Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Critical Community Building: Beyond Belonging

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Critical Community Building: Beyond Belonging

Article excerpt

I am thrilled to be here today to give the keynote address for the Southeastern Association of Educational Studies. It was less than four years ago that I graduated from the Culture, Curriculum and Change program here at Chapel Hill, and I never would have dreamed that I would be invited back so soon to give a keynote!

I am particularly happy to be speaking at this conference because it is a primarily graduate student conference, and one of the first I presented at in my doctoral program. In our crazy hierarchically structured world, we sometimes mistakenly give more credence to the work of faculty members. Although many faculty members produce great work, graduate students often have the most cutting edge information and ideas, not to mention passion.

When I was invited to speak, the conference coordinator asked me if there was something in particular that I would like to discuss, and I suggested the theme of Community Building. (2) This is something I began thinking and writing about as a graduate student, (3) and I have continued my research on this topic ever since. I have a recently published article in The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies titled "Building Critical Communities Amid the Uncertainty of Social Justice Pedagogy in the Graduate Classroom." It is this theme of critical community building, particularly within the context of social justice education, that I want to take up and expand upon here.

Before doing so, I ask that you indulge me as I give thanks. I didn't get here on my own, nor would this be meaningful without your presence.... (4)

The title of my talk is "Critical Community Building: Beyond Belonging."

I have had rare moments in my life when free floating ideas and varied experiences merge to provide me a strong message. Recently I have had such a moment, and the message is about the power of active listening.

Let me explain ...

In addition to working on this talk about Community Building, I have also been writing a book, based on qualitative research, about the experiences of mixed race women. (5) The 16 participants I interviewed were an incredibly critically thoughtful group of women who, through storytelling about their ideas and experiences, expose privilege and oppression politics. Entering the research, I particularly wanted to learn what these women might know about how to best communicate across lines of racial and ethnic difference. The main message they told was about the importance of active listening. Several spoke about how they took the time to listen and pay attention to both words and non-verbal cues in order to learn how to best move in and out of distinct groups. Many of the women I interviewed described experiencing pain and frustration at the hands of others who didn't listen and thus made false assumptions about them. And generally, they expressed a longing to be heard; as one person said outright, "Tell your readers to hear us and believe our stories." Thus their narratives portrayed a combination of longing to be heard and testimonials about how the power of active listening can aid in cross-cultural communication.

Also, in my work life as a professor, I have received continual reinforcement from students about how important it is to them that I care about and listen to what they have to say. It matters that I elicit their stories, acknowledge their ideas, and validate their experiences. This occurs primarily through active listening to both their spoken and printed words, as well as non-verbal communication.

And even in my personal life, I have experienced the incredible joy of being truly heard and the immense frustration of not being listened to. As much as I pride myself on being a good listener, I sometimes have to be reminded to listen openly and enter conversations without preconceived ideas of what should be.

Finally, as I delved into many readings about community building, one theme continually emerged--the importance of active listening. …

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