The Foundation of Mindset

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.
The Article

This week I am reviewing one of the references listed in last week’s research article blog.  Dweck, Chiu, & Hong’s 1995 article in Psychological Inquiry is seminal in the mindset literature.   The authors explore the concepts of what has come to be known as “mindset” – whether one believes that certain aspects of self are fixed or whether growth is possible (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  In the 1995 article being reviewed in this blog entry those binary descriptions are labeled (respectively) “entity” and “incremental” implicit theories.  This research comes from the field of psychology and has worthwhile implications for educational practice.

Though this article is a couple degrees removed from any of our assigned readings for class, the authors sing what has become a familiar tune by now:  Be aware of bias.  Just as bias is naturally found in a scientist’s interpretation of data based on implicit assumptions, the authors suggest that biases or implicit assumptions also guide an individual’s view of life – in this case of “the way information about the self and other people is processed and understood” (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995, p. 267).  Each individual is a “theorist” relying on implicit assumptions that influence their judgment and behavior.  In essence, bias plays a part on the macro level in interpretation of data as well as on the micro level in an individual’s narrative.

The article is very well organized with useful headings and subheadings and a well-written abstract that allows the reader to anticipate what’s to come in the article.  A thorough groundwork is laid, beginning with reference to psychological theories from the 1950’s, to help readers clearly see the authors’ path.  The meat of the study is examining biases or orientations toward two particular attributes – morality and intelligence. To establish the reliability and validity of the entity and incremental orientations toward morality and intelligence, the authors include the three uni-directional statements from the assessment used to determine entity or incremental orientation.  Both internal and external reliability are high as evidenced by the review of six validation studies.  The validation studies also show that a person’s bias or implicit theory is not a function of age, gender, political or religious affiliation.  Nor is orientation, or bias, necessarily the same across all attributes.  The biases for morality and intelligence are statistically independent.  For example, a person can have an entity (or fixed) theory on intelligence, yet an incremental (or growth) theory on morality.

Dweck, Chiu, & Hong (1995) propose that the two different implicit theories lead to different psychological stances.  For one who holds an entity orientation, for example, any encounter will be a measure of their (fixed) attribute, making every encounter a potential threat and encouraging defensiveness.   For the person with an incremental theory, every encounter is an opportunity to grow and learn (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995).  As an educator, I want students to experience their encounters with life (including school) as an opportunity for learning and growth.  And the good news is that one’s orientation toward an entity or incremental bias is not fixed; it can be influenced by external stimuli (Sriram, 2014).

I have only a few minor editorial comments.  I was surprised to notice a couple of typos in the text.  They popped up without my intentional search for them – leaving out a word, repeating a word and forgetting a marker for one item in a list of three.  They were only slight hiccoughs in the reading and did not distract from the meaning of the text.  In keeping with the theory being studied in this article, I noticed that my explanation to self about the errors fall on the incremental side of things.  I believe the errors may exist because this article was published nearly 20 years ago before we had as much technological support to catch errors.  If the same article were published today, I’d be surprised to find more than one error.

One other weakness of the research analysis offered in this article is that the demographic variables of the study participants were not addressed except in the validation studies.  The authors were at Columbia University, an exclusive private institution, at the time of this publication.  They refer to studies taking place in their lab.  If their participants mirror the demographics of the school and are mostly White and privileged, will that impact the generalizability of the theory?  Might there be nuances in the theory with a more nuanced population set?

My Line of Inquiry

The theory of mindset provides a great foundation for the kind of impact I want to have as I develop my line of inquiry.  Research is supporting that if students have a growth mindset they are more likely to engage in goal-directed behaviors and to believe in their own self-efficacy and in the ability of others to change (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  At the community college, many of our students have been marginalized and are skeptical about the system and how accommodating it will be for them.  If students believe the system is not on their side and they have a fixed mindset they are more likely to give up.  If I can encourage the students I work with towards a growth mindset, then their belief in themselves and corresponding goal-directed behaviors may increase.  At the same time, we will be cultivating the belief that the system can change and become a better partner for students as they pursue their personal, career, and academic goals.

