Countering anti-blackness in the education system

Final Hidden Truths session of the semester at RWU

“We are in the inner ring of hell around omissions and white washing in a way I’ve literally never seen in the 20 years of my career of trying to strip away books from children,” said Associate Professor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Roger Williams University Dr. Kerri Ullucci. She followed this statement with data from the American Library Association, the year 2022 was an all time record for books that are being challenged. “There are 1,200 challenges made against 2,500 different books,” Ullucci said.
The last Hidden Truths session of the semester was held on Tuesday April 4, where Ullucci spoke with Dean of the school of Education for University of California Riverside Dr. Joi Spencer. They gave an enlightening presentation on the way Anti-Blackness functions in schools. They highlighted the ways our society has historically and systemically limited the Black community’s progress and significance of these impacts are still affecting Black students today. Spencer discussed that the presence of anti-blackness in schools is, “something that evolves over time.” Right now, we are living through a period where restriction on African-American history and overall representation in K-12 curriculums is rapidly increasing. This is an expansion of the inequality that has always existed in the education system.
Other than the avoidance of lessons based on deep contextual African-American history, the speakers also touched on examples of harsh discipline and over-policing of Black youth inside and outside of school. Ullucci gave examples of the disproportionality through statistics; 49% of girls who are suspended are Black, the amount of girls who are incarcerated in Florida are Black. “Ten counties have arrested more than ten girls who are under the age of twelve,” Ullucci included to the list of data, “We should ask ourselves; what is a 12-year-old girl doing that would be arrestable.”
Although these educational spaces may be diverse, the two speakers provide reasoning that these environments are not necessarily equitable for Black students. Spencer provided a brief overview of research that shows that although black children are going to an integrated school, this does not result in a positive experience. Ullucci said, “Their opportunities get constrained around playing sports rather than joining the engineering club or the debate league or doing other academic pursuits.” She discussed that Black students are a target for athletics because of physical capabilities, but are not perceived as mentally qualified for academic extracurriculars. As a result of the oppression ingrained into the education system, Spencer unfolded the perpetuated stereotypes, “They are seen as illiterate, as uneducated, as less than”, she said.
There are solutions to provide equity across all aspects of education, Spencer shined a light on her participation with Steam Academy, a program that is rooted in intentional inclusive spaces for Black students who want to study STEM disciplines. She explained their efforts with their intentionality stating, “Black youth are incredibly diverse, we are looking for Black staff who come from a variety of backgrounds”, the Steam Academy prioritizes inclusion while providing a setting where Black youth are encouraged to grow and learn. The academy provides opportunities for this community to pursue an educational path despite the challenges they face systemically.
The final Hidden Truths session provided viewers with methods of countering anti-blackness in schools. The RWU campus is not excluded from systemic anti-blackness and there are many ways this university can make adjustments to create a more equitable space for all students. The two speakers highlighted the importance of communicating with Black students and families to construct an environment that will allow these individuals to thrive with their higher education. Implementing open conversations and additional resources for this community will only progress the university’s efforts with equity and inclusion.