ACPA: Institute on Social Justice

It’s been more a long time since I got back from the Institute on Social Justice (ISJ) at the University of California, Berkeley and I still haven’t taken the time to sit down and think about what I really got out of my experience… which is awful because I’m sure that I’ve forgotten several things since the conference. And I figured I need to sit down and ensure that I reflect so that I don’t allow this experience to merge into my ACPA 2013 convention experience as I leave for that within a week.

One of the themes that I took away from ISJ was about parenting as a social justice advocate/educator. Some of my fellow group discussion members talked about it, it was a topic for a couple of contributors in Dr. Shakti Butler’s film Cracking the Codes, and Michael Benitez talked about it in his featured speaker address. It isn’t something that I’ve thought too much about previously to attending ISJ so when it felt like it kept popping up, I took notice. Many of the people in the discussion group talked about the hard part being what happens outside your locus of control. At home as a parent you’ve got a substantial amount of influence over what your children experience, watch, read, and you directly influence how they make meaning. Outside the home, at school or someone else’s house, there is far less influence from you and more influence from people who may not share your same values. So I guess the focus is really about making sure that my children (still weird to think about right now…), think critically about what they’re taking in or hearing from other adults. Focusing on the conversations on what they’re day was like and what they learned is so much more important than I really ever thought about. In both Dr. Butler’s film and in Michael Benitez’s talk, the focus was on the influence that we have on our on children. One story was about a white man who started to take racial competence more seriously after watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong with his son. One was about Michael Benitez’s son wanting to do a boycott for something that happened at school and then his daughter creating the word girlcotting because she wanted to protest too and felt that boycotting didn’t apply to who she is. It was an awesome moment to hear about and I believe it spoke volumes to the kind of parents Mr. Benitez and his partner are.

When I think about radical parenting I also think about self-care because it’s become so much more of a focus for me this year for a number of reasons. And challenging my students and then coming to home to make sure that my parenting is matching my values will probably mean I’ll need to be taking care of myself.

Another huge takeaway for me was, as ludicrous as it is to say it, realizing that I’m not alone in social justice education. I rarely feel alone because I have great colleagues here at Mason, but sometimes social justice work feels very isolating and it’s a great reminder to me that there are so many of us working toward change. Whether we’re newer to the work or seasoned educators it’s important to know that we’ve got a huge network.

One of the other major themes I took away (which wasn’t very surprising because I know I will always need to do personal work on my identities) was some of the identities that we spent time on at ISJ. One of the TED-like talks at ISJ was about supporting our undocumented students. This really challenged me to think more about my privileges in not ever having had to worry about my national status or how people might treat me if I can’t fill out certain paperwork. It’s been highlighted more and more as we continue to talk about immigration reform (which the speakers challenged as being a politicized word because there has been natural migration of people and animals throughout history – it was only when we created artificial political borders that we changed it to “immigration”) I also was challenged to think more about my identity as an atheist because I still benefit from Christian privilege even though I don’t identify that way. My family still celebrates Christian holidays which are usually reflected as time off on my university’s calendar but they don’t hold the original meaning to me because it’s always just been time for family to be together.

ISJ was clearly a great experience that gave me a lot to reflect on as I continue to grow as a social justice educator and as a person. In addition to all of this I met some awesome people who I hope I can continue to connect with over the years.

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