By DONOVAN HARRELL
A new initiative from the School of Education will use a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the experiences of educators and students of color in academic research.
The Shifting Power initiative is a collaboration between the School of Education and Remake Learning. These groups will create and work with an advisory group of 20 people representing K-12 schools, colleges and universities, extracurricular organizations and more.
The program will work with educational researchers to help expand their research to encompass the lives of people of color, particularly the African-American and Latinx community.
Valerie Kinloch, dean of the School of Education, said the perspectives of educators from these communities have long been overlooked when it came to educational research, which has had a negative impact on education reform.
An advisory group like this one can help advance current conversations about racism, wealth disparities and gender inequalities, she added.
“We’re using the same language that we’ve always used,” Kinloch said. “And at the end of those conversations, in my opinion, we oftentimes leave those conversations with a deficit perspective about people of color and what they cannot do. … I don’t take a deficit perspective when I think about people of color, communities of color, and especially our young people.”
The advisory group will serve Pittsburgh and its surrounding regions in Western Pennsylvania. And there’s plenty of work to be done, Kinloch said.
“We have a lot of work to do in terms of understanding that our kids and young people of color are not the problem, that our kids and young people of color know more than most of us do,” Kinloch said. “And yet we are not listening to their voices and perspectives.”
Educators of color, she said, are great conduits for these perspectives since they experience them firsthand in schools that may not fully value their labor or their voices.
The grant provides an opportunity for these educators and children to have louder voices in ongoing conversations about education in the region. These people possess the necessary expertise to improve the conditions for the students, Kinloch said, but they often lack resources and support.
It could also provide the University a chance to engage with more communities, “opening doors” for people who may not have been able to access it, she said.
“We’ve got to do things differently,” Kinloch said. “I think we know what we should do. I think we know how we should do it. I don’t think we’re doing it because in many ways it always requires us to sit at the table and not always have to be the voice.”
The very name of the program encapsulates the core mission: to improve equity by shifting power to those who have historically been ignored, Kinloch said.
“And so the idea of that name: ‘The Shifting Power…’ — how can we take the work that we do, and shift that work in terms of who should be represented in conversations. As opposed to us representing other people, have their voices present — shifting power, shifting the dynamics, because really, that’s the only way that we’re going to actually move the needle when we talk about leveling the educational playing field in this country.”
The advisory group is still being formed, Kinloch said, but she’s expecting it to wrap up by the end of February. The official launch of the initiative will happen around late March, she added, and participants will convene for three days sometime in June. Afterward, the entire team will meet each month and check-in.
Black or Latinx educators who teach or provide educational services to children from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade are at the top of her wish list for the group.
She’s also thinking of taking a close look at how she and others involved in the initiative will define “researchers.”
“Because I think when we think about higher education, we think about researchers as people who have Ph.D.s, people who published a lot of articles, and that’s so elitist in many ways,” Kinloch said. “And if this is really a project about shifting power, then the people who are researchers need to come with a critical disposition to be able to think about and engage in research and or scientific work.
“It’s about being so present in the moment that you are noting the important ideas with learning and equity and engagement, that whatever you produce, someone else could use and apply different parts of it to how they think about how they work with young people — in schools or in communities,” Kinloch added.
Potential researchers include people in the social work or public health fields, from the School of Education, professors from other universities and people who work for museums and other educational centers.
The grant also will provide funding for an equity consultant to help facilitate the interactions between educators and researchers.
Kinloch is hoping that the initiative will serve as a model for other educational institutions hoping to improve conditions for people of color.
“If nothing else, my hope is that this grant will get all of us to better understand what equity is really about,” Kinloch said. “And it is not about an uneven distribution of resources that benefit one person or a group of people at the detriment of other people.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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