eInfo Newsletter, May 2012

by Collin Ruud / May 18, 2012

The Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) would like to recognize graduates everywhere who are committed to achieving equitable outcomes for all students. In particular, we would like to honor graduate research assistants who have worked at OCCRL while completing their degrees over the last several years. Without this group of dedicated, hardworking individuals, OCCRL would not be able to fulfill its mission of conducting research and evaluation to improve education policies and programs. We are confident that these graduates have the knowledge and courage to make a difference!

Our Graduates are:
Stacy Bennett, Ph.D. in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership
Erin Castro, Ph.D. in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership
Shukri Nur, Ph.D. Education Policy, Organization and Leadership
Melanie Rubin Hogendorp, Ph.D. Education Policy, Organization and Leadership
Tracey Ratner, Ed.M. Educational Administration and Leadership
Mark Umbricht, M.S. Educational Organization and Leadership

Erin Castro was selected to address her class during convocation as the 2012 Outstanding Student Medal recipient. Three of these awards are given out; one to an undergraduate, a master’s student, and a Ph.D. candidate. Congratulations to Erin for receiving the Ph.D. candidate award! (Picture: Erin Castro and Acting Dean James Anderson)

Below you can find a copy of Erin’s speech. We hope that, like us, you find her reflections refreshing and inspirational.

Defending Equity: Education and Moral Courage in Dangerous Times

Good morning.

I’d like to take just a moment to thank our Dean, Dr. Mary Kalantzis, for her leadership in the college and to say that, Mary, we are all wishing you well for a healthy and speedy recovery.

I am thrilled and honored at the opportunity to share just a few words this morning and since we are all ready to head to the reception, I will be brief. I have one thing that I would like us to consider, and it is something that I have learned from my mentors during my time at the University of Illinois, and that is that we maintain our commitment to equity.

In 1963, in his talk to teachers, James Baldwin described what he called a ‘revolutionary situation’ arguing that to live in 1963 was to live during a dangerous time. As my students often remind me, his words ring true fifty years later. We are living in dangerous times, amid “widening economic inequality and social fracture” that threatens educational opportunity for the most marginalized among us (Cantor, 2012). We stand witness to a political environment that continues to polarize the field of education by blaming teachers for complex social problems, and pitting us against one another in unproductive ways.

For those of us in the field, in this room, however, I think that this climate presents to us an opportunity, an opportunity to reflect upon how important our work is and what’s really at stake in this historical moment. We live in an unequal world and the kind of change that I know many of us desire, requires of us at least two things. It requires innovative social science, of which we are all capable, research that elevates and privileges the voices, perspectives, and experiences of underserved and historically neglected groups. But it also requires a certain moral courage, to stand up for real people in situations when social norms and public policy threaten to dehumanize.

In our current social-political environment, this is no small undertaking.

It’s hard to remain courageous, for example, about why we care for all students; indeed, why diversity is vital for democracy, but it’s crucial that we do so. Our students need for us to be courageous.

But we will be challenged in complex ways. In my own dissertation research working with high school students, they resist programs in a school that seems designed for their failure, with few resources and literally no windows. But their teachers push them for success, and they, too, aspire to move further, even if in frustration. As I think about what it has taken for me to get here, I wonder how they will access higher education and what we as educators and policy analysts can continue to do to improve their chances. This is a commitment close to my heart.

Because I study education policy, I know that my presence here today is not simply a reflection of my own individual merit, but of a long-standing investment in public education.

I am a first-generation college graduate and I am a proud community college transfer student as well. I attended Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Illinois after high school and then transferred down to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Here at the University of Illinois, I am a beneficiary of Educational Opportunity Programming and I am standing before you, at least in part, because of the availability of federal financial aid: Stafford Loans, Federal Work Study, and Pell Grants.

On a large scale, the moral courage that I speak of translates into supporting these kinds of institutions and policies in the face of growing cynicism and public disinvestment in P-20 education; policies that allow students like myself, and the students with whom I research, to make higher education a reality; policies that expand the range of opportunity and allow for the full participation of diverse groups of people who have the talent and ambition to be here with us today.

On a smaller scale, the moral courage that I speak of is manifest in those perhaps uncomfortable moments, moments that give us pause, when we wonder if we should say something. Will we speak up when we hear students or colleagues using homophobic or other discriminatory language? Will we have the courage to gently remind friends, perhaps family members, that in a nation where we spend more money each year building prisons than we do building schools, the so-called “crisis” facing public education is not one of funding, but of priority.

What I am proposing, in situations both large and small, is that we educate, in the most kind and extensive way possible. Many of us do this already, we live it, and so I don’t say this as a ‘to-do’ list as much as I offer it in the spirit of celebration, of continued commitment, and of gratitude. Let our legacy be a sustained commitment to equity by defending policies that equalize educational opportunity and by exercising individual acts of courage.

One need not have a PhD to aspire to this commitment, but for those of us who are graduating today, let us be reminded that as educators and leaders our words will now carry more weight and our actions will, too. In these dangerous times, for whom will it matter?

Thank you.
Erin L. Castro, Ph.D.

Baldwin, J. (1963). A Talk to Teachers. Originally published in The Saturday Review, December 21st.

Cantor, N. (2012). From Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) to Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin—Will Compelling Social Science Evidence on the Benefits of Diversity Prevail in Higher Education? Presidential session given at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Monday, April 16th, 2012.