Voices and Viewpoints

There’s No ‘I’ in T.E.A.M.: Developing and Maintaining Collective Care in Deficit Landscapes

by Asif Wilson and Maria Ortiz with contributions from Sandy Vue, Jackie Werner, and Anthony Moore / Feb 25, 2019

Background

In the fall semester of 2017 a colleague shared a grant opportunity though the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and the Office of Community College Research and Leadership (OCCRL) titled Pathways to Results (PTR). At that point faculty, staff, and administration at Harold Washington College (HWC), one of the City Colleges of Chicago, had been working for several years to reconceptualize our developmental education initiatives in math and English. A small group of representatives from faculty, advising, tutoring, and administration applied and were awarded what would turn into a two-year grant. We hoped to use the grant to “strengthen programmatic and student supports [in our developmental education courses] to have a stronger, more meaningful impact on our students’ performance” (June, 2017, PTR Year 1 Application). 

During the kickoff institute, a convening hosted by ICCB and OCCRL at Heartland Community College in November 2017, our team discovered two things about developmental education: a) the developmental education student experience at HWC was deficit oriented and b) faculty, advisors, tutors, and administrators (all personnel in the college responsible for the success of developmental education) rarely collaborated. At the conclusion of the institute we set a goal to a) disrupt and dismantle the deficit ideologies that existed through our students’ experiences in school and b) create a space at HWC in which faculty, advisors, tutors, and administration could collaborate with one another, among other things. 

Dismantling and disrupting deficit ideologies through T.E.A.M. work

After attending the institute we had our first T.E.A.M. meeting. T.E.A.M.—Transitional Education through Affective Methodologies—was our first transformation in challenging our school’s deficit ideologies. To us the term “developmental” implied that our students were “in need of something” as opposed to “starting with something.” “Transitional” in our context represented a more asset-based term, one that viewed our students as holders of community and cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005), capital that could be translated into the academic investment needed to be successful in their coursework [1].

We also knew, because of our institute’s study of trauma, that academic success was tied to other identities our students held—we knew, for example, that our students’ out-of-class lives were connected to their classroom lives (Anyon, 1997; Darder, 1991; Ginwright, 2010). As a result of this foundational knowledge, we wanted to learn more about, and begin to implement, “affective methodologies” that we defined as attention to the social and emotional identities our students (and T.E.A.M.) held. 

The space created by T.E.A.M. allowed (and continues to allow) for a realness and humanness rarely seen in large academic or corporate “committees.” And while T.E.A.M. is technically a committee by category, it is literally a team in name. And it is large—currently T.E.A.M. is composed of 29 active members with between 10 to 15 who join each meeting.

During our first year, T.E.A.M. meetings occurred once a month and became spaces where we could engage in praxis (Freire, 1970), reflection, and action to improve the work we were engaging in related to transitional students. From the start, everyone saw value in T.E.A.M. The responses that follow emerged from an open-ended survey administered at the conclusion of T.E.A.M.’s first year.

I’m now aware of this one particular blind spot  . . . that I need to capitalize on the assets students have by building my lessons around them, and [this] has drawn my awareness to the fact that I probably have a lot more blind spots and biases that I still need to explore, uncover, and investigate. I feel that T.E.A.M. has really gotten this process started for me, and I hope it will continue to challenge me to challenge myself as we grow together (Maria, HWC faculty).          

Though I’m not in one of the roles that directly interacts with students, [T.E.A.M.] has made me think about the training necessary for tutors to feel empowered to do this work with students. Tutors come in with the academic expertise, but I want to be sure that they have a deeper understanding of the frameworks we were using so that they were able to utilize them in their interactions with students (Jackie, HWC administrator).

T.E.A.M. blossomed into a space of critical learning in which we, in community with one another, were able to develop new understandings of the world, schooling and education, and, ultimately, our interactions with students. It was a place where we interrogated our “blind spots” and the stigmas and low expectations for developmental education we all held.  However, we couldn’t have done that deep level of interrogation without kinship-like relationships with one another.

