Tag Archives: Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color

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Who am I becoming through my fellowship with CNV?

This post is by member Marcus Croom. 

A common technique for measuring change is to take a snapshot of something at one point (pre-) and examine it against another comparable snapshot taken at some later point (post-). As a newcomer to the CNV fellowship, I decided to create some early snapshots to which I can return at the end of this unique opportunity. My question: Who am I becoming through my fellowship with CNV? Following are three recalled snapshots that are important to me now. Toward the end of my fellowship, I’d like to revisit these snapshots and add new ones in order to document and describe my development. Because of my own interest in genre, I have thought about the genre I am using here and how to describe it. I regard this text as the opening episode of a micro-comparative memoir, a genre with at least two meaningfully comparative discourses. I create this genre to help me answer a significant question in my life.

Click: George Kamberelis emails me to introduce himself as my mentor and I’m geeked! I chose him as one of several potential mentors because his work focuses on philosophic issues, genre, and the nature and effects of different modes of classroom discourse. That’s exactly the kind of thinking partner I need for my work. Man, he’s published so much stuff! His CV is like a scroll. It seems like we are both in the field of literacy because our careers unexpectedly unfolded into literacy research. I think we might be able to relate through our less-affluent backgrounds and our less-traditional journeys into the field. We also share a background in religious studies. Hmm, he seems to be a White guy with convictions about racial justice. It’s always heartening to detect White folks who are not in racial darkness. George and I schedule a talk and we hangout via Google. He’s an intellectual heavyweight, yet he seems like such a cool guy. He’s already sharing ideas that are moving me forward in my thinking. Wow, George Kamberelis is my CNV mentor. This is going to be great!

Click: At our first CNV 2016–18 cohort Fall Institute at the NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta, each mentor and fellow shares their story. One-by-one we solo, with a full soul, to our caring choir of color. I realize that I’m more impressed with who these amazing people are than withtheir scholarship and accomplishments.

These mentors and fellows are uplifting people, people who are resolved to doing good work in the world. I’m awestruck by their generosity and transparency. In so many ways, our times have tested these women and men, yet as scholars, they have remained true to the good fight of justice.

As I collect the contours of these scholars’ particular experiences, I also realize the terror of choosing a career path that is routinely and stubbornly anti-egalitarian, unmeritocratic, and constrained by the racially White superordinate assumption. Note for readers: Don’t misunderstand, I already knew this. Each story we heard raised themes that were familiar to me. Understand that I’ve been cross-training for an anti-Black world since at least Goldsboro High School (in North Carolina) and at each HBCU (Historically Black College or University) from which I have graduated. The terror did not come from surprise, rather from proximity. Notwithstanding all else, including Trump’s approaching presidency, here I am choosing our mentors’ well-worn journey: tenure-track professorship in a research-intensive institution. In this cohort moment, I feel like I’m standing in the hypogeum of higher education’s savage arena. In this close dialogue with the mentors of our cohort, I feel the weight of this savage arena—we all got next. Also close to me, though not present, are my beloved ones at home in Oak Park (Illinois). Come what may, and however I manage to navigate this savage arena, my path will impact my family’s future; including retiring my old student loans, retiring the soon-to-be mortgage of our second purchased house, and even retiring from the labor market altogether. As if I were nearing another African door of no return, I ask aloud, “What am I doing?” Hearing me, George supportively looks on as another CNV mentor at our table replies in a sisterly tone, “The right thing.”

Click: I’m at the NCTE Annual Convention for the very first time because of CNV. I’ve heard about this conference and have wanted to go, but the LRA (Literacy Research Association) conference is the annual gathering for my field and AERA is THE research conference, so I’ve had to choose carefully which conferences to attend as a doc student. The struggle is real. Without CNV, I wouldn’t be here this week. Glancing at the program, the sessions at NCTE seem outstanding. I’m glad NCTE provided the conference schedule through an app, the same way that the International Conference on Urban Education also did two weeks ago. It’s so hard to pick sessions. Each of the sessions I found (using a keyword search for race) sound amazing.

Time for our CNV Poster Session (p. 29). Dang, I forgot to bring push-pins! Never mind, I’m good. There’s a brand new box of clear ones under the boards set up by the Convention Center. The questions and feedback mentioned during the poster session are so helpful. I’ve gotta keep in touch with the folks who signed up for my contact list. I want to make the most of the network that CNV is offering me. By the time I graduate, I gotta have a job lined up. It looks like all of the fellows are having a great time and are connecting with a lot of passersby. After our CNV Poster Session, I head to “Supporting the Academic Achievement and Cultural Identity of Black Adolescent Males.”(p.41) I’m liking, and learning from, the way one of the researchers used “racial storylines.” Good thing I got to hear this sister’s presentation. Oh my goodness: A high school classmate I haven’t seen in years and George were both in this session too! I didn’t even see them until we were walking out. I introduce my classmate to George, and the three of us stand talking for a few moments about the fiery exchanges we heard. My nine-nickel classmate, an English teacher in Atlanta, is singing at a gig in Stone Mountain tonight and she invites me to come. That’s wild—what are the odds? Goldsboro is in the building, NCTE!

