“I am worried and brokenhearted,” began the message from Teachers College President Thomas Bailey. “And I am angry. I’m angry that my Black students, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow citizens are subjected each day to indignities that I neither have or could ever experience. I am angry that they continue to pay a terrible toll for inequities and inequality in health and education. And I am angry that the horrible fate that befell George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others also could just as easily befall any Black person in this country — including any Black member of our TC community.”
The brutal police killing on May 25th of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis who lay handcuffed and face down in the street has sparked protests across the country, focused attention on other murders of innocent African Americans, and prompted an outpouring of messages and statements by institutional leaders nationwide that call attention to institutionalized racism in the United States.
From the humblest pre-kindergarten to the largest university, schools are our best hope for instilling an understanding of human difference and the institutions of a participatory democracy.
— TC President Thomas Bailey
At Teachers College, an institution that prides itself on its social justice mission and a history that ranges from preparing Southern black teachers during the Jim Crow era to establishing the Institute for Urban and Minority Education in the 1970s to is current Reimagining Education initiative, there has been a particular emphasis on addressing racism at its roots.
“From the humblest pre-kindergarten to the largest university, schools are our best hope for instilling an understanding of human difference and the institutions of a participatory democracy,” Bailey wrote. In urging the TC community to “make common cause with our Black brothers and sisters in a way that goes beyond expressing sympathy or outrage,” he declared that “the fight against racism and inequity isn’t part of our mission – it is our mission,” and framed the battlefield as not “simply a protest march or a petition” but also “a classroom, a community health clinic, a food cooperative, a clinical trial, a standardized test design, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
[Read the full text of President Bailey’s June 2nd message to the TC community.]
The College’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs also sent out a message, acknowledging the “heavy emotional toll” exacted by events in Minneapolis and elsewhere, particularly during “these times of isolation.
“Communities of color, who already are disproportionately affected by the deadly coronavirus, are now facing harsher treatment by police,” wrote Janice Robinson, Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs, Associate Professor of Higher Education, and TC Title IX Coordinator in a note that reminded readers of the availability of counseling and student support services at both TC and Columbia. “Reports of aggressive and even violent police enforcement of social distancing regulations in low-income communities continue to mount while enforcement of those same regulations is lax to nonexistent in affluent neighborhoods. These inequities remind us all that our collective work to highlight and address the needs of the most marginalized must persist even as we adjust to new ways of teaching, learning and researching.”
[Read the full text of Robinson's message.]
Meanwhile, TC faculty members delivered their own statements and messages in which they highlighted the potential of scholarship in their fields to combat racism and racial violence.
“The work of educational research is important, but secondary to the larger goal of establishing once and for all the humanity of Black people,” wrote IUME's Erica Walker, TC’s Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education and Chair of the Department of Mathematics, Science & Technology. “But it too has a role to play in this effort.”
Writing “on behalf of IUME and our faculty, students, staff and friends,” Walker said she was heartened to see “thousands and thousands of non-Black Americans marching in solidarity with their Black brothers and sisters all across this country, and others protesting around the world.” But she also decried those “planning to keep the status quo just as it is.”
“Black people live with, work with, are taught by, teach, supervise, and are supervised by some who think that everything is fine,” she wrote. “Who think that these particular students can’t learn. Who think that their neighborhoods have nothing to offer. Who think that there aren’t qualified Black faculty, researchers, or students for their programs or schools. Who are captains of the co-opt. Who think that they are not racist. Who resist anti-racist work.”
The work of educational research is important, but secondary to the larger goal of establishing once and for all the humanity of Black people. But it too has a role to play in this effort.
— Erica Walker, Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education; Director, Institute for Urban & Minority Education; Chair, Department of Mathematics, Science & Technology
She described Floyd as “an American patriot, a man with dreams and family and friends who loved him deeply” and called his death “a spark and catalyst to a widespread American awakening, his name now an invocation: we do not abide this malfeasance. We resist this injustice. We claim our humanity.”
[Read the full text of Walker’s June 3rd message, “A Revolution in Real Time.”]
In a letter to faculty, students and alumni, Aaron Pallas, TC’s Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology & Education and Chair of the Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis (EPSA), wrote that “our platform as researchers, scholars and engaged citizens gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves and others about anti-black racism, its sources and strategies for limiting its pernicious reach.”
Citing “the history of white privilege that allows white people to move, speak and live their lives without fear of violence, while simultaneously abridging the freedoms of people of color to do so,” Pallas said that he and his fellow departmental faculty “resolve to work together with our students to explore ways that EPSA can better support this critical work.”
Our platform as researchers, scholars and engaged citizens gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves and others about anti-black racism, its sources and strategies for limiting its pernicious reach.
— Aaron Pallas, Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology & Education and Chair of the Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis
And directly addressing “our black students, alumni and friends,” he wrote: “We see you, we hear you, and we want to support you and be with you in your studies, your work and your lives. To all our friends and colleagues, we’re counting on you to join us in an interracial fight for a more just society, free of racial bias and unequal treatment.”
