Diversity without equity and inclusive practices is an exercise in vanity. It sounds zesty and concise, but the nuance and discomfort that accompanies its effective deployment is something educators must ethically prepare for in their courses, scholarship, and life. Throughout my life (personal and professional) diversity, equity, and inclusion have rarely been optional but an essential part to occupying an embodied existence steeped in unapologetic black womanhood. I do not have the luxury of going into a classroom, conference, or taking a photo for an article/book without the visible expressions of my marginality as an academic and professor. While at times this is overwhelming, intimidating, and unwanted; it has allotted hypervisibility of the powerful presence of a Black Woman’s body, mind, and spirit. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the center of all of my work, because the Combahee River Collective foretold us that once Black Women are free, we all have a chance for liberation. While the fight for our freedom is still a daily struggle, I have received capital to advance this diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda in my institutional and professional spheres. As my CV shows, I have received over $20,000 in grant funding to make spirituality and vegan lifestyles available to Black college students at ISU, over $5,000 in assistance to travel and present at national conferences, and $4,000 in funding for my dissertation research on Patrick Kelly’s archives. The work of unearthing, amplifying, and empowering the rich nuanced history of Black Women and Queer populations, my future work will continue to allow students to see their own history, their own cannon, and their own communities as key contributors to the beauty of the world within which we live.
It is no coincidence that my classroom pedagogy also challenges and disrupts students' idea of what is scholarly, who is worthy of academic acknowledgement, and how ways of knowing are as diverse and nuanced as the individuals in the classroom. Having taught college courses at a community college, state-run male prison, and R1 universities in semi-urban Illinois and China; I constantly engage with students with a range of backgrounds, socio-economic status, sexualities, genders, religious affiliations, and majors. All of the individual students' experiences, expectations, and embodiments matter in the class. Learning anything new can be discomforting - physically and mentally. Knowing that from my own experiences, I strive to create a class community where students are comfortable taking risks, where dialogue is thoughtful, and students feel free to share their experiences with others to whatever extent they are most comfortable. I am dedicated to acknowledging mistakes in language, terminology, and/or microaggressive commentary from a place of loving refusal for any identity to be placed on a hypothetical hierarchy of a potential student’s self-destruction. My students are able to decide the topics that are discussed. I have had classes in the past that want to discuss current politics and social justice movements and I have had other courses that elect to not broach those topics and as a Black Woman standing at the front of a room, that is fine.
At times, combining the intellectual and emotional labor involved in learning can be overwhelming, especially following COVID-19 and the US political climate in general. The mental health of students is a top priority of mine and sometimes: (1) #thestruggleisreal, (2) emotions are high, and (3) those of us in the margins don’t always need to address White, Cisgendered, Ableist Fragility. Students always have the opportunity to speak with me one--on-one about the course, their future, and everything in between. And I am not scared to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting as needed. I firmly believe that until students know themselves, they cannot know the movements that invigorate them, the causes that charge them up, and the communities they want to be an accomplice for and I work to preserve that decision; until they have a full unapologetic understanding of themselves that is developed through critical thinking, reflection, and cross-cultural experiences.
My research, scholarship, and experiences as a griot has led me to final projects that challenge all students to engage with the world, not seeing the United States through such a ethnocentric lens. For my Hip-Hop Feminism class I am currently teaching and will be teaching again in the Spring, students final course project is to collect resources from a different country that provides a view of how Hip-Hop Feminism and/or Women in Hip-Hop culture occupy space in other communities. Students will look at the concepts and terms we have learned related to Black Feminist Thought and Hip-Hop Feminism in order to find similiarities, identify differences, and see they ways in which Hip-Hop performance, music, style, and culture are (re)mixed based on the cultures and communities of its practitioners. Students then share their “Global Hip-Hop Feminism Archive” with the class, in an attempt to insight a desire to travel and experience an alternative - valuable and sovereign - way of engaging with the world.
There are three type of diversity that demand and equitable and inclusive approach to handling (that was exacerbated by COVID-19) that I have diligently worked to address: (1) the needs of students regarding technological literacy, and (2) students accessibility to course resources and (3) available time out of class in connection to personal responsibilities. To address these concerns, I provide multiple in-class tutorials on specific course project software that might need to be used and provide in-class work time for collaboration and clarification on assignments. I have also moved to have my undergraduate courses be Open Educational Resources (OER) only courses, I also assign a myriad of content that is in the form of podcasts, films, art, games, or other non-alphabetic text works, if possible. If not, I have raised funds for desk copies and paid for subscriptions that students might require based on disbursement of financial aid or lack of funding. Finally, I have amended my extension policy to allow students to request an extension with no questions asked as well as no-penalty revise and resubmit on any assignment. By acknowledging that our few hours together a week is not the only space requiring their time, students feel as though they are seen, respected, and able to succeed.
While this is my current approach to addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in my courses, scholarship, and pedagogy; it is most definitely tentative. The advancement of disenfranchised identities is not stagnant and requires flexibility and unique approaches for different populations. As an education, the constant pursuit of excellence in creating diversity, equity, and inclusion is of utmost importance to my identity as a Black Woman from South Central Los Angeles, and it always will be.