many households) with people who make me safe and comfortable.  Usually, this means being with people with whom I share some values and beliefs based on our identity. We have to remember that students, particularly those in middle and high school, are figuring out their multiple identities and how those identities intersect. Students are navigating a complex world both internally and externally. To help promote student wellness, let the girls sit with the girls and the drama students sit with the drama students and the Black students sit with the Black students…if they want. Now, this does not mean that you should tolerate purposeful exclusion, discrimination, or mocking, but rather accept that students (like adults) need to create their own safe spaces. AND you and your colleagues should think about how you can systematically and intentionally create spaces for cross-cultural dialogue that may bridge any gaps at lunch tables or on playgrounds.
  2. Forcing students to sit together in some orchestrated inclusion situation will always back-fire. Let it happen organically. You cannot force people to like each other just because it is a rule in a student handbook. Rather, you can teach students to talk to one another and to hear each other’s stories. You can create spaces and facilitate times for dialogues and learning. Cultural competency is a value and a skill that should be integrated into our schools’ academic curriculum and co-curricular activities. The dialogues about this should be ongoing. Cultural competence should be reflected throughout every aspect of our schools. Students may still choose to sit together by identity group and with ongoing dialogues there will be more awareness and understanding of why.
  3. Have you paid attention to what the students’ other needs are? The Brookings Institute estimates that 1 in 6 children come from food insecure household. Add to that the fact that at least half of our school-aged children have a mental health need. And these are just two examples of need.  Our students have a multitude of needs and obstacles that need addressing before we can even get them to attend to sitting and playing together. If a student is struggling at home, in their personal life and space, it is even more challenging for them to be ready to discuss and embrace sitting with people different than them.  A student may be worried about what others know and think of their situation. Or, a student may be too distressed to attend to their neighbor. Just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – individuals need food, shelter, safety – basic necessities before they can begin to think about and get situated in belongingness and love for others.
  4. The guilt or discomfort we may feel about students sitting together based on identity groups or shared interests has nothing to do with them. How you or I or our peers feel about race relations or interacting with groups of different social identities is not how the children of the 21st century feel. Not a scientific study with proven significance, but still worthy of mention, Good Morning America has done a series called “Black and White,” in which Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts interview children about their thoughts and feelings about race. When Roberts asked them if their different skin color makes them different from each other the children answered in unison “No.”
  5. We should not place our expectations, guilt, hurt, anger, etc. on them. Students have their own emotions to deal with as it relates to equity, inclusion, and social justice. They don’t even always use the same language to describe it. We need to see them and hear them and let them develop their own space and ways of facing race relations in the 21st century. Inter-racial friendships may be challenging for some kids to form as Nadra Kareem Nittle points out. Children, and especially young people are navigating their own identities and navigating someone else’s adds some sort of pressure or complication to their lives. When your school begins to create a cultural competency plan, include the students and the parents.
  6. Diversity work in schools and anywhere is best done when it becomes part of the integrated fabric of the school and is not just an add-on 1 day or 1-semester program.   If you want the students to sit together in the cafeteria or anywhere else, then the school needs to have an ongoing, comprehensive, effective, and impactful plan that begins on day 1 and never ends. The National Education Association has great resources that schools can utilize as a starting place. Teaching for Tolerance is another good place to look.  Remember too that cultural competence needs to be shown in who is hired at the school and who holds leadership positions. Diversity and cultural competence needs to be seen in photos, posters, and textbooks year-round. And parents and guardians (as extensions of the schools) need to also have the tools to facilitate such conversations at home and with their families.

