The “Othered” Experiences of Minoritized Students in Three Countries

Today’s blogger is Dr. Christopher J. Cormier (Stanford University), who was the lead author on the article “Black Teachers’ Affirmations on the Social–Emotional and Mental-Health Needs of Learners: A Transnational Examination” (co-authored by Drs. Mildred Boveda, Funké Aladejebi, and Alice Gathoni), which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of February.

The “othered” experiences of Black students in schools extend beyond the United States. A common misconception is that the racialized experiences these students face is a phenomenon experienced only by Black Americans, and not only in schools but also in the ethos of the societies in which they reside. However, although challenges Black students face in schools can, and often do, vary depending on the cultural context, the reality is the same. That is, these students face systemic barriers to their academic achievement, which often stifle their ability to be fully functioning members of our classes and schools. Thus, given that students spend most of their waking hours in school, the challenges they face in school can, and will, bleed over into their home lives and interactions with other members of society.

For the article that appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to work with three colleagues who are also friends and great collaborators on this topic. Each brings experience as a teacher and researcher to the piece. In this transnational narrative (avoiding a U.S.-centric approach), readers will notice that Black teachers often are expected to “fix” the issues of the students who share their racial or ethnic identity; however, we suggest strategies that all teachers can use for all students, regardless of whether they share the same backgrounds.

We believe that one major challenge in schools is that certain teachers are expected to “deal” with certain students because of a shared lineage. What I, even as a co-author, found fascinating is how that manifested differently in different countries—particularly in Kenya. During a late-night Zoom call with my colleague in Kenya, I was fascinated by all the things she related about the challenges Black students face in Kenya. A major takeaway for practitioners is that shared racial or ethnic identity does not necessarily equate to shared experiences, values, or even respect.

Co-author Dr. Alice Gathoni eloquently describes how being Black in Kenya has many layers. A major challenge in Kenya is being considered a minority if you are not a part of the dominant tribe in the region. Furthermore, the same hostile treatment that students wrestle with as “outsiders within” if they are not members of the dominant tribe is mirrored in Canadian and U.S. schools. By exploring Kenyan schools, we hope that practitioners, including school leadership, recognize that just having a Black teacher for Black students does not solve issues of inequity or address the social–emotional and mental-health needs of these students.

We focus on three dominant practices as we describe the nature of the ways in which Black teachers use their shared racial identity to support Black students’ social–emotional needs in each country represented in our article. We believe these are useful to practitioners as well as the scholarly community, especially to support the unique needs of students. The practices include (a) consider insider–outsider knowledges and within-group differences, (b) nurture individualized care and cultural sensitivity, and (c) understand the value of school–community relationships.

These strategies are often used by Black teachers, but do not require a Black teacher to use them to be effective for supporting the needs of not only Black students, but all students in schools. We are hopeful this piece will open dialogue about how all teachers—not just Black teachers—can support all students and, beyond the dialogue, lead to systemic change. We suggest using our article in professional development meetings and ongoing conversations regarding everyone’s responsibility to support students and not to rely on one group because that group mirrors its students’ cultural or gendered makeup.

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