As I embark to teach and learn this new term, I know that I tell the students I am to work with on the first day we meet inside the four walls of our classroom that there are two things we must always remember, particularly while in class.
One is that a lot of us, if not all, who now share access to an ancient knowledge transmitted by university students and educators come from historical heritages of ancestors that were excluded from opportunities like the one we are to freely experience: children, elders, men, youth, women, etc. Yes, just forty years ago, young women were not admitted into many colleges and universities. And during the earliest years of U.S. history, African Americans were prohibited from learning to read or write on penalty of death; part of efforts designed to ensure submission while enslaved. We must acknowledge this.
The other is that in our world – still to this day – many remain who do not have, for various reasons, welcomed access to the possibility of being in such a space of learning, writing and speaking up. For example, current studies show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students experience high rates of discrimination and harassment on campus; that classroom environment has an impact on students’ coming-out experiences; and that developing an individual sexual identity is often linked to becoming politically active in support of gender and sexuality issues.
Think about this, I will think out loud while in our classroom: have you not ever felt weird when having a full plate in front of you, remembering that others don’t have much to eat? That weird feeling is called consciousness, which implies empathy with other human beings, appreciating and not taking for granted something that others, so many others, don’t have and didn’t have:
“Despite the risks, the Quaker community, other abolitionists, and educated slaves remained committed to educating more African Americans by secretly offering them tutoring and instruction.”
Keep this in mind when we have in front of us – within the four walls of our classroom – the opportunity to learn and to freely and safely express ourselves.