By Bailey McBride
“Oftentimes, white voices are centered even in these conversations. So I think it’s powerful that there are so many white people on the call with mic’s muted, just listening.”
Dr. Ashley Bennett, Director of College Counseling at KIPP Sunnyside High School, summed up a thought-provoking and empowering discussion panel on “Responding to Racial Trauma in the Classroom,” that took place digitally on June 22.
The discussion, which can be viewed here, covered topics including culturally responsive instruction, addressing racial trauma, and supporting students of color effectively when school resumes.
More than 100 participants joined live to hear from the expert panel which included Dr. Bennett along with Ramona Curtis, Director for Diversity Outreach Programs at Tulsa Community College, Valeria Benabdallah, CEO, Director and Psychotherapist at VEMB Psychotherapy Services, and Denita White, Manager of Equity Content at Tulsa Public Schools.
Though the conversation centered on four main questions to the panelists, the discussion touched on numerous timely topics surrounding race, education, and how educators of all backgrounds can be allies in the classroom.
Dr. Bennett began the conversation by describing some of her early experiences in education, where students of color would gravitate toward her because she was Black.
“They wanted someone who looked like them, who shared experience with them when they were experiencing trauma in the classroom,” Dr. Bennett said. “Most notably, they wanted to talk about microaggressions, because it’s really hard to tackle those because they aren’t overt.”
Curtis shared a similar experience of being able to make a difference with students of color through intervention rather than punishment. She said when she validated those young men, they were no longer disruptive and instead were able to start seeing themselves as scholars.
“So it’s important for teachers to look beyond behavior,” Curtis said.
The second question posed to the panel focused on how teachers, school staff, and school leaders can best support students who have or are experiencing racial discrimination or racial trauma.
“Your black and brown students don’t need to be saved,” White said. “The issue here is resources and it always has been resources and the way that institutionalized racism takes resources away from black and brown people.”
Bennett echoed that sentiment, stating that the best course of action is to believe the stories and experiences of Black students.
The panelists agreed that teachers and school staff all have an important role to play in this conversation, as well.
“Equity– it’s not a tag word,” Curtis said. You can’t expect teachers to be committed to equity if leaders aren’t committed.”
All the panelists were asked about resources they recommend for those who want to continue to learn in this space and become better advocates and allies.
“I don’t like to give specific lists, because it really requires you doing the work,” Benabdallah said. “Start by assessing how much you don’t know. Go to respective boards (eg: American Psychological Association) and there are online journals that can help. Boston Colleges Institution does a lot of work around cultural sensitivity, implicit bias, the effects of racism. There is a racial recovery plan that helps guide healing. We need to develop recovery plans from microaggressions and racism.”
At the end of the call, this resource list was shared with participants as tools they might be able to use to continue this conversation. If you have additional questions, please contact ImpactTulsa at email@example.com or any of the panelists at their contact information listed in the resource document.
This panel was the final bi-weekly call in a series around Education and Distance Learning, but certainly is not the end of the work ImpactTulsa is doing in the community to facilitate important conversations and to center racial equity.
“We really work to center measuring what matters with data, but we also know that the lived experiences of our students are data points, too, that we must address,” Williams Bradley said. “At the center of this work we’re doing is the pursuit for racial equity. As we know, right now, we’re in a crisis–we’re addressing two pandemics: COVID, and our nation’s response to systemic racism.
“As educators are entering into the classroom in August, we are working as conveners and facilitators to bring together the experts, to provide resources and information to our partners.”