So, I am okay with the fact that my son is in the same classroom with the other 3 Black students in his grade. I know that he has always played and sat with all the children in his school, and vice-versa. In reconsidering our concerns about all of the Black children sitting together, social workers should help teachers figure out why this is or is not okay for each child, and administrators should think about what will work best for each school’s culture.  The famous Black scholar W.E.B. Du Boise wrote that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” It is now the 21st-century and we should ask ourselves what are we doing if this problem still exists? We also need to think beyond the dichotomy of the Black and White binary and make sure we pay attention to the diversity and intersectionality within our schools and neighborhoods and speak to that specifically, and not just speak to Black and White students

In the coming decades, the population of our country will continue to become increasingly diverse. Soon, we will need to ask ourselves “Why are the White students sitting together in the cafeteria?” And then we must be prepared to answer that question and do something about it.

 

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A Reflection on Teaching Religion and Diversity…online

worldI have been teaching about religion and cultural competency online since 2010.  I began doing so because (a) I had a newborn and wanted to spend less time on campus and (b) the university was asking us to create more online courses. I have tweaked the courses a lot over the years and gathered ideas from colleagues across the country.  It is a challenge and takes some fine balancing to teach such topics online. It is definitely time consuming! 😊😄Some say it is a bad idea to teach uncomfortable/controversial topics online. I think it can and should be done. I think so mainly because online offers more students opportunity to take a variety of classes that they may not otherwise be able to take because of their time and life commitments.  Secondarily, I have found that my online students are more open with their discussion than me student in my face-to-face courses (their is some literature out there about the perception of being somewhat anonymous online).

I am currently teaching an online course about religion and society. 🏯⛪🔯🔱It is a Sociology course so the readings are based on the theoretical frameworks of the traditional through post-modern Sociological theorists.  Because of where we live, I find approx 90% of the students to be former Catholics who do not currently practice a religion AND have a disdain for organized religion (LOTS of research out there on this, especially as it relates to 20 and 30 year olds). The students have been most interested in how religions address the LGBT community & people of color, and the role of women or lack thereof within some religions.

When I teach the cultural competency course (in Social Work) students are required to pick a culture that is different than their own and explore that culture’s food, socio-cultural, religious and other traditions and customs.  🎎🙇👭👬👳👲Culture is broadly defined but mostly in the course we study and discuss various social identities. In the end students tend to focus on national origin or religion, therefore most students choose either Judaism or Islam for their ongoing project/paper.  Given the state in which we live students also tend to choose Cambodian, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, or Brazilian cultures also and thus often end up at a Catholic Church or Buddhist Temple.

This semester in the Religion and Society course, no student has chosen Islam. I asked if anyone had interest in exploring Islam for their research paper and that I had often sent students to a specific Islamic Center in our state and that the center is welcoming, etc., etc. A few brave students emailed me to say that they were interested but scared to visit a Mosque or Islamic Center.  We discussed back and forth about their fears and the pros and cons of this research topic.  In the end, no student chose Islam. I was disappointed, but each year I am learning new things about teaching topics that some students find uncomfortable, challenging, and/or are afraid of.

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Facilitating Learning

  1. Even though our college and universities push us to teach online so that more students have access and can take courses, some courses really are best taught face-to-face.
  2. If I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online then I have to require students to engage in more discussions than usual. There is typically a question/topic per week and students respond to me and to two other students. I then compose a lecture-like post based on all of their responses so and ask them to respond to that post.  So that’s at least 3-4 opportunities to discuss a topic and engage in some teaching & learning.
  3. Again, if I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online I should think about requiring at least two (at the beginning and at the end) face-to-face meetings so that we can all see each other, have an open discussion, more forward, and end together.  This seems to defeat the purpose of teaching online, which is why hybrid is usually a good option.
  4. I like students to think about the possible wide range of topics and choose for themselves, but… it is an undergraduate course and even though it goes against my pedagogical style I could pre-select topics and say “Pick from these topics only” thus pushing students out of their comfort zone. This might be helpful to some students and patronizing to others.

If you teach about the broad topic(s) of diversity:

  1. Do you teach online, hybrid, or face-to-face?
  2. Do you allow students to select their own topics or do you have a pre-selected list?
  3. What other suggestions would you give me as I move forward in teaching this solely online?

