Humility Matters: Interrogating Our Positionality, Power, and Privilege Through Collaboration

Humility Matters: Interrogating Our Positionality, Power, and Privilege Through Collaboration

Anita Bright (Portland State University, USA), Susan Acosta (Portland State University, USA) and Brad Parker (Portland State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5268-1.ch002
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In this autoethnographic work focused on humility, three voices speak to an experience in co-facilitating three sections of a master's level course in an initial teacher preparation program. The course, titled Educating for Equity and Social Justice, took place in a large, urban, public university in the US during the summer of 2019, and was taught primarily by a faculty member. Two doctoral students at the same university elected to participate as part of their doctoral internships, each with a vision of what insights and learnings might occur through this engagement. With the three voices (one faculty member and two doctoral students) intertwined, the authors draw from their own lived experiences as a framework with which to analyze and interpret their experiences, reflections, and cultural assumptions to highlight the ways humility informs their work.
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In higher education settings, ideas and issues related to social justice and diversity are multifaceted, and offer infinite opportunities for engagement, connection, growth, and questioning. As educators, our willingness to acknowledge, address, and engage with these issues is essential, as we hold an unwavering obligation to work towards the creation of a more equitable, loving, and just world for our students.

As a means to move forward in this journey, in this chapter, we offer three voices, each providing a window into ways we have encountered and become entangled in these issues of social justice and diversity. At the time of this writing, Anita was a university faculty member, and Susan and Brad were both doctoral students enrolled in the program Anita co-led.

Each of the three authors of this work spoke from a unique positionality, and drew from different histories and contexts. Together, their voices offer readers views into the ways each writer experienced and reflected upon pieces of their collaborative process, as well as a window into how the authors’ layered interdependence and sense of being in this together generated a path towards deepened learning, flattened hierarchies, and moving towards deeper and more nuanced layers of humility. We open this work by speaking to our positionalities, because as Paulo Freire (1985) noted, “Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle” (p. 186). In our clear desire to work in the struggle towards a more equitable and just world, we offer our own identities in encapsulated, incomplete but summarized form.

Anita is a White, straight, cisgender woman, who was 50 years old at the time this work took place. Currently living a middle-class life, Anita’s history includes a working class childhood with episodes of deep poverty and housing instability. She’s a first generation high school graduate, and the only person in her extended family to have completed a university degree. Currently a tenured associate professor, she had been at the institution of higher education featured in this work for the previous 8 years. Before this, she worked for 21 years in public school settings, mostly as a middle and high school ESOL and mathematics teacher. Her first and primary language is English.

Susan is a 52 year-old Asian Pacific Islander cisgender woman. During the time of this internship she worked and lived in an affluent and ethnically diverse community. She was raised in a lower income home by parents who experienced trauma from the bombing at Pearl Harbor and the years of war thereafter. Alcoholism and physical abuse were regular occurrences during her upbringing. She’s earned two Masters degrees in teaching and educational leadership, and is currently working toward a doctorate in educational leadership. Her focus is on ways in which colorblind racism is embedded in curriculum and policy, which ultimately impacts how students of color interact with schooling. Susan has been an educator in an elementary school setting for the past 19 years. Her primary language is Hawaiian pidgin and secondary is English.

Brad is a 36 year-old White male educator. His roots are in Chicago, where he spent 10 years in the classroom as a middle school language and literature and individuals and societies teacher and International Baccalaureate coordinator before moving to Portland, Oregon to become an assistant principal. He currently works in the office of teaching and learning on the reconceptualization, humanization, and decolonization of K-12 social studies education. His current doctoral research is on teachers, race, and identity in the U.S. public educational system, and the multifaceted historical and contemporary challenges of a largely racially homogeneous teacher force.

Our woven-together-ness had been in place for about a year at the time of this writing, with another year of formal classes remaining, with Anita again leading the doctoral cohort with a colleague.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Colorblind Racism: A framework in which systems and structures are the catalyzing agents of discriminatory practices which reinforces the status quo of the dominant race.

Autoethnography: Personal narratives that an author will illuminate for critical analysis or interpretation.

Social Justice: Advocating for and taking action to create equality, fairness and dignity to all human beings.

Culturally Sustaining Teaching: Sustaining students’ individual cultural and linguistic competence while at the same time building dominant cultural competence.

Microaggression: Indirect, subtle or unintentional acts of discrimination against members of marginalized groups of people.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Building on student’s cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and frames of reference to empower students to excel intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Teacher Candidate: An individual engaged in preparation to become a licensed teacher.

Equity: Different from equality (wherein everyone gets or has access to the same), equity ensures everyone gets or has access to what they need.

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