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Neutral Doesn’t Work: The Importance of Educators’ Active Engagement in Creating Racially Inclusive Spaces for Students of Color at Predominantly-White Independent Schools

  • Author(s): Kurosaka-Jost, Asako
  • Advisor(s): Noguera, Pedro
  • et al.
Abstract

This study examined the experiences of 30 alumni of color (AOCs) who attended predominantly-white independent secondary schools (PWISs) on their overall educational and socio-emotional experiences. Utilizing the lens of colorblind ideology (CBI) and culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP), this study analyzed participant experiences of teachers’ instructional practices as related to students’ racial or ethnic identity as well as sense of belonging and classroom engagement. The data comprises of in-depth interviews with 30 AOCs who represent Asian, Black, and Latinx perspectives. Of the participants, 15 self-identified within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer spectrum. The findings point to the “non-neutrality” of CBI exhibited by PWIS educators. Participants indicated significant cultural disconnect with their school in three major areas: public versus independent school culture, socioeconomic differences, and feeling disconnected with white culture. Moreover, participants indicated experiencing colorblind or tokenized multicultural perspectives in their school curricula, feeling hyper-visible during race-related conversations and invisible otherwise, as well as frequent encounters with unaddressed racial microaggressions in the classroom. The colorblind culture of PWISs posed obstacles for AOCs in navigating the social hierarchy (race and wealth-based) in their school culture. All of this had a significantly negative socioemotional impact on the participants, with many indicating acute awareness of their race and some showing signs of internalized racism. The findings also underscored the importance of educators’ active engagement in creating a racially inclusive space for students of color at PWISs. The data revealed how teachers’ non-verbal (or indirect) messages can exhibit powerful signs of caring or uncaring for students of color, particularly under the backdrop of CBI culture. As well, AOCs indicated a strong inclination for CRP, with many showing increased engagement or confidence when classroom discussions veered from white-centered perspectives. Successful classroom discussions were described as providing adequate class time to delve into deeper issues, connecting conversations to student experiences, and encouraging critical thinking. AOC interviews and recommendations also pointed to several effective facilitation skills, such as norm setting, encouraging student self-reflections through targeted questions, modeling vulnerability, or an emphasis on systemic (versus) individual racism at the initial point of conversation.

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