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.

Sriram, R. (2014). Rethinking Intelligence: The role of mindset in promoting success for academically high-risk students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 15(4), 515–536.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Policing of Native Bodies and Minds

Quijada Cerecer, P. D.  (2013).  The policing of Native bodies and minds:  Perspectives on schooling from American Indian youth.  American Journal of Education, 111(4), p. 591-616.


In Patricia P. Quijada Cerecer’s (2013) article, “The Policing of Native Bodies and Minds:  Perspectives on Schooling from American Indian Youth,” Quijada Cerecer analyzes “how school policies and leadership practices have assimilationist underpinnings that create hostile environments for these youth, negatively affecting their identities as learners.”  Using four of the nine Tribal Critical Race Theory tenets, Quijada analyzed how “colonization is endemic to society,” “U.S. policies toward Indigenous peoples are rooted in imperialism, White supremacy, and a desire for material gain,” Indigenous peoples occupy a liminal space that account for the political and racialized natures of our identities,” and “educational policies toward Indigenous peoples are intimately linked around the problematic goal of assimilation” (Brayboy, 2005).

The study involved 21 high school Pueblo youth (11 female and 10 male).  Participants must be students at the public high school and have lived on or near the reservation for at least 10 years.  The author decided upon this requirement to “capture perspectives of students who had lived on the reservation for most of their lives” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  Data was taken from the qualitative study that spanned over the course of 5 years.  The data were collected from interviews, focus groups, and observations with students, families and community members.

Quijada Cerecer said, “the research unveils a narrative that runs counter to the ‘neutral’ tone embedded throughout institutional policies alleging to foster healthy academic identities for all students; instead, the youth’s experiences and voices illustrate how campus climates and institutional policies restrict and control Native students.”  This was supported by the leadership decisions to hire a police officer to work on campus even though there had not been a history of violence or gangs on campus.  It was also supported by the implementation of a dress code, in which all students had to wear khaki pants, and, again, there had never been an issue with gang-related activities.

The study found that “leadership practices and curriculum did not reflect Native views of the world or lived experiences” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  This was reflected in Arizona’s banned books initiative, which included some Native American authored books, such as Sherman Alexie.  William, an eleventh grader, also posed important questions to the researcher and his peers, “’Why do we have to learn the White man’s way?  Why can’t we learn our way?’” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  Quijada Cerecer wrote, “his question underscores the notion that schools expect Native American youth to learn and adopt a white identity as students learners.  In other words, schools expect Native youth to assimilate.”  She also found that, for the most part, students were not actively involved or encouraged to become involved in ways to improve the school’s policies or leadership activities.


I appreciate Quijada Cerecer’s requirement of having lived on or near the reservation for most of their lives to get a more accurate perspective of what schooling has been like for these students.  I also thought it was a great idea to have the study span over a 5 year time period.  However, I would have liked to read more dialogue that occurred between her and those she interviewed, students, families and community members.  It seems as though she selected snippets that would support her research.  Out of the 21 students who participated less than a handful were presented in her article.  This leaves me wondering if they had seen and felt the same divide as the ones she did include.  Or, if their perspectives did not support her research.

Because I like visuals, I would have liked to see a record of her data, either in the form of a chart, graph, or diagram.  I would imagine that she would have extensive data to share considering her study lasted for 5 years.  I feel like the numbers would have made this article more impactful.  Instead, I feel like she molded her data into what she wanted it to be.   Which led me to question, again and as we have discussed in class on several occasions, is there such a thing as objective research??

Quijada Cerecer mentioned Arizona’s ban on books that was a result of the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District.  However, I questioned whether or not this had an impact in New Mexico.  If not, then why mention it?  Unless it was just to support her research, which led me to wonder if her data was limited or non-existent during the course of her 5-year research.


