My new job requires me to do a lot of research on teacher preparation programs in the United States. The need for diversity – in this case, specifically racial diversity – is mentioned in numerous reports on the current state of the teaching profession.
Being a woman of color, I had become kind of numb to the idea as the term is thrown around so much and I often feel as though I serve as the only marker of ‘diversity’ in various spaces.
As I continued my research, the word just kept jumping out at me. Diversity was in almost every report, spoken at every seminar, and used by every university education program. Then the statistical data behind why diversity is necessary began to come to light. In 2012, 49% of secondary students in the US were of color but only 12% of their teachers were. That’s a huge disparity, right? This statistic also made me reflect on my own secondary education career and realize I only ever had one teacher who looked like me. Even with this knowledge, I was still not fully ready for what I was to find next…
Researchers at the Institute of Labor Economics found that low-income Black male students in North Carolina who have just one Black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to consider attending college.
As I continued to search, I kept seeing different iterations of this phrase, ‘students of color perform better academically and are suspended at lower rates when exposed to at least one educator of their own ethnicity,’ but I still hadn’t wondered why that was the case.
Next, I read a report which stated students of color have higher levels of achievement when they have a teacher of color because those teachers hold a more positive perception of their students both academically and behaviorally compared to non-minority teachers.
As I read this, I had such a tough time grasping what was being said. Basically, a lot of the reports on the need for diversity were showing that non-minority teachers let their prejudice and stereotypes of minority students get in the way of their teaching ability – to such an extent that it negatively affects students of color – and the proposed solution is to hire more minority teachers. Not to call non-minority teachers to task or equip them to better serve their ALL of their students.
I was appalled by the proposed solution of merely diversifying the teaching profession. That lets so many people in our society out of doing the real work that is necessary to overcome racial stereotypes and prejudices – as these issues cannot be solved by people of color themselves.
At the same time, I was seeing the same idea being used in a social movement – the latest wave of the #MeToo campaign. Over the past few weeks, I have watched #MeToo take over my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds as so many – too many – female celebrities, activists, colleagues, and even close friends have all experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment or assault, most often at the hands of men.
As more and more stories of #MeToo are shared, I find it interesting that when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment of assault against women, it is the women we focus on the most, rather than the men who help to perpetuate this culture of abuse.
In the same way racism is not just an issue for people of color, sexual assault and harassment is not just an issue for women. But too often, these issues are labeled as the responsibility of those being harmed by them the most. The idea of inclusion needs to be applied to all actors who have a stake in an issue and not just to those who feel the direct and immediate effects of racism or sexual harassment or assault. We all share the responsibility of creating a more equitable and safe society.