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New Mexico State University kicked off Black History Month with a Feb. 1 virtual discussion of Black pedagogy by “our very own esteemed faculty on this campus and Doña Ana Community College,” said NMSU Black Programs Interim Director Kimberly York.
Pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) should be socially relevant and responsive, said Assistant Professor Monique Matute-Chavarria, Ph.D., and sensitive to Black students, said Regents and Distinguished Achievement Professor H. Prentice Baptiste, Ph.D.
Matute-Chavarria and Baptiste were joined in the discussion by Associate Provost Patrick Turner, Ph.D.; assistant professor Eric House, Ph.D.; visiting assistant professor Erica Kristina Reid, Ph.D.; DACC biology instructor Sean Kardar; and Doña Ana County NAACP President Bobbie Green, Ph.D.
NMSU needs a “socially responsible, trauma-informed pedagogy” that includes both “a robust social environment and a robust learning environment” to ensure students of color are successful, Turner said.
“We have to look at that social piece, especially now since the pandemic has ravaged our communities of color,” Turner said. “Before you are able to learn in the classroom, you need to feel safe.”
That includes making sure students are food and housing secure and have access to mental health care and other vital services, he said.
“Focus on our students’ social wellbeing,” Turner said, then look at academics, including making certain that “our educators, the ones we trust with our kids … are equipped and supported so they can support our kids in the classroom.”
When she moved to Las Cruces from Cleveland, Ohio, York said she was told that Blacks in Las Cruces were “statistically insignificant.”
Those are the micro-aggressions “that we all face as people of color,” York said. “We absolutely have to call it what it is and hold people accountable in changing the narrative,” she said.
“Black students are being successful … but I think it’s not what it could be, what it ought to be,” Baptiste said. “Yes, there are Black students who are successful. But I think of all those other Black students … The bottom line is systemic racism that stops them.”
House said he remembers when he “saw Black excellence in my field,” meeting Ohio State University professor Elaine Richardson, Ph.D., whom he called “a star in higher education,” at a conference. “It was really affirming to me,” House said. “Not only was she a big name, she made time to talk to me.”
As a benefactor of changes in civil rights laws, “It’s my job to continue that conversation,” Reid said, “ensuring that our students have enough to sustain, rejuvenate and revitalize our communities.”
Higher education is about “preparing and restructuring the way we go into the world,” Reid said.
At the City University of New York, “I’m a technical professor,” Green said. “Understanding technology is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what color you are – you can get a job; you can do well. Technology is color blind.”
“I want to pave the way for Black and brown children and their families to have (equitable) experience in the system and for their voices to be heard,” Matute-Chavarria said.
Kardar said he wants to be remembered for educating his students “above and beyond just preparing for an assessment or a test … providing some information that is useful for lifelong learning, (to) stimulate thinking about their wellbeing in the future.”
“What we have to do is interrupt and disturb the paradigm,” Turner said.
“I do look at you as Black excellence,” York told panel members. “I aspire to make sure that I am carrying myself and leaving a legacy for these students. I am following you all as they are following me. Thank you for your unwavering support and your uncompromised integrity.”