Respectful, constructive comments and discussions are welcome, please.  Thank you.

A rambling opinion: Why Student Protest Matters

multicultural-kids-holding-blank-banner-sign-23449953The short answer to the question “Why does student protest matter?” is that because those young people are our future.  I was one of them in the 80s. Now I’m a social work educator with a platform for social justice. I blog, I write Op-Ed pieces, I teach social justice and cultural competence.  I was hunger striking and camping out on the admin lawn on campus.  I had an opportunity to voice my concerns.  I was heard and acknowledged.  That propelled me to continue to be an active, critical, concerned citizen.

We should not judge, criticize, chastise, condemn, or discourage those students.  Yes, someone (they and/or family members) are paying for them to be in class, learning, studying, doing homework, earning grades and degrees. AND A LOT of learning on college and university campuses occurs outside of the classroom.  We should value the life lessons and experiences that enhance a young person’s life.  Being aware of, concerned about, actively in changing a social ill is an important lesson.  There is a lot of learning that occurs from organizing and participating in a protest. You may end up on a bus to your state’s capital to speak before the legislature.  You may end up in a conference room with the Chancellor and Board of Trustees to state your concerns.  You’ll most definitely end up speaking to the media.  Your name and picture will end up in your college’s archives as someone who worked to make a change for the better.

Those young people at Missouri, Ithaca, Smith, Yale, and all the other campuses engaging in social protest deserve their time and space to do so.  They have legitimate concerns to which we should listen.  They will eventually go back to class and to the routine of taking notes, writing papers, etc. But for now, today they need to say their truth.  That truth is the truth of our nation.  We have a dismal record of positive race relations.  These students, like the students from the 1906s are waiting to be heard. Maybe we can learn from our students.

Whether it’s at your high school or college, the voices of students matter! Their protest matters because history repeats itself and we are slow to change.  Their protest matters because we need to wake up, listen, take positive action, and make true social change.  Their protest matters because they speak truth.  Their protest matters because they are our future. I stand, sit, lay with our students wanting to be heard!

Being True to Me: I am an ecclectic sporadic blogger with average writing skills!

ecclecticIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve had a lot going on – finishing the semester, getting the boy ready for summer, grieving, … Lots going on that needed to be settled and cleared.  I have spent some time pondering this blog.  I read a LOT of other blogs and know that the authors of blogs which attract the most readers (and make money) have a consistent theme/topic on which they write.  I contemplated finding one or two topics on which to write in order to be consistent and have dedicated readers.

I could blog about motherhood, academia, cultural competence, Alzheimer’s, being African American, being a mother to a black boy, being married to an immigrant, being a social worker, etc., etc., etc. Not one of those topic is more important to me than the next. So I decided that my blog will be an eclectic mix of the things that interest me.  Be prepared to read about our summer jaunts, my summer readings lists, my sabbatical, my volunteerism with the Alzheimer’s Association, my attempts to explain racial relations to my 4 year old, the adventures of my niece who will soon be here from Africa, our adventures as non-Catholics in a Catholic school, soccer, futbol, food, wine, and so much more!

Stay tuned. Be patient with my writing. I hope to post interesting stories and/or tips and I hope you’ll keep reading and leaving comments!

Thanksgiving Thanks for My Privilege – Day ??(I’ve lost track of the days and am behind!)

I made a valiant attempt to do 75 days of posting honoring my mom and 27 days of Thanksgiving Thanks posts, but…life, job, family all got in the way! LOL How do I become a full-time blogger? I guess I go on sabbatical…1.5 semesters and counting…Until then…

PrivilegeI have read several friends’ posts and a few articles this month on privilege.  Most of these authors write about one’s ability to complain about having a name misspelled on a Starbucks cup, complaining about a commute to work (in a car), or complaining about all the SPAM messages on one’s tablet, etc…Peggy McIntosh made popular the notion of naming, acknowledging, discussing, deconstructing, and then doing something about privilege.  McIntosh started with the BIG one, white male privilege.  Other scholars followed suit with able-bodied privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc.  As I used each of the privilege worksheets in class with my students and facilitated discussions I became increasingly uncomfortable with my own privilege. What? A woman of African descent has privilege?!

