Living in Colour: Blackness and Racial Justice and Equity in the Education Institution

Obianuju Juliet Bushi, PhD student, sessional lecturer, student advisor and newly elected Regina Catholic School Board trustee

The current coronavirus pandemic has created economic, social, educational, and political uncertainties in North America and worldwide. This pandemic has tested our systems and has changed the way we perform our daily living. Teaching and learning have taken a new form and classes have been restructured and redesigned to keep students and teachers safe and to minimize the spread of this deadly virus. In addition to the pandemic, education institutions have to respond to concerns and provide clear answers to tough questions from students, faculty, and non-teaching staff about their safety in school and the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning. Schools have also witnessed significant cuts in funding and resources that have affected the ways education resources become available and accessible based on needs, race, and class (Khalifa, 2013).

The issues of power and racial inequalities in schooling contexts have been a topic of discussion since the 1990s by many scholars of colour (see, for example, Derrick Bell, 1993; Gloria Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). In response to the inequitable access to education for minoritized students (Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and other People of Colour), many post-secondary institutions have developed frameworks that address “whiteness” and are working to understand education policies and reforms (Khalifa, Dunbar & Douglas, 2013) and their impacts on Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) students and faculty members. Discrimination and racial inequalities against IBPOC people are invisible to those who are not affected by them because they are endemic, engrained, and normalized in educational institutions and policies.

The unlawful killing of 46-year-old George Floyd on the 25th of May in the United States sparked unrest all over the world with thousands of concerned citizens taking a stance against racial injustice and police brutality against Black people. Many “Black Lives Matter” rallies were held across the country with hundreds and thousands of protesters showing their support and marching in solidarity.

As a Black student in the Faculty of Education, I have received moral and social support from fellow students, my supervisor, and senior administrators. This act of responsibility and support also shows that more needs to be done to address racial injustice and inequalities that IBPOC students and faculty may experience within and outside our Faculty. It also indicates that educational institutions need to move beyond conversations to actions—from liberal multiculturalism to critically relevant practices, from abyssal thinking to critical thinking and post-abyssal thinking (thinking from the realm of the “other” by the “other”) and from a non-racist to anti-racist practice—to address barriers and challenges that continue to impact academic success and personal growth of students and to promote a safe space for IBPOC faculty members to be their authentic selves. So, one may ask, how can an educational institution that embodies whiteness and Eurocentric practices promote blackness and black scholarship?

As many education scholars will agree, education is politics, and so is our curriculum because it is created from a lens that privileges a particular construction of knowledge and the record of knowledge, which more often than not, favours dominant culture. As a graduate student, I have enjoyed classes that allowed me to share my story without having to think and speak like the dominant population. I have also enjoyed classes that were interactive and engaging especially for IBPOC students. More often, our voices are silenced and our knowledge and experiences go unnoticed and undervalued. The Faculty of Education has allowed me to grow as an aspiring critically aware educator and activist and I have cherished the support and resources I have received and continue to receive.

I started my post-graduate studies in curriculum and instruction in the Faculty of Education in 2015, a couple of years after completing my MPA. Since my start date, I have been very fortunate to have been granted a much-needed Leave of Absence (Personal and Maternity) that allowed me to balance my studies and family life. I have also been a Sessional Lecturer at First Nations University for over eight years and a faculty advisor for a couple of years now. I have had the privilege of working with faculty members in the capacity of a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) that allowed me to experience and gain crucial knowledge in the teacher education program. I have also built intellectual relationships with students, faculty, and preservice and in-service teachers and have improved my knowledge of the K-12 system. These experiences have also inspired me to continue my research work in “exploring the perceptions of Black-African students (K-12) school experience and mental wellness in Saskatchewan,” an area I am passionate about. As a recently elected board trustee in the Regina Catholic School Division, I hope to continue to inspire young people to be more involved in their various communities and capacities. I am also very fortunate to be on the Board with dedicated and passionate trustees that understand the importance of putting students first.

By Obianuju Juliet Bushi, PhD student, sessional lecturer, student advisor and newly elected Regina Catholic School Board trustee

Click here to read Obianuju Juliet Bushi’s Opinion piece in CBC News “Sask.’s next government must address barriers Black people face.”

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