In the spring of 2022, the Syracuse University Study Council and the Intergroup Dialogue Program collaborated to develop a supportive online community for educators of color in central New York City.
Facilitated by Courtney Mauldin, assistant professor of instructional leadership, and third-year doctoral student Easton Davis G’21, the Educators of Color Dialogue follows a similar framework and instructional design adopted by the Intergroup Dialogue Program, developed from participation from the University to the Multi-Project of research on university intergroup dialogue.
At Syracuse University, Intergroup Dialogue – led by Professor Gretchen Lopez – offers academic courses and extracurricular dialogues focusing on race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, class and faith identities. Each opportunity brings together students and community members of diverse social identities, sometimes with histories of conflict or limited opportunities to engage in meaningful discussion about difficult issues.
Color Dialogue educators have also leveraged the partnerships formed between the School of Education and several central New York school districts through the Study Council, a research, networking, and support collaboration led by Professor Leela George and the superintendent and school of the East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District. of Education alumnus Donna DeSiato G’04.
After signing up for the Educators of Color Dialogue, teachers received a welcome kit, including a journal in which they could process their thoughts and ideas after and between dialogues. They also received the book “Creating a Home in Schools: Sustaining Identities for Black, Indigenous, and Teachers of Color,” which helps extend the group’s conversations.
“The conversations we had were open and very vulnerable,” says Professor Mauldin. “People came forward as themselves and had a space to share what they were experiencing in their neighborhoods without fear of backlash.”
Easton Davis has spoken at length about his experience facilitating the early Educators of Color Dialogue and how that experience informs his doctoral study, which “centers black bodies and (re)define wellness.”
Q: How would you describe Color Dialogue Educators?
This is a collaboration between Study Council Initiatives and Intergroup Dialog. We held dialogue sessions between January 24 and May 16, with 13 participants spread across the city of Syracuse and area schools. We invited educators with multiple and intersectional identities who ranged in years of teaching experience – from three to over 17 – and at different grade levels, including kindergarten, third, fourth, sixth, ninth and the terminal.
Professor Mauldin and I have worked to create a space of affinity for these teachers so that we can engage in dialogue on topics such as social equity in schools and develop resources to affirm educators of experiences of color.
Q: In Intergroup Dialogue, trained facilitators frame co-learning, encourage open discussion, and guide a group process designed to build trust and explore intersections. Do dialogue educators follow this process?
Educators of Color Dialogue follows a similar process and structure used to maintain dialogue; however, our dialogue was co-hosted by two people who identify as members of a similar or shared racial and ethnic identity group – Black, African American or Latinx.
Content and curriculum were based on the interests of educators. We’ve created an overview of various topics, including the history of teachers of color, exploring social identities, naming conflict, and building a community of care for students and educators.
Most intentional in bringing these educators of color together was to center our perspective on healing. Part of our intent has been rooted in a heal-justice approach, given the current social and political climate and what teachers of color have experience, including often being one of the few in a white profession majority and feeling exhausted due to the pandemic and social uprisings spurred in 2020.
That’s why we’ve focused on what healing looks or feels like – affirming that their experiences are enough, while also acknowledging broader systems of inequality and oppression.
Q: Could you expand on what you mean by “wider systems of inequality and oppression” in this context?
Our group has sometimes discussed how broader systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, and homophobia are reinforced within institutions such as education, especially for educators of color.
We have recognized how these systems of oppression have manifested themselves in our thoughts, policies, and larger school systems, such as the surplice of black children, racial stereotyping, and microaggressions toward black, Asian, and Latinx educators, such as calls and intimidation.
Aspects of our dialogue also addressed the practice of self-care as an act of embracing joy, reflecting how broader systems of oppression often perpetuate issues of social inequality and racial injustice in schools. .
Q: How would you describe the objectives of the dialogue?
Our goal was to be present to the needs and desires of educators and to be sensitive to their experiences as educators of color.
Importantly, while the climate and culture in school districts for some may be described as exhausting and unresponsive to the needs of supportive educators, we have co-created a space to discuss how advocacy for joy and imagination of radical acts of healing during a time of intense inequity, violence and precariousness is essential to our survival and our sense of fulfillment.
Professor Mauldin and I are not trying to act as if there is a panacea to fix what is wrong with the world. We have engaged in dialogue with these educators to recognize the challenges of centering their voices and becoming attuned to the power and genius they bring to their classrooms.
Q: What feedback did you get from attendees?
The teachers appreciated our vulnerability modeling activities and enjoyed the space. The tools we have proposed have been inspired by issues that teachers themselves have raised. We used this self-orientation to develop the topics and content of the sessions and to help contextualize the issues that were raised.
Q: Will this work inform your doctoral research?
Yes, my work and support with Color Dialogue Educators will undoubtedly continue to inform my work and my dissertation topic, especially as I continue to understand the relationship between emotions and healing justice.
This dialogue took place at a time of deep racial injustice, insecurity and inequality – anti-black and anti-Asian racism, transphobia, homophobic policies and legislation, especially in schools across the country. It is essential to create spaces, especially for educators of color, in which to speak out about the challenges and issues of inequality they face as one of the few people of color in the districts.
However, this is not the only aspect of dialogue that I find important in my approach to justice healing for people of color. I interpret healing justice in dialogues that explore issues of social inequality as an acknowledgment of historical oppression and its manifestations and an opportunity to discuss what recovery might look and feel in the body.
For me, this exploration requires a dialogue approach that affirms that lived experiences are enough and encourages people to play and have fun in the process. Remembering how a negative experience affected a person’s sense of self and identity can evoke a myriad of emotions, but it can also become an invitation to center practices of joy and love.