• Briana Williamson, M.S

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I had the opportunity to catch a couple of episodes of “America to Me”. This documentary, unfortunately, is an authentic representation of the experience for black students in America at predominantly white institutions. As troubling as it may have been for me to watch, and actively digest, the stark contrast between the learning experience for black students compared to their white counterparts, is clear.

As I watched the documentary, I was reminded of a training experience that just didn’t quite sit well with me. It was an anti-racism training, but all of the examples were from decades earlier. I critiqued that because by not showing modern examples, we give the false impression that these are issues of the olden days, when the truth is, there are many systems that impact the trajectory of historically marginalized students in America.

Unraveling personal and professional bias, requires that as educators, we explore the impact of those biases on the vulnerable students in our care.

A few examples...
  1. "Decided not to do your hair?" - White teacher to black student intentionally wearing her natural hair.

  2. Black student forced to choose between Varsity and Once in a lifetime Disney Choir trip that only occurs once every four years or coach accuses him of taking a spot "that another player deserves".

As you watch the episode (s), try to identify examples of microaggressions on your own.

Here are a few examples that I noticed from a few of the episodes. Unfortunately, there were many to choose from.

Coach to Black Student: There is a scene in the documentary that shows a Black player trying to maintain his position on the football team. As the coach is trying to encourage him to haul the body weight of a fellow white player up the bleachers (to lose weight which is another conversation), you can hear him yelling, “that a boy,”.

Why is this a microaggression?

The White coach referring to the Black male as a boy, is perpetuating the relationship between a slave and a slave master. Football, in sport, has been criticized for its origination and similarities to slavery. Consciously or unconsciously, the coach is shrinking and minimizing the existence of the Black male to a slave. Referring to a Black male as a boy is degrading and demeaning.

Another One...

Teacher to Black student: It’s been four days and you still don’t have a uniform (gym class), I’m going to have to start removing points.

The K-12 experience in addition to being universally inclusive, should be all-inclusive. The idea, that the secondary experience, can or should be a-la-carte, speaks to the structural and systemic financial inequities that students face.

In this scenario, the student is put in a position to either self-disclose their personal living situation to someone who visibly is not interested, or face a reduction in their grade.

An equity lens says that tools required for the academic experience should either be included or have a no-cost option for those in need. A universal inclusion says that as an educator, you should take into consideration inequalities and inequities, known and unknown, visible and invisible, and try to remedy these barriers before they become obstacles and before they further marginalize, already marginalized populations.

Cause I Ain’t Got A Pencil

By: Joshua T. Dickerson

The poem reads:

I woke myself up

Because we ain’t got an alarm clock

Dug in the dirty clothes basket,

Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform

Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,

Cause the lights ain’t on

Even got my baby sister ready,

Cause my mama wasn’t home.

Got us both to school on time,

To eat us a good breakfast.

Then when I got to class the teacher fussed

Cause I ain’t got no pencil

I could go on and on with examples of microaggressions, micro-assaults and micro-insults from the documentary America to Me, but wanted to save some for you to identify for yourself. The series has 10 episodes available and can be a great way to learn about microaggressions and barriers that students are experiencing in K-12.

Try It!

Identify and name 3 microaggressions experienced by students. If you are unable to identify the microaggressions, considering the following introductory tools to learn more about microaggressions, and the messages they send.

Microaggressions in the Media Explained

Yes, this documentary has many different examples of microaggressions and the messages they send, but the truth is, there are also many examples on daily basis in the media.

This week I wanted to highlight one gaining national attention and share a case-study that you can use with your team to better understand what went wrong in this scenario.

Teacher asks student to anglicize her name.

I can't make this stuff up. You may have heard about the college math professor, under fire for requesting a Vietnamese first-year student to anglicize her name. In this situation, alleging offense to the pronunciation of her birth name Phuc Bui, a college professor has now been placed on administrative leave after going viral for refusing to call a student by her given name. The student, shared emails that showed the instructors, on more than one occasion requested that she “anglicize” her name.

Why is this a microaggression?

Not only is this racist and clearly a biased incident, it is also a classic microaggression. Below is a link to download a microaggression 101 activity, as well as a case study that can be used to better understand racial microaggressions and the messages they send.

For more case-studies and training resources on microaggressions like the microaggression dialogue deck, or microaggression matching, visit

  • Briana Williamson, M.S

If you had to write a letter to your future self, what would it say?

  • What would you be most proud of as an educator, administrator, faculty or staff during this time? Least proud of?

  • What is one training opportunity that you might have skipped in the past, that would have advanced your personal and professional learning to be better prepared for today?

  • What is one book that you could have, should have, or would have read to better prepare for powering through a pandemic?

This list of reflective questions can go on and on. What I really want to ask, is about the things others can't hear, or see. It's about the thoughts you have when you are alone with just you and your zoom screen.

  • Would you be proud of your thoughts of the everyday student trying to navigate this troubling situation? How about a student of color? A student with invisible ability needs?

  • Did you lead with care and compassion for students who expressed a hard time adjusting to online learning?

  • Did you think negative or stereotypical thoughts about the academic preparedness of some students more than others?

  • Did you blame a students lack of motivation on their personal ability rather than the national trauma of pandemic?

Across the nation, educators have taken to public forums to voice their frustrations about the many disparate issues happening across the nation. Some argue that students suing their school is heroic and shows the strength of advocacy and critical thinking. Others, feel it is a personal slap in the face to the very educators who are also trying their best.

