Published October 10, 2023
To explore this question, the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education canceled all coursework and office work for students, faculty and staff on Sept. 22 to host a “Teach-In”—an event that builds on GSE's efforts to discuss and learn about the relationship between racial injustice and education. In 2020, GSE hosted the school’s inaugural Teach-In, “Make Good Trouble Now: Teach-In for Racial Equity." The school plans to offer a Teach-In every two years.
The event, “Making Change that Matters: Teach-In for Racial Equity,” explored systemic racism in education, society and digital infrastructures, offering an opportunity for the GSE community to learn and outline actions for working toward desired change within GSE and the greater community.
Held in person on UB’s North Campus and virtually for online students, GSE’s Teach-In was inspired by the teach-ins during the anti-war movement in the 1960s, which were held to educate and elevate collective knowledge needed to improve social conditions.
“In the Graduate School of Education, we believe that education, knowledge and understanding are powerful tools to fight the forces of structural racism. This Teach-In, like our first, is an opportunity for us to take stock, individually and collectively, of our commitments and vision for a more equitable future for ourselves and the communities in which we live and serve. As an institution of higher education, we come to this moment to learn, teach and stretch our beliefs and understandings,” said Suzanne Rosenblith, GSE dean and professor.
The Teach-In featured the expertise of three keynote speakers:
Charleston’s session set the tone for a day of learning as she invited the GSE community to join her in reflection as she took the audience on a journey through history, culture and current issues, like teaching critical race theory: “I want to think about race and the making of it this morning. I want to think about the making of the meaning of it—the way in which the project of constructing race has intersected with the making of the law of citizenship, as each has its own history and those histories intertwined,” she said. “And I want to think through the 14th amendment, and why it continues to be the most fought over and fraught amendment within the Constitution, seeing more litigation than any other amendment in all of our jurisprudence. And, at the same time, how it shapes the contours of American life, like an invisible hand.”
The morning continued with Fleming’s presentation, sharing her own personal stories and building upon many of the topics that Charleston introduced earlier in the day. In her introduction, she professed: “We need to teach and learn racial literacy because our schools and educational institutions have been inculcating generations upon generations of children and young people allied with racist ideas. And while there have been significant shifts in educational policies, this nation has never actually committed to addressing and correcting the racist indoctrination that has degraded our society.”
The remainder of her presentation and Q&A session centered on topics such as why racial literacy is essential for justice and how to infuse one’s work with visionary imagination.
She urged the GSE community to cultivate imagination to create change: “We need to be able to imagine a world where racism and white supremacy have been uprooted,” Fleming said. “What inspires your imagination even as we face the realities that we live with today? How can you imagine beyond them? And how can you inspire your students if you have them now, or when you have them in the future?”
“I call upon you and invite you—in your own work, whatever that work is—within this institution, and in your community more broadly to infuse that work with what lights you up and to infuse your work, not only with your inspiration, but with what you learn from your own students and community members. Imagine. Connect. Grow. This is part of the everyday work, and we can’t do it alone,” she continued.
After lunch, GSE’s students, faculty and staff again came together for Singh’s interactive session on racial healing. “We're going to talk about how racial healing actually can infuse things like land and labor acknowledgments, but one of the things I want to talk about… is that during this day, during this time, you've probably been thinking about other people… I really want to encourage us all to think about—and it's something I just have learned over and over again about racial healing—is this time is about no one else but you,” Singh said.
She encouraged audience members to speak to each other and the group at large while exploring the steps one can take to challenge privilege, confront systemic racism and engage in collective healing. The steps discussed included knowing one’s own racial identity, exploring internalized racism, (re)learning the history of racism, grieving and naming racism, raising race consciousness, catching oneself in the flow of racism, understanding racism in relationships, and reclaiming your whole racial self.
Rosenblith and Raechele Pope, professor, chief diversity officer and associate dean of faculty and student affairs, concluded the Teach-In with a town hall session, discussing themes, topics and questions that arose throughout the event. As they reflected on the day, they also looked back on the three years since the last GSE Teach-In.
"We did a Teach-In in 2020... One of the things that the dean and I promised was that we weren't just doing a Teach-In. The Teach-In was not the intervention to try and create something different. The Teach-In was a tool," said Pope during the town hall.
Pope cites that the Teach-In and other GSE events and initiatives have led to increased racial dialogue, a deeper commitment to curricular transformation and inclusion, and increased diversity of people, ideas and engagement at GSE.