This year we’re making a commitment to racial diversity. At least 20 attendees of #TMC19 will be educators of color. We will reach out to our networks to make sure that people know this conference wants to be more diverse. We will take specific actions to make sure that people know this isn’t a surface level commitment, we are determined that TMC will be a space that welcomes everyone and where educators of color will be specifically included. So far we are planning:
- A time on Tuesday, July 17 for all of the educators of color to gather, get to know one another, and learn about the plan for the week.
- An equity strand of presentations running throughout the conference.
- A safety plan for travel to breakfast, dinner, and evening activities.
- Waived registration fees for all educators of color (speakers and attendees).
- To consider any and all other ideas for ways to make the conference a better environment, specifically for educators of color.
Diversity is in. But why?
I want to help create and sustain diverse communities, both in the math education space and elsewhere. But I feel a tension between two different arguments for diversity that I want to consider in conversations about how to make spaces more diverse.
TMC writes on their blog:
According to this excellent TED Talk, “Ethnically diverse companies perform 33 percent better than the norm.”
One might call this the “diversity makes us stronger” argument. I believe it. I am a better educator because of educators of color who share their perspectives, yet those voices are not often those elevated by folks with the biggest microphones in education spaces. But if the only argument for diversity is to help white folks in largely white spaces, that diversity is fundamentally extractive. People of color and other marginalized folks do not exist to benefit those who already have power. I’m incredibly grateful to Jose Vilson, bell hooks, Mariame Kaba, Jacqueline Keeler, and others for their writing and activism. But they and other people of color have no obligation to seek me out and educate me.
The second argument for diversity is that we should honor the agency and humanity of every individual, acknowledging that our institutions have conspired, past and present, to keep some out. This means creating spaces where every individual can find what they need — in the math education space, that every teacher can grow and see themselves and their learners reflected in their professional development. I see it as an argument about freedom. As Carla Shalaby writes:
A free person retains her power, her right to self-determination, her opportunity to flourish, her ability to love and to be loved, and her capacity for hope.
-Carla Shalaby in Troublemakers (xv)
The second argument for diversity says that we should have spaces where every individual can be free to flourish, to love, and to believe in the potential of education. Folks have no obligation to make spaces diverse for the sake of diversity or the benefit of majority; instead, we should see diversity as the end result of rethinking the ways professional development spaces are organized to value every individual.
Centering the humanity of every individual is a conscious choice, acknowledging our country’s history of oppression. How do we respond to government-supported housing segregation? Inequitably resourced schools? Systematic plunder of wealth? It’s not an accident that some voices are excluded; it is the ongoing legacy of oppression in our country. And bringing folks in with an emphasis on their humanity and freedom helps us to see diversity as an opportunity for more productive collective action, rather than an exercise in pity that reifies existing inequities. Here is Matthew Kay on having meaningful race conversations in the classroom:
If the race conversation is about a hard problem, encourage students to (1) locate their sphere of influence, and (2) explore personal pathways to solutions. If, as argued in the previous chapter, our students deserve to consider the hard problems, they must also be invited to solve them. This balance reminds them of their agency. Without it, the discussion of race controversies is likely to make students feel a bit like punching bags, peppered by jabbing misery narratives that set up a knockout conclusion. We teachers, with all of our culturally sanctioned agency, can be surprisingly blind to this barrage… Imagine the frustration of having various narrative bits dumped on a desk before you and being asked to contemplate them without the opportunity to put them together into a whole.
-Matthew Kay in Not Light, but Fire (121)
Our students need narratives that not only teach about the realities of inequality in the world, but help them feel a sense of agency in making change in the future. In the same way, education spaces need to move beyond token diversity to a paradigm that values every individual and the potential for change when we bring educators together in spaces that are inclusive and empowering. I’m excited that Twitter Math Camp is working to make the conference more diverse. And, I hope that we as an online math education community can continue to work toward diversity as a necessary means to ambitious goals as well as an end in itself.