Asserting that “the racial healing that is needed now must go deeper than anything we have tried to do,” a tweet from “the Teachers College/Columbia University Reimagining Education: Teaching, Learning and Leading for Racial Justice Summer Institute (RESI) Team of Faculty, Graduate Students and Staff” declared that “education has been a tool of the political, economic and ideological racial hierarchy — through unequal resource and opportunity allocation and in other critical ways that are less often discussed in public debates, especially by the curricular narratives that shape which knowledge and cultures are valued in our schools.” Yet the nation’s educational system is also an institution with “great potential to foster the transformation that is needed now more than ever.” The RESI team vowed to continue creating “spaces in which these issues can be addressed and practices will be replaced” and to work with educators nationwide to “enable schools to take up the emancipatory potential of our field.”
In a self-recorded video message, Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education, spoke of “the larger pandemic” of institutionally- and state-sanctioned “violence, oppression and racism that has gone on unaddressed for far too long.” Emdin urged all those in academia to “critically look at the ways that we are part of a machine that ensures that black bodies are being discriminated against, or that violence is being impacted on them or that lives are lost.”
“When I say violence, I’m not just talking about physical violence or murder though these things are egregious,” Emdin said, describing a “metaphorical knee on the neck” that prevents blacks in education from “fully being able to breathe.”
“I’m talking about emotional violence, spiritual violence,” he said. “The feeling of unrequited love that is the experience of black students and black scholars” who “give so much to institutions but never get a full awareness of the complexities of our experiences.” [See the video recorded by Emdin below]
A message from Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education
In a message to alumni of TC's Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership, Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, Klingenstein Family Chair Professor of Practice and Klingenstein Center Director, wrote that “If we are going to successfully create a world where all are valued and all thrive, we need to do anti-oppression work at all levels. To make lasting systemic change, we must invest our energy in deep, personal, individual work. And that energy needs to be amplified beyond the individual and interpersonal to institutional and structural levels of the system.” Lamenting the “the sadness, fear, anger, bone-deep fatigue of the sameness of this story and reality year after year, decade after decade, over centuries,” Furlonge called on the Klingenstein Center’s “powerful network of educator-leaders” to join her in “committing to anti-oppression work personally and in our schools” by using their “collective power to disrupt systems of racism, all oppression, violence, and inequity in our spheres of influence.” [Read the full text of Furlonge's message.]
In a message on the website of TC’s Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR), the Center’s Director, Professor of Psychology & Education Peter T. Coleman, called the current moment one of “deepest grief, rage, fear, and ongoing trauma within our Black communities and across our nation…compounded by a global pandemic that has laid bare all the ways in which a culture of systemic racism built on slavery, colonization, Jim Crow, and ongoing economic and social inequities and neglect that continue to inflict massive harm.”
Yet, finding encouragement in the spectacle of “our citizens taking to the streets,” Coleman wrote that “this moment also feels like we are possibly on the precipice of profound, long-fought-for changes.” The faculty, students and staff of MD-ICCCR “stand in solidarity with the Black community, today and every day,” he added, and concluded by furnishing a list of Dialogue Facilitation Organizations “to assist individuals and communities in approaching conversations about the deep, structural work that needs to be done together to advance racial equity.” [Read the full text of the MD-ICCCR message.]
Ultimately, all of the messages pointed to the stake that all Americans have in working to address what the RESI tweet called the “blatant and subversive anti-Blackness and suppression of People of Color that has framed this nation since its beginning.”
[Read a story about the late TC alumna Olivia Hooker (M.A. '47), who was the last survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.]
Education has been a tool of the political, economic and ideological racial hierarchy -- through unequal resource and opportunity allocation and in other critical ways that are less often discussed in public debates, especially by the curricular narratives that shape which knowledge and cultures are valued in our schools.
— The Teachers College/Columbia University Reimagining Education: Teaching, Learning and Leading for Racial Justice Summer Institute
“Make no mistake,” wrote Bailey. “Racism exacts a terrible, dehumanizing toll on all of us. We are living in a time when the most fundamental values that guide our society are being threatened and tested as never before during most of our lifetimes. The ideals of our democracy — the integrity of our electoral and criminal justice systems; the sanctity of law; and respect for the worth of the individual — are visibly under assault by the combined forces of powerful special interests, corruption, greed, and the disaffection of ordinary people who no longer believe that they have the personal agency to effect meaningful change.
“Poor people and people of color bear the brunt of this damage, but for anyone to imagine that they are somehow safe from these forces is akin to ignoring warnings about, say, the dangers of a deadly virus. To put it more simply: When we avert our eyes from a horrible crime against another human being, we become complicit in a society that can disregard our own rights as well.”
The faculty views expressed in this article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of other faculty or those of the administration, staff or Trustees either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.