NewsMar 28, 2017

Community of Scholars advances social-justice progress

Students, faculty and alumni point the way toward personal growth and global equity

Great universities inspire as they educate. They edify. They include.

On March 24, through more than 100 presentations by students and faculty, Lesley’s Community of Scholars celebration marked another milestone in our ever-evolving journey toward social justice and the advancement of a campus and global ideal of diversity and inclusion. Whether one is wobbling to one’s feet as a novice activist, or one is seeking a bachelor’s degree decades after a youth spent in combat overseas, Community of Scholars was an open house for our core values of inquiry, community, diversity and citizenship. (See highlights below.) 

Faculty and students gather around a table and engage in discussion during a Community of Scholars 2017 session.
Students and faculty present their work to the Lesley community.

Kicking off Thursday night with an opening reception at the Lunder Arts Center, Community of Scholars filled Friday with exhibits, posters, panel discussions and presentations with a social-justice-oriented theme, from gay and transgender issues, to sustainability and environmental protection, to topics regarding the challenges faced by people of color, women and people with disabilities.

Long and tortuous road

Community of Scholars attendees also convened for a late-afternoon plenary address by Provost Selase Williams. Titled “The Long and Tortuous Road to a Just, Humane and Sustainable Society,” Williams’s address and PowerPoint presentation provided an academic overview of slavery, segregation and the subtler, though no less sinister, forms of racism that poison society like a recurrent, blood-borne disease.

Standing below images of American slaves, Williams asked, “How far have we come from this, and what is the current state of African Americans right now?”

Williams showed slides that painted a bleak portrait of the American social landscape, from disparities in educational attainment and family income, to infant mortality rates.

Provost Selase Williams is pictured delivering the plenary address at 2017 Community of Scholars.
Provost Selase Williams presents plenary address.

Quoting a line often attributed to Malcolm X, Williams said, “When white America catches a cold,” black America gets pneumonia.

Williams also mordantly pointed out some negative areas where African Americans are represented more highly than whites, chiefly in American prisons.

“People of color are 30 percent of the U.S. population, but 60 percent of the prison population,” Williams said, adding that one in 15 African Americans are in prison today, and 1 in 3 can expect to be in prison at some time in their lives.

Williams pointed out that African American history shows “significant progress, then significant backlash.” Following the abolition of slavery, many black people returned as poorly paid sharecroppers, often working for the owners of the same plantations where they were enslaved.

Reconstruction, where newly enfranchised African Americans voted and held elective office, was followed by poll taxes and other violations that required remediation by the Voting Rights Act.

Similar back-and-forths are seen in education and employment, Williams pointed out, added that, “Social justice is about correcting those historical injustices.”

And, while we and others offer programs toward progress, the work is far from over.

“It’s a constant struggle,” Williams said of the road to racial equity and social justice. “Not something you can achieve in a short period of time.”

Scholarship and social-justice work on view at Community of Scholars

Community of Scholars ran the gamut of presentations, visual materials and discussions that provided a showcase for various manifestations of the social justice, diversity and inclusivity theme. (View the full schedule.) Among the presentations were:

Engaging Bilingual Students in the Grade Six Classroom-Alumna Kathyrn Contini (BS ’02, M.Ed. ’13), who is now a doctoral candidate at Lesley, shared her ongoing case study research on factors that support reading motivation and engagement for three emergent bilingual learners in her grade six English language arts classes. Her poster outlined research methods, helpful strategies for engaging students, and survey results.

Honoring All Learners: Addressing the Injustices of Tracking via Embedded Honors-Education professor David Nurenberg’s presentation looked at the practice of designating “honors” classes and the persistent correlation between placement and race, socioeconomic class and ethnicity. He highlighted his research into several schools that have shifted to an embedded honors model, where “honors” is attached to specific tasks, not a course or a student. Dr. Nurenberg said that grouping students by so-called ability level remains the norm in American classrooms, despite copious research highlighting how it disserves students. We should embrace “readiness level” instead, because “ability” carries the assumption that intelligence is a fixed trait, while “readiness” acknowledges that learning is a process.

“It frames it around what a student is not capable of now, but might be later,” he said.

“Ignorance”-A free-verse poem and memoir by student Jordan Penney, describing her transformation from an apathetic 20-year-old to a nascent activist, and her realizations during her travel to, and participation in, the Women’s March following the inauguration of President Trump.

Community of Scholars 2017 poster session image
Poster sessions were featured throughout the day.

Integrating Ecological Processes and Citizen Science at Mount Auburn Cemetery Presenters - Professors Amy Mertl, Chris Richardson and Nicole Weber presented with team members from Mount Auburn Cemetery to discuss the emerging grant-supported partnership between Lesley and the renowned cemetery, which is an arboretum and an important habitat for birds and other animals. Lesley scientists will engage in biodiversity research at Mount Auburn, and create citizen science opportunities for local children and other community members that promote Mount Auburn as a model for successful urban wildlife refuges.

Lesley Veterans Outreach Coffee Klatch - A roundtable session led by counseling psychology student and veteran John Pagan, who enlisted (at 16, fudging his age) in the Army during the Vietnam War. Through the Lesley Center for the Adult Learner, Pagan is seeking a bachelor’s degree so he can better serve his country in another way: counseling other veterans, as well as first-responders, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Refugees: Systemic Challenges and Personal Stories - Graduate students in the Counseling Psychology program Kellie Cahalane, Praveena Kandasami and Kenna Tyrrell created a poster presentation featuring refugee testimonials, statistics and general information aimed at raising awareness and debunking misconceptions about refugees. The presenters complied research from online sources, site visits, interviews with refugees, and work experience with refugee communities.

Science, Education, and the Arts - Visual arts M.Ed. student Charlotte Huffman discussed the prevalence of pesticides, and the need for education about them, by using the example of Southwest Corridor Park, which is part of Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace of open space around Boston. Once the target of redevelopment, it was saved in 1972 through citizen protest to become a green resource to over 130,000 residents and 22 nearby schools.

But in 2003, after a period of heavy rains, people started to notice that their pets were getting sick. Research revealed there had been three sets of spraying for weeds, rodents, and mosquitoes by three different agencies. These types of pesticides can lead to damage including cancer, neurological problems, asthma and disrupted hormonal balances.

Huffman and professor Young Song teamed up to identify ways to educate young children about the dangers of pesticides through teacher lesson plans. One example is to take children for a walk in their neighborhood to find signs that have been posted-with varied alarming symbols-to warn people of nearby pesticides. Children would identify them and then use drama, visual arts, poetry, and music to become mindful of the dangers. They could write a song, for instance, long enough to sing while safely washing hands or vegetables that have been exposed. Huffman and Song’s article about their project will be published in late March in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.

Homepage image: True Story Theater actors (l to r) Ben Warren (Lesley student), Anne Ellinger, Kathleen Sills and Tonia Pinheiro.