Overall, the monthly meeting has brought me closer to people from other departments and also closer to understanding the school and its services as a whole more deeply (Maria, HWC faculty).

It was simply superb that we came together once a month to brainstorm and implement strategies for our students’ ultimate academic success. Moreover, I leave this semester that much more motivated to continue to put forth my best effort in the best interest of our most valuable commodity: our students (Anthony, HWC advisor).

Every T.E.A.M. meeting starts with a check-in. Check-ins are a space that allow us to share our experiences with one other. Sometimes they are bound by a guiding question, inquiries such as How are you physically? Intellectually? Emotionally? Do you need anything? And other times they are not (e.g., Name where you are in this moment.). These check-ins helped us to get to know each other, trust each other, and hold each other accountable. 

In the second year of our grant, T.E.A.M. has evolved into a space of collective care. We meet biweekly, and the attention of our work has turned inward. The decision to meet on this schedule came out of the collective yearning for a space like T.E.A.M—a space where we could be authentic, reflective, and collective; a space that was not driven by productcreation or key-performance indicators; and a space that was critical, a place where we engaged in an analytical reading of the world and our role(s) in transforming it. While not losing our foci on asset-based praxis, the members of T.E.A.M. recognized the importance of taking care of ourselves. In reflecting on the conclusion of our T.E.A.M. work in the fall semester of 2018, Asif wrote

During the last meeting of the year we ended with affirmations--statements to others thanking them for their contributions to T.E.A.M. It was a very emotional check-out ... but one thing resonated with me from everyone’s affirmations. We all needed T.E.A.M. this semester. The fall semester was taxing on all of us and much of the work I engaged in was transactional (as opposed to intellectual). T.E.A.M. was a reflective, affinity-based space where we could heal from our institutional pains and struggles. T.E.A.M. became a place where we could learn new theories, reconsider our practices, and develop a network of support to survive and thrive here (Asif, HWC administrator).

From self-care to community care

According to Healing by Choice, a circle of women of color health and healing practitioners in Detroit, Healing Justice is

The practice of reimagining wholeness at the intersection of intergenerational trauma, current structures of oppression, and a generative and co-created future. We hold that joy and pleasure create possibility to be in right relationship with ourselves, each other, and the land.  We strive to demystify medicine and healing, and to make them accessible to everyone. We believe that each person is an expert of their own experience, body and needs, and that it is necessary to address the roots of trauma and injustice for individual and collective transformation. (https://www.healingbychoicedetroit.com)

"If trauma exists ... it exists within ourselves."

T.E.A.M., as a collective of individuals, has recognized that if trauma exists in our students, a fact we have come to consensus on as a school (check out this video to see how HWC is implementing healing-justice praxis through our Discover courses), it also exists within ourselves. We have adopted healing-justice principles and practices to draw attention to ways in which all of us are bound by the trauma we experience firsthand (firsthand trauma), what we hear about in our interactions with others (second-hand trauma), and what is passed down through our DNA (epigenetics). The healing-justice framework also holds us accountable for centering our collective responsibility in caring for each other. 

In her article "Communities of Care, Organizations for Liberation," Yashna Maya Padamsee (2011) encourages us to depart from individualized accountability structures and systems of self-care and move toward an analysis of care framed through collective responsibility.

Too often self-care in our organizational cultures gets translated to our individual responsibility to leave work early, go home-alone-and go take a bath, go to the gym, eat some food and go to sleep. So we do all of that “self-care” to return to organizational cultures where we reproduce the systems we are trying to break; where we are continually reminded of our own trauma or exposed and absorb secondary PTSD, and where we then feel guilty or punished for leaving work early the night before to take a bubble bath.

Self-care, as it is framed now, leaves us in danger of being isolated in our struggle and our healing. Isolation of yet another person, another injustice, is a notch in the belt of Oppression. A liberatory care practice is one in which we move beyond self-care into caring for each other.