The first time I said it out loud in class my students looked at me oddly. After all I had allowed them to follow that typical pattern of thinking in which we only view women and people of color as oppressed individuals.  Which is one perspective and depending on who, what, where, how, and why that vulnerable oppressed persona may fit. As I write this blog I am waiting to hear the Grand Jury decision on officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown.  I am 44 years old and I feel as if I have sat-in-waiting many many times before…so, I fully acknowledge that there is still a great amount of oppression for youth, men, and women who have brown, red, yellow, black skin; accents; unacceptable documentation; not enough resources….

AND another reality of 2014 is that many people who have the life I have had and currently have, also have much privilege. I grew up with more than enough resources. I have an advanced degree. I have a full-time job. I am heterosexual, born in the U.S., and am able-bodied.  Yes, I am a proud woman of color. I have many challenges based on those two identities – separated and combined.  But at the intersection of all of my identities, I am privileged.  Primarily because I can use my socioeconomic status to combat what comes my way based on biological sex and race. I am thankful that I have enough privilege that I can Code Switch and take action. It’s often exhausting work and sometimes I refuse to do it. But mostly I acknowledge my privileged statuses, and use them when and as I can to combat the isms. I’m also attempting to make our 4 y.o. son aware of his privileges…that’s another blog!

Today I am very thankful that my momma raised an aware, proud, activist Black woman! Thanks momma! Privilege comes with responsibilities.

Thanksgiving Thanks (day 18): Honoring My Mom’s Legacy of Cultural Capital

daughter and momA stream-of-consciousness because that’s how I flow blog without regard to the scholarship on this topic (I can take time off form being an academic right?).

I’m always reflective in November. Even before my mom passed away. It happens to be the month in which so many people I care for were born, including my mom and son.  My mom left me a great legacy. There’s stuff, but what is most meaningful is the non-tangible.  These past couple of weeks I have been particularly reflective on the legacy of cultural capital she left me.

I teach a class on cultural competence.  That class is about human service workers being able to work effectively and compassionately with people of different social identities (race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc.).  There is a different type of cultural competence that I’ve been reflecting on lately.  The first snow has fallen on Loon Mountain and folks are going skiing….

In undergraduate and again in our doctoral program I read Bourdieu’s work along with some post modern takes on cultural capital.  The term is broad, vague, ill-defined, not ethnically relevant, maybe even unnecessary, except when you realize it is necessary…I am sure that in proper society no one goes around speaking of their cultural capital, but we know it when we see it.  I’ve been particularly reflective about ethnic-specific and regional differences in cultural capital.  I’m not ready to write a thesis about this, but I am aware of that in my travels around the country, living in different regions and being blessed enough to have friends from different backgrounds, I’ve noticed that we each have cultural capital in different ways.  And even with our country’s growing diversity I am struck that we still revert to a WASP standard of cultural capital (orchestra outings, certain types of art, music, skiing, apple picking, specific books, etc.).

When and how does cultural capital become diversified? I know that in the African American community there are organizations that have been formed in an attempt to inculcate children with some forms of cultural capital. And while depending on the region of these by-invitation-only groups a child may get the typical reproduced messages about cultural capital with some sprinkling of ethnic-specific cultural capital (i.e. sharing of some art by famous black artists and musicians). But for the most part the cultural capital being instilled and passed on is still lodged in the WASP world. It’s o.k. and it’s not o.k. Every ethnic and racial group has much to contribute to the mickle bag (a term one of my eccentric high school English teacher used ad nausem…I think she made the term up!) of what can be considered to be part of the cultural capital suitcase. I’m sure someone has written an article (or two) about this; and maybe I’ll go look it up…but my point is that some of our parents do an amazing job of providing some elements of cultural capital (which we then hopefully build upon for ourselves) and I’d like the scholars, theorists and pundits to consider adding futbol (soccer), and Gordon Parks, and hair braiding, and making tamales, and…you get me right? Cultural capital should be culturally competent & relevant.

