On November 16, the William & Mary School of Education welcomed its second speaker for the 2017-2018 Diversity Lecture Series. Cirecie West-Olatunji, associate professor at Xavier University of Louisiana, presented “Revisiting the Promise of Multiculturalism in Education.”
The series is an opportunity for the school to engage faculty, staff, students and the community in dialogue about important issues related to diversity, social justice and inclusion. “An integral part of our mission is to prepare culturally responsive, ethical, reflective and collaborative leaders for education,” said Denise Johnson, associate dean for community engagement. “These events allow us to extend these discussions beyond the classroom and into the wider community.”
West-Olatunji presented five culturally informed approaches to transform outcomes for culturally and socially marginalized individuals in educational settings from K-12 through doctoral studies. These strategies aim to resolve the disparities in educational experiences and outcomes that result in persistent achievement gaps, especially among African American and Latino students.
“One specific approach Dr. West-Olatunji shared is for educators to participate in engaged research,” said Johnson. “Collaborations between researchers and community partners result in the creation and dissemination of knowledge that strengthens both the discipline and the community.”
West-Olatunji has wide experience with this type of partnership, as she has led clinical research projects across the country that focus on culture-centered community collaborations designed to address issues rooted in systemic oppression, such as transgenerational trauma and traumatic stress. She currently directs of the Center for Traumatic Stress Research at Xavier University of Louisiana, and is also a past-president of the American Counseling Association and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development.
Clayton Martin, a Ph.D. student in counselor education, appreciated West-Olatunji’s attention to language and her way of conceptualizing problems and solutions. “She wields a very empowering lexicon, as demonstrated by her question, ‘What can we do to help these kids achieve and produce like we know they are capable of?’ instead of, ‘How do we stop these kids from failing, underachieving, or dropping out?’” Rather than speaking from a deficit-oriented stance, West-Olatunji encouraged educators to embrace a solutions-focused philosophy.
Martin added, “I was also struck by her admonishment that we abandon all hope of escaping the foundations of institutional oppression. I certainly did not see that as an endorsement of complacency or resignation; rather, an acknowledgement that after lifelong exposure to the cultural language of discrimination one is never quite “fixed,” perhaps in the same way that the 12 Step Philosophy conceptualizes alcoholics as always in “remission” but never cured. I took that as a suggestion to be forgiving of the self for making mistakes, but humble and dedicated enough to solve problems as they arise.”
The final lecture in the series will take place on February 5, when Alberto Carvalho will be at the School of Education. Carvalho is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth largest school system. He is a nationally recognized expert on education transformation, finance, and leadership development.