Throughout the five weeks of AFAM 399/EDUC 614 joint classroom sessions, I had the honor to participate and engage in intellectual activism that has influenced my outlook on scholarship, action, and pedagogy.
I am a white, cisgendered, able bodied, middle class woman with the privilege to attend a four year University. I must include my positionality because my experience in any space, and particularly in a classroom at a predominantly white institution, will forever be affected by my privileged identities.
After five weeks of Fridays filled with reflection, pedagogical engagement, and active discussion with graduate students at various levels of social justice education, I can honestly say that this has been the most enriching educational experience of my life. Leaving class every Friday, I was on an intellectual high. The level of engagement in the room was incredible. People grappled with ideas and multifaceted social constructions with passion and humility. I loved watching MAT students, many of whom are new to the work, begin to see and understand what intellectual activism can feel like. Although we had a different batch of MAT students in class with us every week, common themes emerged. The graduate students nearly always asked questions about action, leading to discussions about what it really means to teach for social justice, what it looks like, and what institutional roadblocks stand in the way. We also had many discussions about the value of personal reflection in learning and teaching. The process of unlearning requires analysis of conscious and unconscious things we were socialized to believe about ourselves and others, so reflection is necessary. However, we also discussed how narratives must be balanced with historical analysis, critical thinking skills, and active engagement.
Often there were overwhelmed faces around the room. For those who have had the privilege to never think about race or racism, the awakening is shocking, and feelings of guilt and shame are easy to slip into. However, I was continually impressed by how the MAT students were facing this new knowledge and working through discomfort.
I grew ten fold in each class. I had to practice meeting people where they were at, backing up my ideas with evidence, balancing my voice with the others in the room, being approachable, showing vulnerability, and showing up for the work in a present and intentional way. I experienced huge pride in the African American Studies Department that I have the privilege to be in, and I was able to declare my Education Minor with the confidence that our School of Education is doing something right.
As my semester in AFAM 399 comes to a close, I am beginning to appreciate the immense intellectual time and energy it takes to create the kind of transformative learning experience that I have had. I am inspired by our professors, for their own pedagogical activism was the reason I was able to have such a productive and enriching experience. How were they able to create a space where even the silences taught me something? Active and critical pedagogy seems to be a miracle of thought and action combined and an important component of intellectual activism. I am beginning to understand what Patricia Hill Collins meant when she said, regarding teaching: “When I got it right, it was magical.”
Anna Mondschean is a sophomore at University of Puget Sound pursuing an undergraduate degree in African American Studies with minors in Education and Gender and Queer Studies. She participates in the Symphony Orchestra and plays Ultimate Frisbee in her spare time.