Why Belonging is Essential for Building Race Equity in Education

With summer (finally) here , it’s an important time to reflect on MnEEP’s work in the larger context of the racial justice movement and how we can continue to work together towards racial justice. Here in Minnesota and across the country, we are witnessing real demographic and transformational change. And as we have seen through media and amplified public narratives from leaders and elsewhere, with this societal change comes messages of fear and “othering” of so many groups of people.

This “fear of other” is dangerous, bringing about a standstill where leaders and institutions often retrench to structures and systems that no longer work for our new, emerging society. Worse, a “fear of other” will continue to leave institutions with systemic racism firmly built into them—without any attempts to create something new and inclusive.

Dismantling systemic racism, especially in education, requires a hope to see things new and the courage to build inclusive structures, policies, and practices that will bring about belonging to the center of these new realities. 

John a powell, the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California Berkeley, recently hosted the Othering and Belonging Conference, where notions of systemic inequality were challenged and new ideas for belonging were presented by thought leaders, artists, researchers, and activists.

Listening to Dr. powell’s keynote address on the web livestream I was struck by this remark: “The opposite of racism, is belonging.” Such a simple statement, but it carries deeper implications about processes for belonging-—analyzing our current systems and structures in society; a reflection on who the “We” is in our emerging multiracial society; the ways we bring new voices to the table to help in redesigning systems; and how we collectively create new cultural rituals of belonging and inclusivity.

Here are some ways we are working to support the elements and practices of “Belonging” through MnEEP’s 5 Big Bold Goals:

BBG #1: Leading with an equity lens developing collective race equity action plans

Through our two initiatives in BBG #1—leadership symposiums to advance race equity with school leaders and our rural work on Race Equity Action Plans and community dialogues—we’re working to bring about important opportunities for dialogue and to consider who the “We” is of school communities and shaping new institutions to encompass that “We”.

In Nobles County, as MnEEP provided technical assistance at a strategic retreat of education equity strategies, I was struck at how much a local school board member intently listened to immigrant youth from that community to better understand their experiences in the local schools.

 In the Mille Lacs region, our latest “It’s Time to Talk: Education Equity For All” dinner gathered school leaders, American Indian families, white families, and community leaders for an extensive talk about education equity and its necessity for building a prosperous community. The art of listening and dialogue is pertinent to building cultures of “Belonging”—without it, we don’t understand one another’s true intent and hopes and dreams that we bring to education systems and activities. For technical assistance on community engagement and Equity Action Plans, please contact Jennifer Godinez at jgodinez@mneep.org.

BBG #2:  Addressing racial disproportionality in special education and discipline and building more positive Minnesota school climates

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of how our education system has systemically excluded and “othered” groups of students is the issue of discipline disparities and racial disproportionality in special education, nationwide and locally.

When children continuously see their cultural group excluded out of learning opportunities generations after generations– what other message can they be getting than “you are not good enough” or “deserving” of access to knowledge or the building of your talents?

MnEEP is proud to work collectively with school leaders, the community, and special education and school discipline researchers and practitioners to reimagine school communities and address discipline codes, implicit bias issues, and restorative justice practices to build  better school climates. Our policy brief, “Excluded” – has already helped MnEEP start important conversations for a reexamination of school cultures, systems and policies that impact belonging practices to shape more inclusive and dignified school climates.

See our policy brief here and please invite our team of researchers and advocates to your table to envision a stronger climate of belonging at your school: https://mneep.org/resource/excluded-how-race-plays-a-role-in-exclusionary-practices-in-special-education-in-minnesota/

BBG #3:  Diversifying the teacher workforce

Along with strong advocacy messages and statewide mapping analysis of current teacher development pathways in Minnesota, MnEEP’s aim to increase the number of teachers of color and American Indian teachers also includes narrative-building to recruit more youth into the profession. 

It’s important that we reflect to communities how teachers of color and American Indian teachers can bring their unique perspectives and “cultural ways of knowing” to the education profession to support all students, especially students of color, for success. What’s more,  if we cannot bring our unique talents to shape and contribute to that institution, we might be urged to assimilate and adopt the same practices and approaches that have continued to leave out the voices and contributions of teachers of color. Belonging—having a voice and space—is essential for teachers of color and American Indian teachers as well as students of color and American Indian students.

 MnEEP is reshaping the narrative of the teaching profession at our Imprint site here: https://imprintu.org/

BBG #4:  Supporting education equity for Emerging Multilingual Learners in Minnesota

We are so proud that MnEEP, in partnership with the Coalition for Asian American Leaders (CAAL), was able to bring educators, researchers, and immigrant EL advocates from the Somali, Hmong, Latinx, and Karen communities to reshape EL policy recommendations for the state’s ESSA Plan.

 In modeling belonging for stronger education equity research and advocacy, we hoped to show how everyone who belongs to the issue of multilingualism, belonged at the table of shaping important education equity policy and practice recommendations. We also created a video to educate parents on their rights to a quality and accessible education. 

Check out these tools here: https://mneep.org/resource/education-as-a-right-and-resource/

BBG #5:  Improving equity and access in higher education

It’s important to remember that a strong democracy relies on greater participation and the belonging of diverse voices. The public higher education system actually has historic roots in this notion of communities of Belonging. By educating more people through land grant institutions of higher education, the goal was that more people would develop their talents and, therefore, bring more meaningful participation to a democratic society.

This is why MnEEP is proud to have Joyce Foundation support to do some research on the policy context that is hindering or supporting greater college completion for communities of color and American Indian students. We are bringing diverse researchers and advocates to examine the higher education finance and policy context, and will have recommendations and an advocacy agenda forthcoming! Stay Tuned!

Whether you just finished the school year as a teacher, a professor, a parent, a foster parent, or a community member deeply engaged in education equity, I hope that the frame of “Belonging” helps you reflect on how our education systems, policies, and practices are building communities of belonging. 

Let’s build stronger bridges in the months to come. 

Please join us in and become a member at www.mneep.org.

Posted in Our Voices, Race Equity

Jennifer Godinez View posts by Jennifer Godinez

Jennifer works in partnership with Minnesota communities to build Race Equity Plans and advance policies and practices that promote culturally responsive classrooms and encourage student success.
Posted in Our Voices, Race Equity

Jennifer Godinez View posts by Jennifer Godinez

Jennifer works in partnership with Minnesota communities to build Race Equity Plans and advance policies and practices that promote culturally responsive classrooms and encourage student success.
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