Debut: In Autumn, age 40 awaits. For now, an unsettling haze wafts between this last leg to commencement and my treasured definition of success. It hovers and occasionally wrinkles, making the specific steps I should take appear and disappear like drifting clouds. I wonder: Does it profit to have a better understanding of race or to develop racial literacies? Yes, this is significant, justice-minded work. But will my costly justice work profit (the university I work for, the schools I work with, the family I live for)? I don’t yet have the answers I want. Still urgently, at every possible moment, I move forward and work thoughtfully within my immediate clear view. When I must pause, I stand trusting. Make no mistake, I am not the trusting type. I’m learning to stand trusting at forced pauses because of defining moments that have left me no other choice. As it turns out, I am the situated captain of my fate. Remembering my peaks and valleys, I look back now and marvel with gratitude. I was brought this far by caring collaborators, helpful hardships, and immortal love. If it had not been for all that was on my side in this anti-Black world, where would I be? Now, with the added support of CNV, who am I becoming?

Marcus Croom is currently a doctoral candidate of Literacy, Language, and Culture at University of Illinois at Chicago. Within his broader interest in literacies and race, Croom’s research will continue to document teachers’ understandings of race and examine the influence these understandings may have on teacher efficacy, student identification, pedagogical reasoning, and teaching practices in literacy instruction.

Cultivating New Voices: A Model of True Academic Fellowship

This post is written by member Joanna Wong. 

joannawongAs a daughter of Chinese immigrants growing up in a working-class Oakland neighborhood in California, I learned to value cultural and linguistic diversity early in life. I also grew up keenly aware of racial and socioeconomic injustices and how these impacted my own and my peers’ schooling opportunities. This consciousness fueled in me a desire to positively affect educational opportunities and academic achievement for historically underserved communities. I began teaching elementary students and participating in educational reform efforts. Feeling as though I held too many unanswered questions, I pursued a PhD in language, literacy, and culture. My research addresses the writing opportunities and experiences of bilingual elementary students as well as teacher preparation to serve culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Days before walking across the University of California, Davis stage in my doctoral regalia, I received notification that I would be joining the 2014–2016 NCTE Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color cohort. While completion of my doctoral degree felt like a monumental achievement, the journey forward remained daunting. However, knowing that I would have the NCTE CNV program to support me over two critical years in my transition from newly minted PhD to (potentially) a new academic faculty member filled me with elation and eased many fears.

Over my fellowship years, this generous community of literacy scholars acted as a vital anchor for me. We convened twice each year, at the NCTE Annual Convention in the fall and on a university campus for the Spring Institute. Our meetings included forums for fellows’ research presentations as well as special topics presentations by mentors and other established scholars. These presentations helped to advance my understanding of research and theories in the field. I valued fellows’ and mentors’ advice, openness in sharing experiences and insights, and constructive feedback to advance fellows’ scholarship.

Another keystone of the CNV program is the partnering of a fellow with an established scholar in the field. Working with Dr. Sarah Warshauer Freedman was a dream come true. I had long admired her scholarship in the field of writing research and writing pedagogy. While I was on the job market during my first fellowship year, Dr. Freedman provided support at all phases of the job search, from reviewing teaching and research statements to helping me to prepare for campus interviews. By fellowship year 2, I had joined the Department of Education and Leadership at California State University, Monterey Bay. During that year, I turned to Dr. Freedman for advice on navigating professional relationships and balancing responsibilities within the university. She also supported me in developing a manuscript from my dissertation that examines the relationship between teacher expectations and fourth-grade bilingual Latinx students’ writing development.

CNV is a family of early and established scholars who actively manifest compassion and cultivate humanizing practices in teaching and learning, in scholarship, and within our academic lives. CNV is a model of true fellowship in the academy. I am so grateful to be part of the CNV family.

Dr. Joanna Wong, assistant professor in the CSUMB Elementary Education Program, is committed to preparing teachers to provide culturally and linguistically responsive language and literacy education to diverse students. She grounds her teaching and research in more than 14 years of experience working as an educator in the Oakland Unified School District. 

La Lucha es más fácil en Familia (The Struggle Is Easier among Family): Academics of Color Finding (and Founding) Supportive Community Spaces

This post is written by member Laura Gonzales. 

lauragonzalesIt’s no secret that academia can be a marginalizing and hostile space for people of color. Although there is extensive work citing various forms, instances, and motivations for this marginalization, for me, this struggle has always come in the form of failing (or fearing failing) to fit into standards and categorizations that were inherently built to displace non-white academics with non-white experiences. I never quite “fit” into definitions and trajectories for what an academic is “supposed” to be. Living outside the boundaries of what is deemed academic language through my linguistic and cultural background, and having to move through timelines other than what is deemed “appropriate” in academic trajectories, I’ve always felt a need to justify my decisions, positionality, and even sometimes my existence within academic spaces.