As I began to read this article, I immediately connected with it because this is something that I am very interested in.  For the purpose of this blog, I did not delve into the story of Mr. Thompson, a white English teacher, because he would have consumed this entire blog.  While I understand Quijada Cerecer’s desire to include his racist perspectives, I wonder about the other teachers.  I wonder if there were other teachers that did their best to include culturally relevant material in their classrooms.  I wonder if other teachers valued their students and built positive relationships with them.

I remember when the controversy with the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson.  I worked in its sister department, the Native American Studies Department for 4 years.  I saw their classes in action, and it was nothing like it was portrayed by the opposition.  I was saddened when they had to dismantle the program because I knew what the students walked away with.  And, it most definitely was not trying to find ways to overthrow the U.S. government.  They did not walk away with hatred for other races.  They walked away empowered by their culture, knowledge of their own history, and an appreciation for others.

This study has made me think about how I could do something similar with my students, their families and community members.  I am truly interested in learning more about their perspectives and how they have changed over the years, if at all.  One of Quijada Cerecer’s suggestions was to form both student and parent councils that report to an administrator.  I wonder if this is something that my principal or superintendent would be open to doing.  If not, I will find a way to make someone listen.  Our school need a voice.  And, I know my students want to be heard.  I am going to make this happen, one way or another.

Brayboy, B. M. K.  (2005).  Toward a tribal critical race theory in education.  The Urban Review, (37)5, p. 425-446.

Quijada Cerecer, P. D.  (2013).  The policing of Native bodies and minds:  Perspectives on schooling from American Indian youth.  American Journal of Education, 111(4), p. 591-616.

Changing the conversation, challenging the hegemony

A number of scholars are changing the conversation on race and, in so doing, challenging the hegemony.  These scholars are eloquently  pointing out how biases among dominant groups in academia have led to limiting the conversation on race and, consequently, limiting understandings of racial inequality and injustices.  With powerful and thought-provoking rhetoric coupled with well-documented research, these scholars are shaking up the academic enterprise.

In the first chapter of White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology, Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2008) examine the dangerous effects that bias and misconceptions of race prevalent among white researchers can have on the research questions they ask, the methods they employ, the results they obtain, and even their interpretation of their results.  As Zuberi notes:

Data do not tell us a story.  We use data to craft a story that comports with our understanding of the world.  If we begin with a racially biased view of the world, then we will end with a racially biased view of what the data have to say. (p. 7)

Zuberi also observes that many researchers erroneously attempt to study the “effect of race” (p. 8) as if race was a causal factor for various outcomes; this is erroneous because, as Zuberi explains, race in and of itself does not cause anything.  Rather, the true causes of differential experiences and societal disparities are the various forms of racism and bias.

Critical race theorists also provide compelling arguments against the dangers of only considering society through the lens of hegemonic norms.  Tara J. Yosso (2005) describes how privileging only one dominant (white) form of cultural capital has led to a deficit framing of the experience of non-dominant groups.  Yasso then names six forms of cultural wealth common in communities of color: aspirational capital, familial capital, social capital, navigational capital, resistant capital, and linguistic capital.

As a Latino scholar who is committed to social justice and to utilizing research and education to advance social justice, I am excited about and grateful for the bold work being done to change the conversation and challenge the hegemony.  Too often, students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are viewed as being disadvantaged because they don’t have the forms of cultural capital that those in power deem valuable and necessary.  Rather than view these students as “less than”, we should celebrate, value, and tap into their unique forms of cultural wealth.

I’m particularly encouraged to see scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva advocating for dominant-identity researchers to critically reflect on their personal biases and to question how their perspectives influence their research.  Too often, only those with oppressed identities are made to justify their work or explain the impact of their identities on their practice.  As Bonilla-Silva demonstrated, researchers of color are interrogated about the identities of their data coders.  Similarly, female Supreme Court Justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor had to field questions about how their gender affects their decision-making on the bench; such questions are never posed to males. LGBTQ scholars sometimes need to defend their very existence.  Imagine heterosexual people being expected to complete the Heterosexual Questionnaire on a regular basis.