As a community, we are using our time together through T.E.A.M. to care for ourselves. That community care is generative and contextual—it is built upon the needs of our collective within any given moment. Pragmatically, this framework and practice of collective care means that we spend time, every other week, reading about systems of oppression in the world that create and maintain trauma, engaging in healing practices like yoga and breathe work, sharing affirmations and the connection of our experiences through circle-work practices, and finding time in our fast-paced lives to nourish our bodies and reflect on our practices and interactions with ourselves and our students. 

T.E.A.M. is a space where we can admit the harm we’ve experienced, the harm we’ve perhaps perpetuated, and unpack the harm we hope to no longer participate in. It is a space where we acknowledge that none of us alone are directly to blame, but all of us together are collectively responsible.

Perhaps this space exists as it does because it is predominately a group of womxn and predominately a group of people of color. We want to name this as an important variable of consideration in our work (one that we haven’t spent enough time unpacking). On the one hand, it may exemplify the value of affinity-based spaces, but on the other hand, it raises concern that “care” has historically fallen on the minds, bodies, and spirits of womxn of color. 

While some may find this practice ineffectual, we have found great value in slowing down to engage in love, compassion, and care for one another. This is a space where people laugh, cry, hug, and love during every meeting. When asked to describe their experience with T.E.A.M. during the fall 2018 semester, one member said

To be honest, since my first meeting sitting in with T.E.A.M., I knew I found ‘my people.’ It’s an atmosphere of inclusiveness with folks who share my beliefs and also challenge me to think further and be more intentional with the students here from an education-based perspective. Folks with Education-based degrees are not far away from social workers, and I’m so glad I was steered towards the advocates in this institution. There is no one moment that defines the impact T.E.A.M. has on me, but I can tell you I look forward to the meetings because they helps me through another two weeks of serving my community here (December, 2018).

Another member, who joined T.E.A.M. during its second year, shared how she experienced daily microaggressions at previous jobs and in other spaces and places.  But at T.E.A.M., those aggressions are nonexistent.

I’m new to the city. I’m learning. When I’m in these communities, I’m more critical of my impact, the changes I’m seeing. This space is really great. I’m from Minnesota—these spaces are usually filled with microaggressions. At HWC, I don’t feel different (Sandy, HWC institutional researcher).

This is our institutional researcher who, in title, is a “numbers person.” Sandy has said time and time again that numbers matter, but so do the stories and the stories of our students that affect those numbers, as well as how the interpretation of data can be harmful without context and without stories when used without care.

Here we can see the value T.E.A.M. held in this person’s daily institutional survival. Here T.E.A.M., as a space of affinity-based connections, represents a space of fugitivity in which “folks who share. . . beliefs” can “challenge,” “advocate,” and “help [each other] through another two weeks.” We all know each other to different degrees (some are close friends, some have never spent time outside of T.E.A.M. together), but at T.E.A.M., there is a mutual understanding of what the space means to us all, a shared value of the importance and beauty of it. 

We have a responsibility to create and maintain praxis-based spaces where collectives of individuals can resist, reimagine, and rebuild."

Until we can transform the white supremacist, capitalist, and heteropatriarchal (hooks) structures and processes of our institutes of higher education into ones in which all students can see themselves, be themselves, and actualize their full humanity, we have a responsibility to create and maintain praxis-based spaces where collectives of individuals can resist, reimagine, and rebuild the sort of world we want to live in one day with each other. 


[1] we are now wrestling with how these various forms of capital our students bring into our school can be sustained through educational experiences as opposed to translated.

 

References

Anyon, J. (1997). Ghetto schooling: A political economy of urban educational reform. Teachers College Press.

Challenging Media. (nd). Bell Hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation. YouTube [Video file].

Darder, A. (1991). Culture and power in the classroom: A critical foundation for bicultural education. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (MB Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum, 2007.

Ginwright, S.A. (2010) Black youth rising: Activism and radical healing in urban America. Teachers College Press.

Healing by Choice (nd).

Padamsee, Y. (2011, June 19) Communities of Care, Organizations of Liberation.

Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), 69-91.

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