This was not the case during the first meeting with my 2016-2018 cohort in NCTE’s Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color fellowship program. Like many of my peers who’ve been through many years of school, I’ve experienced countless “introductory” or “icebreaker” meetings in a wide range of contexts. Typically, as many of us have experienced, these introductions consist of some type of instruction (“Tell us your name and where you’re from,” “Tell us your grade and what you did for fun this summer,” “Tell us your school and your research interests”) followed by a set of responses homogenous both in their tone and content (“My name is ____ and I’m from ____”). For me, these introductory sessions become an exercise in assimilation as I struggle to decide just how much of myself to reveal in a specific context:

 How do I pronounce my name to make these people comfortable?

Do I say “Lah-oo-ra” like my mom intended, or do I Anglicize to “Loh-ra”?

Do I say I’m “from” my Florida home in the US, or do I say I was born in Bolivia, preparing myself for the “oooohs” and “aaahs” and follow-up questions that often follow?

Do I tell them that “fun” for me this summer were the moments between shifts at the grocery store, or do I make up a vacation from my vault of imaginary getaways?

 Instead of sending me through this familiar maze of decision-making during our first meeting as the 2016-2018 CNV cohort in a large conference room at the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention, our director, Juan Guerra, simply asked us to sit together and listen. “Say whatever you want in whatever order you want,” he said. “It will all work out.” And it did.

The room immediately turned into a community of people who “get it”—who came together with the intention of listening rather than performing. During this CNV introduction, the new fellows introduced themselves by sharing anything that came to mind—stories of past experiences, struggles, successes, and future aspirations. These stories were met with nods and sighs and tears and smiles, both from other new fellows and from the mentors who paved the path that led us into this room.

It was during this introductory meeting that I met my mentor, Michelle Hall Kells, who, after listening to me talk endlessly about my anxieties and back-up plans for navigating the tenure track, simply said, “Laura, you have to start preparing for excellence. Stop preparing for worst-case scenario and realize that best-case scenario is what is going to happen. You’ve earned it.”

Michelle’s words are still echoing in my mind weeks after the first CNV Institute, along with the words of my CNV peers, who continue to encourage me and keep me grounded. As we prepare for the second CNV Institute in February, I’m continuing to plan for “best-case scenarios” in my career, knowing that my role in this game is no longer that of assimilation, but rather that of excellence in the footsteps of my CNV family.

Dr. Laura Gonzales is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the Department of English at the University of Texas, El Paso. Her research focuses on intersections of technical communication, translation, and community activism.

A Critical Reflection on Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color

This post is written by member Lamar Johnson.

lamar-johnsonIn the summer of 2014, I was in Columbia, South Carolina, preparing myself mentally and physically for my move to Cincinnati, Ohio.  I had trepidation about my transition from full-time doctoral candidate and full-time secondary English language arts teacher to assistant professor.  Consumed by an amalgamation of emotions about this new journey I was about to embark upon, I received news that I was selected as a fellow for  Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color (CNV)  2014–2016 cohort.

CNV is a dynamic space that is committed to honoring the voices, brilliance, beauty, and humanity of scholars of Color.  Drawing upon my personal experiences, I believe the academy is founded upon eurocentric traditions, values, and assumptions; and, oftentimes, there are not any spaces for Black and Brown faculty to engage in humanizing conversations with a cadre of folks who look like them.  To be clear, it is difficult to create spaces for faculty of Color at predominately White institutions if Black and Brown bodies are absent.  However, CNV provided me the opportunity to build bidirectional relationships with other scholars of Color across institutions.  As such, this kinship has moved beyond professional relationships (i.e., only providing feedback on manuscripts or only discussing information pertaining to fellowships and grants)—our bond is deeper.  We are a family that is connected by cultural, racial, and linguistic heritages that arose from generations of struggle, oppression, and resilience.

As a Black son, a Black brother, and a Black male English educator, I carry my racialized, gendered, and classed experiences into my teaching, research, and service.  In short, my research explores the complex intersections of race, anti-black racism, literacy, language, and education to examine how ELA classrooms can become revolutionary sites for racial justice.  Because my research, teaching, and service reflect critical race work, I am often faced with resistance from faculty, staff, and students, particularly if they lack curiosity and criticality.  With this being said, in the beginning stages of my career as an assistant professor, many days I left work feeling dehumanized. However, being a part of the CNV family provided me with a group of people whom I can call, text, email, and/or video chat with if I need to heal and engage in self-care and self-love. CNV is one of my humanizing homes outside of the academy. In today’s racialized context, self-care and self-love are crucial to our humanization within dehumanizing contexts such as academia.  We have to learn how to remain radical and healthy. Not only did CNV provide me with the language and tools to work within/through/against an oppressive infrastructure but also it affirmed, sustained, and humanized me. In like manner, CNV reminds me that I am enough, and it has helped build my confidence as a scholar. I am forever grateful that a dynamic program such as CNV exists.

Lamar L. Johnson is an assistant professor of English Education at Michigan State University. He is interested in the complex intersections of race, literacy, and education and how ELA classrooms can become sites for racial justice.