Ebonique Little, Spectrum Editor
When Andrew Daire became dean of the VCU School of Education in 2016, he said he knew there was a disconnect between the university’s mission of serving urban communities and the way it prepared its educators.
“For us to think that we can prepare teachers and not talk about culture, not talk about cultural responsiveness, not do anything to address white supremacy — it’s not surprising we have the outcomes that we have,” said Daire, who holds a doctorate in school psychology.
The School of Education began its “Becoming an Antiracist Educator” virtual training series on Wednesday. The program addresses racial inequality and consists of nine sessions, covering topics such as deconstructing implicit bias and determining the impact of power and privilege.
The initiative, which began last fall, was tailored to K-12 teachers and adapted for higher education this semester. The series is free for students and employees of the School of Education, and open to VCU students, faculty and staff, as well as other registrants affiliated with institutions of higher education, at varying prices. It will include a self-evaluation to deepen the participant’s personal understanding of race and systemic racism.
Daire said he formed the idea for the training in fall 2019. He said the teaching of inaccurate Black history, predominance of white female educators and school district redlining prompted its need.
Through the training, Daire seeks to dismantle the inequities that redlining creates. According to a 2019 Virginia Mercury article, Richmond is home to some of the most segregated schools in the state, with student bodies averaging over 75% Black.
“I recognized that we needed to do more,” Daire said. “And being culturally responsive in our practice and pedagogy, and in preparing educators for success and impact with all schoolchildren, particularly underrepresented minority school children and those living in poverty.”
He tasked the Office of Strategic Engagement — a subsidiary of the School of Education that prepares educators to work in urban, historically marginalized environments — to help actualize the series.
“The desire to learn about this has been expressed, but also amplified, after the events of George Floyd and other racial injustices that occurred this past year.” — Joshua Cole, Office of Strategic Engagement executive director
The facilitators of these discussions include experts within diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, training and respected educators, such as Rodney Robinson.
Robinson was the 2019 National Teacher of the Year and is the senior adviser for Richmond Public Schools, where he supports Black men and other male teachers of color through recruitment and mentorship efforts.
“We’re identifying speakers who have a true understanding and scholarly understanding of the issues surrounding, not just diversity, equity and inclusion, but anti-racist practices and culturally responsive practices,” Daire said.
Daire continued by saying the facilitators will remain truthful, despite the potential for discomfort.
“So many DEI initiatives and programs don’t even want to talk about race,” Daire said. “It’s built on making sure, really, that folks who are in the oppressor group are comfortable while they’re learning about DEI.”
Joshua Cole, who holds a doctorate in educational leadership and serves as executive director for the Office of Strategic Engagement, said that through breakout sessions via Zoom and engaging content, encouraging personal growth is their priority as they prepare to host about 125 educators.
“We’re trying to be very innovative with how we’re engaging these live large audiences, to give them rich content, but then also the time and space during and after, in between sessions to do that self-reflection for people’s personal and professional growth,” Cole said.
As a former Richmond public school teacher, Cole believes there are plenty of opportunities to improve the equity gaps. With the increased racial and ethnic diversity across the nation, he said teachers and curricula have not yet evolved to meet these cultural differences.
“People say all the time, ‘Reach all kids, all kids succeed,’ but how do we do that?” Cole said.
Cole said he listened to some of the feedback from educators in creating the series’ topics, as they, too, were stuck on that question regarding race.
“There’s a lot of questions like that in education because this is not a topic that’s typically talked about,” Cole said. “The desire to learn about this has been expressed, but also amplified, after the events of George Floyd and other racial injustices that occurred this past year.”
After the death of George Floyd last May, local youth-led organization 381 Movement formed to bring awareness to social injustices, such as racial equity issues within the education system. Floyd was an unarmed Black man that died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
381 Movement co-founder Corey Stuckey said he hopes that with this training series, educators can better connect with their students.
“There are teachers that talk down on the students, that are scared of the students. But that’s terrible,” Stuckey said. “How can you be scared of the same students you’re supposed to be there to help? That you’re supposed to be there to empower?”
Stuckey said he wants to close Virginia’s school-to-prison pipeline, a phenomenon where resource starvation, unaddressed academic failure, suspension and school policing largely push minority students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“They just punish and get rid of students rather than actually working, coping, understanding students,” Stuckey said. “I feel like training needs to be implemented.”
The School of Education will continue the series with a summer learning program and new levels, allowing participants to return next year to further explore the material.
“The goal is for it to come through in everyday practice,” Cole said. “And it’s a process. That’s the key to this — it’s all a process for people to grow.”
For more information on this program and others from the Office of Strategic Engagement, visit ose.soe.vcu.edu.