Long before the current racial unrest that has been gripping our country in recent weeks, Nimisha Patel, professor and chair of Wright State University’s Department of Teacher Education, has reflected on the role of educators in helping to promote equity and inclusion, and impacting systemic racism in this country.
Patel said she knows she is not alone in her condemnation of the race-based murder of George Floyd by a police officer or the murders of countless others, including Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III and Aiyana Jones. But she adds that mere condemnation is not sufficient. Knowledge and action toward change is essential.
“We need to stand up with and for the Black community; we need to work to educate our P-12 and Wright State University students about structural racism,” said Patel. “We need to help people of color effectively navigate through the barriers supported by structural racism; and we need to identify the racist structures in P-12 and higher education and work together to dismantle them, piece by piece.”
Since becoming chair of the Department of Teacher Education in 2016, Patel has been laser-focused on taking action to bring about change. In 2017, she started requiring all faculty members, adjuncts, staff, student employees, graduate assistants and education students to complete training developed by Wright State’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
All teacher candidates are required to take a course in cultural humility in which they examine historical and current racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, linguistic, and social class stereotypes and biases as related to youth in the United States and globally. In the course, Cultural Humility for Working with Youth, students identify personal preconceptions and learn ways of becoming culturally responsive working with youths.
“Taking the course is the first step in the process of understanding communities and the diversity within communities,” Patel noted. “Candidates must have a sense of humility about the development of their own knowledge of diverse communities. It’s important for them to recognize that they will not be ‘experts’ after merely one class.”
She added this leads to the recognition that it is a constant learning experience over time and that people need to be in constant communication and engagement with communities in order to better understand them and to work and collaborate with them for the benefit of all society.
Faculty members in the Department of Teacher Education agreed that such a course should be required in all initial teacher licensure programs. Wright State faculty experts in this area, including Amaha Sellassie, Darsheel Kaur Sehbi, Reece Freeman and Christa Agiro, teach the course.
Graduating a diverse group of teacher candidates is also essential. Last year, the department created the Diversity Recruitment Initiative committee to focus on the recruitment and retention of teacher candidates from underrepresented groups. A planned mentoring program helps facilitate student success. The committee not only is comprised of Wright State faculty and staff but representatives from area school districts, as well. In addition, the department has taken purposeful steps to ensure there is better representation among adjunct faculty hires.
The role of Wright State’s Teacher Education Department does not end with educating its students and employees on equity and inclusion. Faculty and administrators are also addressing biases in state teacher tests to help diminish structural racism within the education system.
“We are taking explicit steps to highlight the numerous biases in the subject-specific Ohio Assessments for Educators and evidencing to the state how such tests prevent individuals from underrepresented groups from joining the profession,” Patel said. “We are seeking significant changes in these assessments and offering recommendations until the vendor is able to provide a worthwhile product.”
While progress has been made, Patel recognizes that there is still much to do to facilitate deep change.
“While important, these steps should be viewed as merely the beginning of a long and intentional path towards addressing the structural racism that is so deeply embedded in our education system,” Patel said. “I hope that these steps are a start to the change we not only want to see but the change that is absolutely necessary for the survival of an entire community.”