For me, I am thankful that my mom laid a foundation in our multi-cultural, multi-value, multi-activity house and elsewhere that allows me to move with some ease within and between cultures with my well-packed cultural capital suitcase. It’s that ability to code switch (a show on NPR now) that really makes me a culturally competent individual with capital. And I’m thankful. Thank you mommy! I’m hoping to reproduce some culturally relevant capital with our son. Here’s hoping I can build upon my mom’s legacy and also hoping I don’t drive our son crazy in doing so!

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A Vent: Those CJ Majors in My SWK Courses

teacher(Based on anecdotal course observations over the course of 7 years and not based on any actual rigorous data collection or analysis…which gives me an idea…):

One of the beautiful aspects of being in higher education is that each academic discipline really does attract a specific type of student.  In our undergraduate Social Work courses we tend to get a significant number of students who vote with the Democratic Party (or are not registered); are not particularly religious, are female, young, and Caucasian.  Social Work majors also tend to have had some personal interaction with or connection to the greater social service/welfare system.  As opposed to the stereotypical Criminal Justice major who is either Independent or Republican, maybe not religious but with a penchant for following rules, male, youngish, and Caucasian.  And contrary to my SWK students the CJ students I have encountered, have had some negative personal interaction or connection with the CJ system (victim of a crime) that leads them to their professional choice.  There are also some suspected personality traits that typically go with each major, but that I will not even touch (but you can use your imagination).

I teach a course on “diversity” and “cultural competence” in the human services. The course is required of SWK majors and also meets the University’s graduation requirement for diversity.  Thus, I tend to have 85-90% SWK majors; 5-10% CJ majors;  and 2-3% “other majors” (Business, Education, Sociology).  Did that add up to 100%??? The course is taught from the ethical & value-laden perspective of the SWK profession with my own twist (middle-aged female of color with a variety of life experiences and lots of opinions).

And here is what I’ve noticed and how my patience and acceptance has been tested:justice scale

  1. CJ majors sit in the back or on the far sides; never in the front or the middle
  2. CJ majors have no problem challenging the information presented and often do so from the perspective of personal experience as opposed to presenting factual data
  3. SWK majors tend to agree with everything I say (equally as annoying as challenging everything I say)
  4. SWK majors tend to roll their eyes at the CJ majors and vice versa
  5. CJ majors deny that there is any injustice based on a specific social identity (race, ethnicity, gender in particular).
  6. SWK majors think everyone has been wronged or oppressed (in fact when I give an exam I am the oppressor)
  7. CJ majors claim that our country and it’s social institutions are based on and operate under the premise of justice.
  8. SWK majors say justice is not SOCIAL JUSTICE
  9. When discussing a specific type of oppression that a specific group has experienced (i.e. Antisemitism or Homophboia) the CJ majors say “Well, that’s like the time I…”
  10. SWK majors say “NO. It is NOT like the time you…” and then they over empathize.

I am challenged to really TEACH as oppose to PREACH to the converted SWK choir. It is a challenge. I am embracing it.

  1. I am breathing deeply
  2. I am counting to 5 (sometimes 10) before I respond
  3. I am looking up tons of CJ facts to bring to class for rebuttal purposes.
  4. I am consulting with my CJ colleagues (thanks, you know who you are!)
  5. I am welcoming the CJ majors who keep me on my toes AND making sure they get a good does of social work values & ethical principles

I want everyone who wants and can access an education to receive an education (I really want higher education to be more accessible, but that’s another blog). And I want to encourage students to explore courses outside of their major (that’s what liberal arts is all about right?).

helpingAND I really want to convert all those CJ majors in my SWK course to become SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES as opposed to the deliverers of justice.