The College of William and Mary’s School of Education hosted a panel discussion on social justice and equity Nov. 9.
The panel discussion, titled “Marching, Kneeling and Standing for Equity and Justice: A forum on Activism and Education,” featured education professor Jamel Donnor, Hispanic studies professor Jonathan Arries, founder of The Village Jacqueline Bridgeforth-Williams and Deputy Chief Diversity Officer Dania Matos.
The panelists focused on issues of justice and race that have come up in the past year at both the national and community levels and discussed the potential for activism in educational settings.
According to the panelists, equity promises fairness and an equal access to opportunity. Thus, equity and justice in a learning environment are exemplified through a complete focus on the students.
It is important to look at what their needs are, where they come from culturally … and who their families are,” Bridgeforth-Williams said. “Through this, we can educate, support and encourage each other. To be an activist in the classroom, one must stay informed and knowledgeable on current issues in our community and nation, and work to build a network of people willing to listen to one another.”
“It is important to look at what their needs are, where they come from culturally … and who their families are,” Bridgeforth-Williams said. “Through this, we can educate, support and encourage each other. To be an activist in the classroom, one must stay informed and knowledgeable on current issues in our community and nation, and work to build a network of people willing to listen to one another.”
The panelists discussed barriers to activism, which they described as twofold. On one hand, stigmatization surrounding activism leads to a fear of consequences and concern for how others will view action.
On the other hand, the historical aspect of activism has imposed high standards for what activism should look like and what it should accomplish, thus making activists wary of their potential to reach those standards.
Matos said that it is pertinent to remember that the United States was built on a foundation of dissent. Donnor said that while marching in the streets is what people often think about when they think about protest, donating money to causes and organizations is another way to help communities.
“There is enough to do for everybody,” Donnor said.
Throughout the forum, the panelists urged students at the College to take a stand on issues regarding diversity, justice and equity both on campus and within their communities. Matos posed the question, “Are you going to be a part of it to effectuate change for the better, or are you just going to occupy space?” She said she wanted to challenge students to recognize their potential and strive to apply that in a meaningful way.
Bridgeforth-Williams is the founder of The Village, a grassroots advocacy organization that focuses on diversity, inclusion and educational rights within Williamsburg-James City County Schools. She said that although expressing dissent in educational spaces can provoke change, it should always be pursued in a “non-confrontational and factual” manner. Further, she said it is important to recognize when dialogue is no longer working and find another channel to act through.
A member of the audience asked the panelists what steps can be taken in the future to make the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education an educational reality in the W-JCC and Hampton Roads communities.
Arries said that communities first must deal with the ways in which schools in a K-12 setting are funded. He said that wealthy communities are associated with good schools, while poorer neighborhoods are left with fewer valuable teachers and resources that can inhibit the educational growth of the students.
Bridgeforth-Williams said that the main issue is the gaps between full integration and reality that still need to be achieved. She said that Brown v. Board of Education was not about simply allowing children to walk into a school building, it was about fully incorporating them into the classroom.
Attendees included graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff at the College and members of the Williamsburg community.
Ben Israel M.A.Ed. ’18 said he attended the event because he believed activism was important for teaching.
Teaching is a very political thing and activism is a big part of it,” Israel said. “Knowing how to do it in an appropriate way for a job that is so regulated is important.”
“Teaching is a very political thing and activism is a big part of it,” Israel said. “Knowing how to do it in an appropriate way for a job that is so regulated is important.”
Arries ended the forum by saying that he sees hope in students at the College striving to become teachers, as their intelligence and educational background prepare them to become effective leaders in the classroom.
Arries said that activism continues to be a major aspect of both learning environments and communities today. Matos said modern activism is similar to the “grand times of activism in the 60s or 70s,” and said that she is predicting that this modern wave of activism will be written about in the future.