We Listen. We Evolve. We Act.

By: Jeff Nazzaro

We’ve all cringed at recent headlines and shaken our heads--shocked and chagrined at the stories and videos of racial insensitivity lurking beneath the clicks: in Riverside, a high school math teacher dons a costume feathered headdress and war whoops and tomahawk chops her way through a lesson on a mnemonic device used in trigonometry; in Upland, an employee at an elementary school sends out a message disagreeing with a school request that everyone wear red to help celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year because, “China gave us this COVID;” and a Temecula administrator was fired over an anti-Asian rant in a Newport Beach parking lot that was captured on video and went viral online.

“We continue to be shocked and chagrined at the stories and videos of racial insensitivity in our schools…”

While it can be difficult to fathom just how these types of incidents keep occurring, especially among licensed educators, we are making great strides in awareness and sensitivity as regards issues of race, religion, and ethnicity. This is evidenced by the fact that anecdotes like those above are so often exposed and condemned. Still, it is obvious that much more needs to be done.

In fact, a recent study led by by Associate Professor Rita Kohli of the UCR School of Education shows that there has been significant pushback from prospective educators learning the theoretical frameworks around race and racism in schools. The study argues through a critical race theory lens that what Kohli terms “race-evasive” predominantly white students are “enabled to protect and leverage their whiteness” at the expense of teacher educators of color. Among its proposed solutions, the study proposes that those admitted to teacher training programs demonstrate a “base level of racial literacy.”

“…those admitted to teacher training programs demonstrate a base level of racial literacy.”

Daniel Rubin is a professor and researcher with a background in education curriculum and instruction who specializes in the concept of equity, social justice, diversity, and multicultural education. In addition to serving as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Redlands, Dr. Rubin teaches a course called “Implementing Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom” as part of UCR University Extension’s Specialized Study Program in Ethnic Studies Education, one of three distinct programs offered under the banner of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The courses are instrumental in the ongoing struggle against racism in our schools.

“The best way to fight ignorance and intolerance is by learning about racial and ethnic studies,” contends Dr. Rubin. “Burying one’s head in the sand might work for ostriches, but it does nothing to advance understanding of the world we actually live in.”

In addition to “Implementing Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom,” the 8-unit Ethnic Studies Education program consists of “Teaching Ethnic Studies in K-12 Settings,” “Racial Inequality in K-12 Education,” and “Implementing Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom” and is designed for pre- and in-service teachers, administrators, and civic and community leaders.

“The best way to fight ignorance and intolerance is by learning about racial and ethnic studies…”

The 6-unit Cultural Competence and Social Justice Leadership program does similar work to Ethnic Studies Education but is designed specifically for those in administrative and policy positions, including superintendents, equity administrators, county office administrators, Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) implementation specialists, and district school board members. The two courses, “Cultural Competence for Educators” and “Leadership for Equity and Social Justice” give those in education leadership roles the foundational knowledge to understand historical inequality in schools, while developing methods, standards, and approaches aimed at confronting that inequality and improving educational outcomes for marginalized students.

Finally, the Diversity and Multiculturalism Specialized Achievement Award program has been designed specifically get and/or keep high school students ahead of the curve when it comes to cultural sensitivity and awareness as well as contributing to positive intercultural relationship in a local and global context. The 3-course, 8-unit program covers vital internship and job preparation skills like interviewing and resume writing and successful students earn UC course credit for use on their college applications.

All three constituencies are of course vital in the ever-evolving battle for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our school and by extension our society.

“It’s beyond time we are inclusive of all Americans and their contributions to the United States…”

Talisa A. Sullivan understands this as well as anyone. An educator for more than two decades, she holds a doctorate in Education and Urban Leadership and serves as an administrator in the Equity and Access Unit of the Riverside County Office of Education.

“It’s beyond time we are inclusive of all Americans and their contributions to the United States,” said Dr. Sullivan, who conducts equity workshops and trainings to help others on their journey toward creating more equitable schools and systems. “Ethnic Studies considers the contributions of all Americans, including those whose history is often untold. Ethnic Studies focuses on empowering all students to think critically about their worldview, the way others view the world, and the barriers faced historically by communities of color. Interrupting systemic racism takes courage but eradicating the system that perpetuates racism will take action.”

Dr. Sullivan continues, “Ethnic Studies challenges the dominant narrative and listens to and uplifts the voices that illuminate the counter-narrative. Arthur Chan wrote, ‘Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is an outcome.’ It’s time to hear the voices, see the faces, and feel the impact of an inclusive education, of education with Ethnic Studies as a non-negotiable.”