With the excellent consciousness-raising work being done by scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva, I am hopeful that, in time, we will see profound changes in research on and understandings of race and social justice.

Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1(8), 69-91.

Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Research Article Review: Professional Socialization in Graduate Enrollment Management

In a recent conversation with a few of the senior members of the enrollment management staff for Arizona State University, a colleague said to me, “the odd thing about all of the materials out there about enrollment management is the titles that sound like ‘enrollment management revolution’ or ‘paradigm shifts through enrollment management’; if someone thinks the concepts of enrollment management are new or represent a paradigm shift, they’re already 20 years behind most of the industry.” It set me on an interesting path of reviewing the literature published on enrollment management and, really, something of a historiographical analysis of the field.

My colleague was correct when he said that there wasn’t much new about the idea of enrollment management as a field. Using Google’s NGram tool, which charts the frequency of the appearance of words in literature across time, the phrase ‘enrollment management’ begins to appear in approximately 1975, yielding almost 40 years of material. Interestingly, the frequency trends dramatically upward around the year 1999, begging the question of what drivers might be attendant in that increase.

I was reminded of a frequent frustration I’ve had in reviewing the enrollment management literature, as my reading has not yielded much material on the impact of enrollment management strategy on graduate education. When I came across an article in College & University magazine on the role of Graduate Enrollment Management, I was delighted to see how the work is situated in the field.

EM & Charts: A match made in heaven

Enrollment management: we’re mostly charts. Source:

In the article, Crossing the GEM Frontier: Graduate Admissions Professionals’ Participation in Enrollment Management, authors Dean Campbell and Jahmaine Smith take on a very interesting topic: the development of professional identity in the field of Graduate Enrollment Management. The article begins with a brief “state of the field” section, wherein the authors describe the blurred line between enrollment management as a set of practices and as a philosophy or a mindset. They also describe enrollment management in a traditional sense as a set of practices that ties together student recruitment, admission, retention, career, and alumni functional groups. The central point of research inquiry questions the process of individual identity development as it relates to the integration of general tasks and responsibilities of the admissions function with the general processes of identity development.

The concept that had the greatest impact for me was the one around professional socialization. This is the idea that supports the general ‘community of practice’ idea that there are internally reinforcing processes that inform identity. There are many components of professional identity: institution, background, communities, professional associations, individual departments, inter-office collaboration, all in addition to the thoughts, beliefs, emotions, culture, and more traditional drivers associated with identity development. But the notion of professional socialization, that knowledge, beliefs, skills, and behaviors are specifically socialized by the different professional communities affiliated with the admissions professional.

The authors detail three components of identity in enrollment management (anticipatory, meaning development, and personal), discuss the details around the role of socializing of structural forces (i.e. institutions, departments, associations), and then the very role of having a field called enrollment management.

There’s some interesting descriptive work in their ‘Methods’ section, focusing on the way they attempted to ensure validity in the qualitative information solicited, the themes identified, and then the development of findings. Interestingly, there’s a great revelation around the source of the labor force in enrollment management being individuals who have worked in some way in the admissions field.

Additionally, there are some interesting discussions of the roles of traditional identity types in enrollment management, how they both reinforce and produce cultural norms and socializing forces. And the conclusion is really around how professional socialization can be used as an effective analytical lens for figuring out how the field works.

Overall, it’s a great article that I think I’ll be able to use in my work. Here are the big takeaways:

  • There’s a fantastic bibliography, that indicates the article is well-situated in the literature
  • The concept of identity and profession being a framework for analyzing a field, is extremely effective, or at least interesting, when I think about the normative role of executive leadership at the college and university level in higher education administration
  • There’s an additional reinforcement to the field with the notion of enrollment management as a set of standard practices, as a set of general styles, and as a philosophy or approach to working.
  • The role of the individual in development of strategy and operational design as professionally socially contingent – excellent!
  • The role of key socializing factors in defining the ability to be successful as an individual (and by extension as a department and as a unit/school)



Campbell, C. Dean & Smith, Jahmaine (2014). Crossing the GEM Frontier: Graduate Admissions Professionals’ Participation in Enrollment Management. College and University, Volume 89 (Issue 3), 3-11.


