“What if oppressed voices matter as much as hegemonic voices in higher education?”

My dissertation is based on what happens when a principal not only tells her students that they matter, but shows them by tirelessly and holistically investing in their well-being which ultimately impacts their educational attainment. Principal Dr. Nadia Lopez of Mott Hall Bridge Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn told and showed her students that they mattered once they were a student in her school. 

Somewhere between the start of pursuing my degree and now, I realized that her praxis , also applied to my academic attainment. I matter. My voice matters. My experience matters. My scholarship matters. And so many others who looked like me and were pursuing their degree to make a difference matter. But how did this reflect in the academy? 

My earlier readings were by a lot of white authors and sprinkled in the syllabi were people of color. I always wondered if it was a quota thing, where faculty say that they were diverse and inclusive (this would actually manifest into a personal experience in the academy). There would be a parallel rap lyrics mirror that I would hear while reading and writing and I would think to myself: They are saying the same thing and it would connect with me differently than the text. 

The further along I got into my studies the more I started to read works from authors who were people of color, especially, Black men and women. Their theorizing and narratives spoke volumes to me and showed the multiple facets of attaining education in ways that were not articulated by the most white scholars who contributed to the field. This includes Nadia Lopez, Bettina Love, Adrienne Dixson, Carla Shedd, Alexander Weheliye, Hortense Spillers, Sylvia Wynter, MK Asante, Michael Dumas, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Dolores Delgado Bernal, Rebeca Burciaga, Judith Flores Carmona, Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang, Tara J. Yosso and many more. The enumeration of scholars illuminates the vast scholarship that is sometimes elided and omitted from required reading or listed at the end of the syllabus. I have pondered whether the latter is a colonial strategy because, as we all know, by the end of the semester students are overwhelmed and barely getting by to do the read. So who are they usually citing? 

As a Black scholar, my readings and experiences have shown me that my value in the academy is one that varies in between tokenism and nuisance. I have come across many readings that highlight the scholarship and labor of Black scholars by using the word, “folk” such as folk ethnography (Anderson, 2004) and folk wisdom (Ladson-Billings, 2000; Weheliye, 2014). Our work is not seen on the level of our white peers and such labels actually police our work within the walls of the ivory towers (Dancy, Edwards and Davis, 2018). We have, however, been seen as a deficit and in need of a savior, which is why most funding goes into deficit research. 

The good news is that the purpose of getting my doctoral degree was not for the letters after my name (my first and long name are long enough). My purpose was to use it as a tool to help my community, and then one day as I was reading and hearing songs in my head I realized that my community not only had the tools, but also used the tools. However, through the hegemonic lens, these tools which people use to survive are not seen as such. And by these tools I am referring to their community capital wealth (Yosso, 2006), and their art of storytelling that has been passed down from generation to generation even when our lineage has been violently disrupted. 

At the Futures Initiative, I have found a space where I am able to present and represent works by scholars who many are not familiar with and invite students from my community to be the experts by using their experiential knowledge to explain the impact of their educational attainment. Visibility, autonomy, and scholarship of the marginalized and oppressed voices are centered. It’s important that the margins no longer exist. Moreover, the contribution provided by oppressed voices will assist in liberating all. What if the scholarship of Black scholars and other scholars of color are not only first on the syllabus, but features throughout the curriculum? What if the knowledge of oppressed students is valued and not seen as an anomaly (read: intelligent), but that is just who they are? What if the work of marginalized scholars is valued like their hegemonic counterparts and put into policies and practices without there being an interest convergence? What if oppressed voices in higher education are valued?…We all win.    

Citations

Anderson, E. (2004). The Cosmopolitan Canopy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 595, 14-31. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4127607

Dancy, T. E., Edwards, K. T., Davis, J. E. (2018). Historically White universities and plantation politics: Anti-Blackness and higher education in the Black Lives Matter era. Urban Education, 53, 176195.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2000). Racialized discourses and ethnic epistemologies. N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (eds). Handbook of Qualitative Research (Second edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Weheliye, A. G. (2014). Habeas viscus: Racializing assemblages, biopolitics, and black feminist theories of the human. Durham : Duke University Press

Yosso, T. J. (2006). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. In A. D. Dixson and C. K. Rousseau (Eds.), Critical race theory in education: All god’s children got a song (pp. 167-190). New York: Routledge

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