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Letter to the Editor: We Can’t Wait — An Alumni Perspective on Racism in Education

To the stakeholders, advisory council, and leaders of Miami’s College of Education, Health, and Society (EHS): 

As concerned graduates of the College of EHS and as members of the 2018 AYA English Education cohort, we write to you with anger and a desire for institutional change. 

On June 4th, Oxford City Council Members witnessed Douglas Brooks use racist and hateful language toward peaceful protestors during a rally in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. Dr. Douglas Brooks, a retired professor and program coordinator in EHS, confronted the protestors and proceeded to call them, “a bunch of monkeys.” While President Crawford and the Department of Teacher Education have condemned Brooks’ actions, this is just his most public display of a dangerous mindset that conflicts with department values. As Brooks’ former students, it is our responsibility to address his problematic pedagogy and to suggest action-based solutions to dismantle institutional racism in EHS. 

Dr. Brooks taught the only classroom management class that EHS offered to our cohort. Effective classroom management is essential to the success of new teachers and helps establish a safe and supportive learning environment for students. Unfortunately, our sole classroom management professor modeled the opposite of safety and support. Brooks shared stories about drinking with students, and would pay money to students who gave him satisfactory answers, creating an uncomfortable and disconcerting classroom environment. He was proud to be an intimidator, arrogantly sharing classroom experiences where he publicly shamed students to win “respect.” His ideas of “respect” embody a long standing status quo; one that enacts punishment, shame, and dominance. 

We unwittingly took Brooks’ ideas with us when we became teachers. While he is just one professor, Brook’s punitive style of pedagogy exacerbates the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipeline for Black and Brown students. Many of us have struggled to develop a management style that centers genuine empathy, respect, and equality. Only through critical reflection and intentional unlearning have we begun to undo Brooks’ ideas. Ultimately, Brooks’ most damaging offense is his own dangerous pedagogy that has impacted Miami teachers and countless students in our classrooms. 

Over the past few weeks, our cohort has come together to reflect on the education we received from Brooks’ class and the university at large. We want to ensure that future Miami teachers not only succeed where we have struggled, but will strive to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable in fostering equitable and anti-racist learning environments. 

When confronting institutional racism, Miami and other predominantly white universities’ response has been to create a task force or contract a diversity and inclusion consultant. While these responses may be well intended, they are not particularly sustainable or effective solutions against deeply entrenched inequities and implicit racial bias. Furthermore, these responses usually place the emotional and physical burdens of confronting racism onto Black and Brown faculty and students, with no financial compensation or support for their mental health. Finally, these responses tend to overlook or decenter the knowledge and work of anti-racist students and faculty. Rather than use valuable time, energy, and money to create reports or pay outside consultants, invest institutional support and resources into sustainable and impactful social justice efforts at the grassroots level. There is a rich history of anti-racist people, organizations, and collectives who have educated and challenged white students and administration about injustice while creating empowering spaces for Black and Brown students. We want to take time to recognize their legacy and impact on our growth. 

First, we honor the Mobilizing Anger Collective’s legacy and both recent Black Action Movements’ demands. We honor Urban Teaching Cohort, Black Women Empowered, Black Student Action Association, Department of Global and Intercultural Studies, Center for American and World Cultures, and the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion for making Miami University a better campus. We honor the love and labor that EHS faculty such as Dr. Denise Taliaferro Baszile, Dr. Durrell Callier, Dr. Ganiva Reyes, Dr. Tammy Schwartz, Dr. Raquel Radina, Dr. Brittany Aronson, Dr. Katherine Batchelor and more have poured into our development as anti-racist teachers. Finally, we honor all Black students and faculty who left Miami feeling drained, invisible, or exploited by Miami’s racism and empty propaganda. 

We echo the Department of Teacher Education’s belief that “social justice requires awareness, action, activism, and practice.” In addition to investing more into the people and organizations listed above, we call upon the College of Education, Health, and Society to implement the following recommendations. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is as follows: 

  1. Invest or redirect dollars to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of current Black faculty. 

  2. Invest or redirect dollars to not just hire, but retain new Black faculty. 

  3. Incentivize Black student enrollment and retainment in EHS. 

  4. Provide Black and Brown students and faculty with stipends and honorariums any time they are asked to engage in anti-racist work. 

  5. Provide all faculty and students engaged in anti-racist work with free mental health care and support. 

  6. Develop a clear accountability process for faculty and students who practice racism and any other form of oppression.

  7. Starting this summer, mandate all EHS faculty to study anti-racist practices, unlearn their own biases, and collectively heal in affinity groups.

  8. Make EDT 225: Race and Ethnicity in Education required for EDT students. 

  9. Develop an undergraduate course on Critical Whiteness to begin in 2021. 

  10. Begin planning to crosslist as many EHS courses with the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies courses for students’ first two years of coursework. 

When institutions begin to acknowledge, understand, listen, and act upon these realities, then — and only then — can we talk about love and honor. If the institution does not listen, empower, and honor the community members who are seeking change, then we can only be too sure of Audre Lorde’s prophecy: “the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.” 

Let’s be clear: education — though it promises seeds of freedom — has grown those seeds at the cost of other’s pain, maltreatment, and injustice. We already have a name for it. Any plant that reaps its freedom from the oppression of others is invasive. It is time to grieve education’s invasive and oppressive history. 

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The invocation of grief is not to be confused with guilt. Yes, guilt is necessary, but it is not the end point — and it does not take the place of action. On the other hand, grief provides the capacity to listen, look, and feel the core of what has been lost. Included in that capacity is a call towards change and growth. Ta-Nehisi Coates knows the grief of unjust schools. We would do well to hear his proposal: “Perhaps [schools] must be burned away so that the heart of this thing might be known.” 

What must be dismantled, divested, and defunded so that we might see the heart of Miami? What must be built, invested, redistributed, and sustained so that we center justice and equity for all? 

These are eternal questions. They come to us without easy answers, without simple solutions, yet they have the power to move us towards critical self-reflection and institutional action. In Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that “A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” A college that truly values education must move to change both. 

We can’t wait. 

In solidarity, 

Catherine Dennison 

Nick Kroger 

Emily Moroz 

Maria Ramos 

Michael Richart 

Jamie Ross 

Leah Shaw 

David Shoemaker 

John Wells 

Nick Witzeman 

Skya Wright 

and other members of 2018 AYA English Education cohort

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