Critical Reflectivity and Student Agency

This blog article will focus on bridging the work of Bautista et. al (2013) and Liou et. al (2009) with Howard’s (2003) rubric for self-reflection; beyond the ability to recognize your individual biases and agency, it is also important for research and researchers to recognize power built from student experience and the wider community.

Howard (2003) described a very personal rubric to aid educators in reflecting inward: upon their current racial or cultural biases, as well as major (personal) historical influences upon them. Bautisa et. al, expand upon this practice of cultural reflection, but move the focus outward; using a youth participatory research program (YPAR) as an example, the authors situate the power of student experience and student voice in educational research. The authors’ goal was to explore which “traditional tools of research” (pp. 2) students appropriated to evaluate their program—the Council of Youth Research. As part of a wider discussion, they also note the absence of student experience from educational research as a whole.

Liou et. al, likewise, expand upon the theme of critical reflexivity by focusing upon the agency that exists outside of a traditional school. How do local communities empower students to succeed–or, in this case, to seek out relevant resources and materials to apply for college–in the absence of such assistance from an underperforming school? The authors note that often, when services do not exist in underperforming schools–or when those services are not readily available to all students–students instead look to their community. This creates an interesting paradigm for school improvement; focusing upon the resources a wider community provides to students (as well as their quality) gives a school a new understanding of the services students need, as well as “improv[ing] the quality of relationships between school adults and the students they serve” (pp. 551).

These readings made me reflect upon one personal and very applicable example of the power of student agency, and how difficult it can be to build. During my time with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), I worked to build and sustain a coalition for youth anti-tobacco advocacy, made of disparate school-based and community-based youth organizations from across the state. Historically, anti-tobacco work with youth in Arizona had heavily focused upon what we called in shorthand the “DARE model:” in-classroom lectures, featuring a figure of authority from the school or greater community who gave a very fact-based presentation. In focus groups with middle and high school students, however, we learned that this model was effective in passing along those facts–that cigarettes are deadly and addictive–but it did not personalize the subject, nor give students a sense of involvement in the cause. The goal of this new advocacy-based coalition was to empower students to understand what policy is, how it affects them and how they could affect it.

This was a radical change in the student-educator relationship, and one of the most difficult pieces to put into play was to demonstrate to these student leaders that they had agency–within their homes, their schools and their communities–and to support them in developing their confidence. Many, at the outset, simply asked for a list of acceptable club activities, without giving much thought to their local environment or personal interests. Definitely putting Howard’s rubric into play, adult educators were a vital piece of building confidence among students to tackle issues of importance to themselves and their peers; these adults, who could be anything from a homeroom teacher to someone working in outreach at the county health office to a volunteer with a community youth program, approached “advocacy” and “student agency” in very different ways; we helped all parties, including ourselves, to reflect upon our own biases, and our own communities, in order to formulate a better way to speak to coalition student leaders. Likewise, as Bautista suggests, we guided these students in the same process, asking them to identify their individual agency, as well as the agency of their local club, and to use that to find projects that were meaningful on both a personal and community level. This conversation was essential; without the wealth of student voices and experience added to the conversation, this coalition would never have risen past the lecture–a figure of authority telling the students what they should do.


Bautista, M.A. et al. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115, 1-23.

Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R.A. & R. Cooper. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going networks. Educational Series, 45, 534-555.

