Anti-Racist Action is an Everyday PracticeBack to Blog
Anti-Racist Action is an Everyday Practice
Dana, Claire, JPB, and Alexis: The Anti-Racist Action Special Interest Group (ARA-SIG) consists of NYS TESOL members who have come together as language educators from many different contexts: adult education, higher education, K-12 education, and professional development spaces. Our schedules are hectic and difficult to coordinate, with work and family obligations and life in general, but every few months we make time to meet and plan a project to propel our SIG’s work forward. NYS TESOL brought us together, but what keeps us together is our shared commitment to seeing the world through a racial equity lens, and trying to get others to do the same in each of our lives. Below, some of us share how we are perceiving and confronting racial inequity in our everyday lives.
Dana: My daughter is a Kindergartener in South Huntington, Long Island, and I have been actively opposed to my district’s decision to hire armed guards to patrol school grounds as a “safety precaution.” A common response I hear is, why would you oppose something that’s meant to protect children? This uncritical reaction does not consider the research that shows armed guards don’t prevent school shooting deaths. A DOJ-funded study that analyzed school shootings from 1980 to 2019, showed that the rate of deaths was actually 2.83 times greater in schools with an armed guard present than without. And while this is, itself, an important criticism, racial inequity must also be considered. Studies have shown the connection between the presence of school police and disproportionate adverse outcomes for students of color. We should all be troubled by the direct relationship between increased police presence in schools and increased police violence against students, and the fact that although these associations are well-documented, schools continue to implement more and more police-related measures in the name of safety. We must ask: whose safety is being prioritized in these decisions? And why do we continue to fund unproven police initiatives in schools instead of better-researched practices like restorative justice, de-escalation training, and community resources? Lastly, the school board made the armed guards decision after consulting only with a security advisor and the security teams trying to get hired for the job. Equitable policymaking entails collaborating with diverse stakeholders like students, families, teachers, and community members. I believe we should all be speaking out because this is part of a troubling trend. Sadly, another school district became the 6th on Long Island to adopt armed guards about a month after it took place in my town.
Claire: Some school officials may truly believe that having armed guards in the schools will make all students safer. But even if that opinion weren't contradicted by the data, it would still require ignoring the reality that students of color will have a different experience with those guards than white students will. In this case, the district made a decision based on erroneous assumptions, and their refusal to consider an equity perspective is hurting everyone involved.
JPB: My son fell at daycare and bruised his foot, so we took him to urgent care to be sure he was fine (he was). While my wife and I waited for the X-ray tech, said tech entered the room, looked at both of us, then asked what my relationship was to my son (who looks exactly like me, but that's beside the point). My wife and I shared a look that said, we see what she meant, but didn't have the energy to call her out at the time. It should be shocking to me that some folks believe in 'broken Black family' stereotypes so faithfully that it would boggle their mind a Black father would be present with his toddler, but it's not. It is, however, a reminder that I have to keep doing the work to ensure he's aware of how people might see him, and that he needs to stay conscious of this. It’s sad, because he's three, but if I let him go into the world without this awareness, I'd be leaving him in unnecessary danger. I didn't take any action against the X-ray tech aside from tweeting @CityMD (they didn't respond), but I do have to take action every day to inform, protect, and love my son so this world doesn't take him away from me.
Alexis: When I brought up several topics we discussed at our last ARA-SIG meeting (similar to the situations Dana and JPB mentioned) to a friend, his first words were “Tell me you’re not going to bring race into this.” I was reminded of a Courageous Conversations seminar I took in 2020, wherein the presenter asked us to consider what percent influence race has on our lives. I remember thinking hard about the question and giving a percentage – maybe 50, maybe 75 – significantly less than 100%, which turned out to be a common theme among many white participants. The presenter, who was a Black woman, asked us to ruminate on our responses, especially if we felt race impacted our lives less than 100% of the time. I wondered why I’d understate the influence of race in my life versus any other identity marker, such as gender. That percentage I initially gave was reflective of the privilege I’d, up until then, taken for granted, which ensured my race wouldn’t negatively impact interactions such as those that Dana and JPB wrote about. This was the beginning of an exploration of my racial identity, which had been nonexistent (to myself) until then, well into my fourth decade of life, and which continues to this day. So yes- we do need to bring race into this.
Dana, Claire, JPB, and Alexis: A quote by Chan and Coney (2020) referenced by presenter Shaden Attia at the 2022 NYS TESOL conference resonated with us and drives our work: “being able to ‘see’ and act against inequity is not something one ‘achieves,’ but is a habit requiring constant practice.” That habit, like any habit, is more likely to be established and solidified with the help of accountability partners– in our case, fellow ARA-SIG members, with whom we can have honest and open conversations about the world we live in versus the world we would like to live in, taking into consideration the myriad parts of our individual and collective identities, perspectives, and experiences.
Dana Calvet is a lecturer in the Linguistics and Communication Disorders department at CUNY Queens College teaching in the TESOL programs. She is also an EdD student in Instructional Leadership at CUNY Hunter College interested in researching racial literacy development for pre-service teachers.
Alexis Cavaluzzi is a parent, veteran ENL educator, and community member in Westchester County, NY. She considers herself a lifelong learner, and is unlearning some things along the way. ARA-SIG has given her a space to listen, learn, and find her voice.
Claire Fisher has been an adult ESOL teacher for 10 years. Currently she's serving as a Virtual Educator with the US State Department; a Content Development Consultant with the English Access Microscholarship Program; and the interim Technology and Assessment Coordinator at Pratt Institute's Intensive English Program. She has been a member of the ARA-SIG since it was founded.
Dr. JPB Gerald received his EdD in Instructional Leadership from CUNY- Hunter College in 2022. His scholarship focuses on education, language, whiteness, and ability. He works as the Training Manager for Momentus Capital, a national nonprofit, and lives on unceded Munsee Lenape territory with his wife, toddler, and dog.
The ARAS group will be presenting at the NJTESOL conferences
Chan, E.L., & Coney, L. (2020). Moving TESOL forward: Increasing educators’ critical consciousness through a racial lens. TESOL Journal. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.550
Ishimaru, A. M. (2019). From family engagement to equitable collaboration. Educational Policy, 33(2), 350-385.
Peterson, J., Densley, J., & Erickson, G. Presence of Armed School Officials and Fatal and Nonfatal Gunshot Injuries During Mass School Shootings, United States, 1980-2019. JAMA Network Open. 2021;4(2):e2037394. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.37394
Whittenberg, T., Skiba, R., Beauchesne, B., & Groves, A. (2022). #AssaultAtSpringValley: An analysis of police violence against Black and Latino students in public schools. Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice. https://advancementproject.org/resources/assaultatreport/