Some, however, have voiced strong feelings about students, that are based on stereotypes regarding students of color and how the nation says they should or shouldn't perform.

Some however, have voiced strong feelings about students reading level in college courses, and the ways the systems of education have failed students long before they arrived in post-secondary learning communities.

Lastly, some have reverted to overt acts of bias and discrimination in the assignment of grades, the application of course rubrics and allegations of student misconduct and plagiarism.

If you are limited to one takeaway today, I want you to know ...

It's not our IQ that will save us during this time, but rather our EQ.

How you CONNECT with the CAVERS ( colleagues against virtually everything) within your organization will make a far greater difference than how you unite against one another.

How you SUPPORT students suffering from identify foreclosure, will make a far greater difference, than how you feel about their lack of motivation to get through this time.

As lay-offs and furloughs are announced daily, consider ways you can make yourself ESSENTIAL to your institution.

Emotional Intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), is your ability to identify, evaluate, control and express your emotions. It's also your ability to read and analyze the emotions of others. The IQ, that we are most commonly used to hearing about, determines our academic abilities and our ability to critically navigate mental challenges. It doesn't however, improve our ability to connect with others.

While both are important, possessing a higher EQ is the difference between being an emotional educator and an empathetic educator.

Emotional educators act based on how they feel. Empathetic educators act based on how they perceive others feel. It's the basic foundation of care and compassion. It's also the difference in between being a great team player and a great leader. Emotional intelligence is our very own, internal radar, that tell us to think about the emotions that are both felt and expressed in daily life, and use that as the litmus test in your daily interactions with others.

Now take a moment to think back to your individual responses to the questions at the beginning.

If the term you were looking for to describe your thoughts, feelings or emotions is...

pride- you will be apart of the problem, more than the solution.

privilege- you will be apart of the problem, more than the solution.

racism- you will be apart of the problem, more than the solution.

stereotype- you will be apart of the problem, more than the solution.

bias incident- you will be apart of the problem, more than the solution.

hate crime- you will be apart of the problem, more than the solution.

Universal Design asks the critical question of who might be marginalized a given space, and proactively addresses the needs regardless of enrollment realities.

How we prepare moving forward, must be reflective of universal design; thinking about the most marginalized student in any space, and working our way outward. The need for universal reform in our physical, but also virtual learning environment will only continue to increase.

While some facets of COVID-19 and their impact on education and more specifically, higher education, are as the result of a national pandemic, I argue, that most are as a result of many ignored attempts and placating the requirement to build learning environments that are inclusive.

The time is now!

Universal Design Planning Process

If you're interested in creating a diversity and equity plan for your institution, you can count on Kinect to make the process seamless.

It all starts with an equity review using our trademarked EquityRubric diagnostic assessment. We'll help you assess where you are and guide you in the planning process to be where you want to be. Writing a Universal Design Plan requires independent input from constituent groups that span across the organization and beyond. You want a plan that is attainable, but you need a plan that will meet the needs of your organization.

Here are also some free planning resources to get you started!

  • Briana Williamson, M.S

Updated: Apr 23

Many schools and campuses have moved to online Platforms such as Zoom and Schoology for virtual education, but students and staff have been met with more than just the traditional technological difficulties.

Depending on your role, you may have directly or indirectly encountered the same technological barriers to teaching and in some instances, learning.

It is true. The economic hardship for K-20 institutions is grave. Some states are requiring higher education institutions to issue a 90% refund of room, board and fees. Across the nation, students are complaining that online education, is not quite what they signed up for. Harsh budgetary realities will only further impact our educational systems.

While refunds, and other forms of financial resolve for students and their families sounds ideal, what we find all too often, is that the money is not behind the mandate.

What does this mean?

Institutions may be forced to cut the very positions that HELP students succeed. Once thought of as niceties, now more than ever, student success positions will be a necessity to ensure that at-risk students can overcome existing and new obstacles. This is a new opportunity to re-define vulnerability and to take stock of not just what students needs, but also the faculty and staff that are supporting them on their journey across the finish line.

At-risk students should not be defined solely as students that start at a deficiency. Now, at-risk students are all students that cannot work, didn’t study in a pass/fail environment, and are lacking the perseverance and determination to work hard. As students adapt to a new reality of lessened expectations, they are lulled into an environment that dulls the motivation to work hard.

The potential for a widening of the achievement gap is real.

What happens when students return to “in-person” classes? Will they have the knowledge base to survive? Educators will be ready to hit the ground running and many students will be 10 steps behind the course prerequisites. In this time, we must think proactively.

  • What will your institution do to help students catch up?

  • What will your institution do when COVID resurges?

  • What will you do to provide physical distancing for 30 students in a classroom that holds 28?

  • How will you combat micro aggressions related to COVID19 and the attitudes and stereotypes students, faculty and staff may need assistance overcoming?

Reality Check ✅
Microaggressions still exists.
There are disparities in the access and use of technology.
Assigning Pass/Fail grades will further widen the disparities and achievement gap, not close it.

Civic engagement and Problem Based Learning is the answer! K-20 schools need resources to learn about how to make meaningful connections with students and create community in an online environment.

Our resource, "Creating Connections" has been purchased by over 10,000 educators from across the nation. We want to help the community that has supported us as a WMBE business. For a limited time, we are offering a FREE E copy of this book.

Click below to claim your copy.

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