If you have been following this series, I have shared that enacting equity and justice in education starts with introspection and solitude and then extends to the cultivation of classroom environments that foster equity- and justice-focused habits and dispositions among students. As educators, we are committed to our own critically reflexive journey and invite our students to do the same. But as mentioned in the first post in this series, the ultimate goal of this work is to make equity and justice a true and lasting reality not just in our professional spaces, but also in every area of our lives.
While the second post in this series walked us through the process of making our internal work visible in our classroom practice, for the third and final post in this series, I want to focus on building and sustaining authentic communities of practice. In other words: How do we build and leverage community to sustain our work toward equity and justice?
True and lasting equity and justice requires ideological and systemic change. Change of this magnitude starts individually, but our collective effort—our working closely with other equity- and justice-minded folks—is what will bring about the transformative shift. There is immeasurable power in the collective. The challenge is that we are all so siloed. We are so entrenched in an inequitable and unjust system that we do not even know how to approach the kind of radically honest community that equity and justice requires.
Building this kind of community has been at the heart of my work the past several months. It has not been easy. It has and continues to challenge me to shed old habits and dispositions. It requires me to open up in ways that can feel scary and unsafe. It propels me out of the comfort of victimhood. It drives me back to solitude and introspection, again and again. But each time I emerge and reengage with this community, I am stronger and more resolute in my commitment to equity and justice. I am a better educator, a better colleague and a better person.
From my experience, I would like to offer some steps toward building and sustaining authentic communities of practice:
- Identify others who are on this journey. As I mentioned in the previous posts in this series, there are countless folks in our professional and personal spaces who are engaging in work toward equity and justice. The first step in building a community of practice is to identify who these co-laborers are and to begin to engage with them.
- Push yourself to connect with co-laborers who are outside of your realm of comfort. At the initial stage of community building, it is common to gravitate toward people who look like us and who have a common life experience. But if we want to grow and experience deeper authenticity, it is imperative that we connect with co-laborers who are different and who will provide us with opportunities to challenge our habits and dispositions.
- Challenge yourself to show up authentically in these spaces. Equity and justice require transformation. Transformation requires community. True community requires authenticity. There is no way around it. If we want to be in community, we have to be willing to be vulnerable and to bare our souls. We have to be honest with ourselves so that we can be honest with others.
- Commit to radically honest conversations that challenge biases and mindsets. The beauty and value of community are found in the opportunity to learn from others. If equity and justice are to thrive, we must leverage our communities and take full advantage of the diversity of experiences, ideas and perspectives that our co-laborers bring. We have to be willing to be challenged in ways that only radically honest conversations can offer.
- Practice solitude and introspection even as you engage in deep community. Reflexivity is integral to our growth. It is not easy to confront our biases and mindsets. It is not easy to pursue equity and justice in an inequitable and unjust society. We will feel overwhelmed at times and we will want to recoil and regress into the safety of the status quo. The time we spend alone in quiet reflection allows us to regain perspective and to rest and rejuvenate. Solitude and introspection allow us to reconnect with ourselves so that we can productively contribute to our community.
I invite you to learn more about my journey and the work that I am doing through the Williams Higher Ed Equity and Justice Collaborative. The latest project, The Wall Between Us: Radically Honest Conversations Between a Black Girl from Philly and a White Chick from Montana, is a real-life example of what I outline above. Through this project we are sharing our truths and modeling the ways in which we are having hard conversations, building community, and working toward equity and justice in our professional spaces and in our personal lives. My hope is that you will find inspiration, hope, courage and strength. My hope is that you will find community.
Dr. Jeanine L. Williams is founder/principal of Williams Higher Ed, a consulting practice focused on equity and justice in postsecondary literacy and learning. She is a scholar-practitioner-activist who has worked for two decades as a faculty member and administrator of developmental literacy, first-year writing and writing across the curriculum. Jeanine earned a Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture, an Ed.S. in educational leadership and administration, a M.S.Ed. in interdisciplinary studies in human development, and a B.A. in psychology.