Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Analyzing the Complexity of Black Identity

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Analyzing the Complexity of Black Identity

Article excerpt

Dr. Robert Patterson's passion for education began early. As a young child, he carried a clipboard and wore glasses, as if he were already teaching a classroom.

"From Pre-K through 5, I went to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut, which was predominantly Black," he says. "I lived in a predominately Black neighborhood, and all of my social interactions and institutions were majority Black."

When Patterson entered sixth grade, he participated in the Project Concern program, which is now called the Capital Region Educational Council.

"There was this passive acknowledgement that perhaps the schools in Hartford did not have the resources to provide said educational opportunities that I would get at another school," says Patterson. "But instead of trying to transform that school system, you take a handful of students, disperse them to other school systems, so that the central problem - which is the educational disparities - stays intact. But for a set of circumstances and luck, I might not have had that narrative."

This realization led him to write a term paper on school choice during his junior year in high school. "I do think it has its advantages, but clearly school choice obfuscates the need to address structural inequalities that [are] rooted along racial and economic lines," he says.

Patterson is now entering his second year as the inaugural chair of the Department of African American Studies at his alma mater, Georgetown University. The department came into fruition due to national events centered on race, student agitation and Georgetown's increasingly more public relationship to the institution of slavery, he says.

For three years, Patterson served as director of an interdisciplinary program that developed into the department he now chairs. His educational journey is marked by a deeply rooted desire to cultivate conversations and heighten people's awareness of issues surrounding African-Americans.

Initially, he wanted to get his six-year Educational Leadership Certificate, become the principal of a public school and ultimately become the superintendent of a school district. He began his studies at Georgetown University, after considering the University of Pennsylvania.

"Georgetown did not have a school of education, and the University of Pennsylvania did," he says. "But, I decided after some consultation with a couple of high school teachers and thinking about the long-term implications of what this decision would be that I did not have to go through a school of education, and I actually did not want a degree in education. I would prefer to have the content area and then if I later wanted to get a certification in teaching, I could do that, rather than being an expert in teaching. …

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