Understanding Student Anti-Racism Activism to Foster Social Justice in Schools

By Lund, Darren E.; Nabavi, Maryam | International Journal of Multicultural Education, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Understanding Student Anti-Racism Activism to Foster Social Justice in Schools


Lund, Darren E., Nabavi, Maryam, International Journal of Multicultural Education


Subject Location

Background/Rationale

Theoretical Framework

Methodology

Participant Selection

Interview Findings

Reasons for Involvement

Social Impact of Involvement

Successes and Struggles

Conclusion

Notes

References

Appendix

For the past several decades there has been a strong academic interest in promoting the ideals of acceptance of diversity and inclusive practices in schools. However, the current research on anti-racism education and multicultural education has included relatively few analyses of the experiences of student activism within school settings. We undertook this study (1) as a means of analyzing how and why students engage in existing social justice programs and of documenting some of their challenges, in their own words, focusing for practical purposes on the prairie region of western Canada. We sought to understand the experiences of some students and teachers who form voluntary coalitions or who undertake specific school projects to address issues of racism and discrimination; this paper focuses on findings from the student participants in the project.

Subject Location

This project builds on the researchers' combined expertise and experiences in anti-racism research and activism. We accept the complexity of gendered and racialized relations and have conducted this research from differing subject positions. Most helpful for us has been the work of James Banks (1998) on the typology of cross-cultural researchers; we have come to better understand our roles as an "external insider" and an "indigenous insider," respectively, and the particular types of risks and benefits he notes for each role (pp. 7-9). Further, we have both strived to "conduct research that empowers marginalized communities" (p. 15). As a high school teacher, Lund formed an award-winning student activist program, Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice (STOP) that has remained a model of collaborative anti-racism activism for two decades (Alberta Human Rights Commission, 2000). For the past several years he has sought a clearer understanding of the practical realities of anti-racism work among activist teachers and students (Lund, 1998, 2003, 2006) and has recently explored more specifically how his own privileges as a straight, able-bodied White male have played themselves out in his scholarly and activist work (Lund, 2007). Nabavi is a first-generation immigrant woman of color. She has extensive experience working in the social justice field, has lived and worked overseas, and has been involved nationally in social justice research, policy, and activism. For both of us, the interlocking forms of oppression are embedded in our personal and political work.

Background/Rationale

As researchers and activists we have an overarching goal to understand and analyze the complex nature of how students and teachers form and sustain coalitions and projects in schools. Although we see our work as emerging from the contested field of multicultural education, we also acknowledge the many problematic aspects that have been associated with this broad tradition. The word "multicultural" rarely evokes a neutral response in this country. Canada remains one of the few nations with multicultural ideals entrenched in national government policy, although it is often seen as being about preserving the status quo, viewing (non-White) immigrants as in need of assistance to assimilate to mainstream norms, taking a superficial view of culture and identity, and ignoring issues of systemic racism and intersections with other oppression. Some Canadian researchers (e.g., Ghosh, 1996; James, 2005; Moodley, 1995) have outlined approaches to multicultural education that pay some attention to issues of power and privilege, but it remains a field that is viewed by many as an inadequate response to racism. Likewise, in the US, many multicultural education proponents have moved toward more critical engagement with multiple forms of oppression (Banks, 2002; Sleeter & Bernal, 2004). …

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