Published June 15, 2023
Hosted by the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, this year’s theme was “(Un)Censoring the Narrative, Transgressing Power and Activism in Education,” which aimed to (re)build a collective sense of purpose, rekindle passion for work among academics and practitioners, and look beyond the borders of GSE to better serve the school’s wider community.
The event was planned by four student co-chairs—Kristina Collier, Giambattista Davis, Ngo (NuNu) Hna and Meg Syrell—as well as an interdisciplinary committee of 13 additional students from across GSE.
Students cited several reasons for getting involved with the symposium, including obtaining valuable event planning experience and seizing the opportunity to present research.
“Serving as a co-chair taught me a great deal about the comprehensive processes and opportunities involved in academic conference planning,” said Meg Syrell, symposium planning committee co-chair and student in GSE’s higher education PhD program. “It was particularly wonderful to further my understanding of how to organize and implement a peer review process.”
After presenting her research at last year’s virtual symposium, Kavitha Muralidhar, a student in GSE’s higher education PhD program, decided to serve on the symposium planning committee. “Student research symposiums are very important for students to showcase their original research in a less intimidating forum… These research symposium events on campuses offer students a way to represent themselves and prepare for presenting at national conferences,” she said.
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Melinda Lemke served as the symposium adviser.
Susan C. Faircloth, an enrolled member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina and professor in the School of Education at Colorado State University, was the keynote speaker and kicked off the symposium with her presentation, “Schol(her)ship as an Act of Survivance: Reflections from an Indigenous M(other) Scholar.” The talk offered a personal account of her identity as an Indigenous mother and her journey to becoming and persisting as a scholar.
By sharing details about her culture, life and approach to engaging in research, she called attention to the need for remembrance and stories and their critical role in resistance. The presentation highlighted stories about Faircloth’s family and the many lessons she has learned, including the need to ensure that researchers focused on education must produce work that is relevant both in and outside of academia.
“I would encourage each of you to think about your relationships with the academy—the ways in which the academy serves to promote or the ways in which the academy serves to silence you and your work. You have some choices about that work,” she said.
Faircloth shared the questions she often asks herself about how to become a better scholar and encouraged the audience to consider the same questions: “What is my relationship to the academy? What are my relationships with communities and individuals with whom and for whom I work? What are the responsibilities that those relationships entail? How do I engage in those relationships in that work in a respectful way? How do I persist with the larger forces telling me not to move forward? How do I do this work in a transparent way? And most of all, how do I do it with an ethic of reciprocity?”
Her powerful presentation set the tone for the rest of the symposium, which featured papers, panels and presentations by over 30 graduate students from all disciplines within GSE.
Doctoral students Anthony Vargas, Min Hu, NuNu Hna and Ogechi Kalu kicked off the first student panel. Their backgrounds and varied research interests sparked a dynamic discussion exploring the narrated experiences of belongingness, race, and educational and career choices in communities throughout the U.S.
“This was my first opportunity to participate on a symposium panel. It was an amazing experience, beginning with the collaborative process among panel members to put it together. The panel’s topic is important to my research area,” said Hna, symposium co-chair and student in GSE’s educational culture, policy and society PhD program. “Presenting our research to scholars and student researchers helped me to build confidence.”
Another event highlight included a poster session facilitated by Sunha Kim, associate professor in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology and the Department of Learning and Instruction. The presenters included student team members from the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention, including Swapna Balkundi, Amanda Breese, Anna Cryan, Hannah Grossman, Minjung Kang, Gabriella Martinez and Stacy Scheuneman.
The symposium continued virtually the following day, featuring a warm welcome and two additional paper sessions. The sessions, led by Tim Monreal, assistant professor of learning and instruction, and Jasmine Alvarado, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy, explored narratives in math education and narratives of well-being.
Both online and in-person, GSE students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to engage in lively discussions and learn from one another about past and current educational equity challenges as well as the solutions needed to ensure that public education can better serve our communities.
After the symposium concluded, the student planning committee reflected on the event and the experiences shared throughout the planning process. The committee members agreed that the event was overwhelmingly successful—individually and institutionally.
“The symposium was my first time coordinating something on such a large scale. Learning how to run a budget, invite a speaker, and manage other logistics—like food, venue and reviewing proposals—taught me about teamwork, collaborating with campus partners and making sure my team’s voices were heard,” said Kristina Collier, symposium planning committee co-chair and student in GSE’s higher education PhD program.
Iman Lathan, symposium planning committee member and student in GSE’s educational culture, policy and society PhD program, viewed the strong connections made during the planning process as a sign of success: “By the time the committee had its last meeting, we all felt like one big family… Dr. Lemke was a huge part of this. She gave students room to lead and made it comfortable to voice our opinions. Dr. Lemke put her heart into this symposium, so it was easy for us to follow her leadership.”
Lemke shared similar feelings about the event and the students involved.
“By multiple markers, the symposium was a success—to begin, it was the first major in-person GSE-wide event held since the start of the pandemic, and based on faculty feedback, had one of the largest turnouts in recent history. Among programmatic tasks, the students planned extensively for a keynote speaker who could not join us in the last hour; yet, they gracefully pivoted to the moment, and welcomed Dr. Susan C. Faircloth to Buffalo,” said Lemke.
“Still, what made this event brilliant was our students—and the transformational standards the committee set from the beginning: to be present, to meet as equals, to make space for each other’s ideas, and to be intentional about the societal narratives they wanted to challenge and the story they wanted to tell through the symposium,” she continued. “In short, there was a real feeling of love in the work being done, and that kind of sentiment and experience will last beyond the event itself.”