Howard, T.C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflections. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

Secret Identities: Using Your Experience to Share Others Stories

We have all seen movies where the police officer goes undercover to infiltrate the “fill in the blank bad guy group”.  The officer becomes a member of the group and begins to connect with members, sympathizing with the group, but eventually takes them down.  This troupe has been done over and over again and we think nothing of it.  Now you may be asking, “Where is he going with this?”  Some of the readings made me think this is part of our identity as a researcher.  Now we are not looking to take down a drug syndicate or anything, but we are looking to get into environments where research subjects are willing and comfortable to talk with us and share information.

Not unlike the officer going undercover, they were chosen for certain characteristics, personal qualities and the experiences they posses in order to join the group. Some researchers have the ability to gain access to different populations and have an easier time making meaningful connections, because they are a part of and/or understand the culture they are going into.

Dunbar (2008) discussed in the chapter of the significance of the “Lived Experiences” about the benefits of having a shared experience.  The idea that being a researcher that has a connection with the subjects allows for seeing or hearing what is, or conversely, not being said because one “knows where you’re coming from” (Dunbar 2008).  There are two ideas that I have come to understand through our readings, last week and this week.  One we need to take a personal inventory of ourselves, the experiences that we have had both through life, and in education, and being willing to disclose and acknowledge the good and the bad.  The other idea is that of knowing that our outward appearance and perceived status because of our education will open and close doors, depending on the groups we are researching.   By doing both of these I feel as if I will help myself gain a sense of credibility and convey a desire to help tell the story of those being researched.

In the Participatory Action Research and City Youth(Bautista & Morrell, 2013) article, I found the students ability to bounce between the different school districts in order to do the research as they had that lived experience and were accepted into the other cultures because they too were students. By being a cohort of members from each of the schools, traveling with the members of the other schools they could gain access, observe, interview and report.

Through the cohort they were able to assist each other in their research, establish credibility, work in the group to establish how the research would go, and how they would report it out, all with the support of their faculty to help guide them.  In doing their research it was interesting to see student’s perception of things being considered “adequate”, as compared to the same things being viewed as exceptional by others.  This idea really gave me that reality check, even though I am from a small town, with a single school, K-12 essentially in one building, I used to think it was just “ok” an nothing special.  However after moving here, and seeing schools here, I came to appreciate what I had in facilities, and in teachers.


Yes. This is my actual high school (source, personal collection).

Ultimately we are not undercover agents, but we will be learning to negotiate our identities in order to meet a desired goal, and hopefully do some good.  The more we can help each other navigate cultures, and to learn more about ourselves, the better we will be as researchers.



Bautista, M. A., & Morrell, E. (n.d.). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research UCLA, 115(October 2013), 1–23.

Dunbar, C., Jr. (2008). Critical race theory and indigenous methodologies. In N. K. Denzin, Y. Lincoln S. & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 85-99) SAGE.

Learning How to Know

Lately I have been coming across the word epistemology a lot; talk about a difficult word to ascribe meaning to.  I suppose that is how it goes with most philosophical studies, no?  However, the study of knowledge and how one learns has become a central theme as I start my doctoral program.  In particular, when reading an article by Wenger (2000), the idea that we, as individuals, “…each experience learning in our own ways” (p.3) held significant importance as I thought about this in terms of my own field.

In my blog post from last week, I remarked that I recently had a light-bulb moment when I realized that the students I was preparing to send abroad could not hope to fully negotiate differences with other cultures without possessing a firm understanding and awareness of their own culture and identity.  Only now it seems obvious to me that we all would experience learning in our own ways, shaped by our own identities and experiences.  Nevertheless, I felt a similar sensation of discovery when I read Wenger’s words and reflected on some of the following points raised by other authors.

Though it was quite foreign to me, I found Cajete’s (2008) chapter on the different orientations of indigenous science education to be a fascinating way to contextualize this theme.  Since I have grown up in a Westernized society, what I think about knowledge acquisition and creation, and namely the scientific process, seem almost second nature to me.  However, I was not just born with the inherent knowledge of these processes, rather, like indigenous populations mentioned in Cajete’s chapter, my understanding of the world and how to learn and create knowledge are products of my environment and those who have taught me our society’s norms and traditions. Though it is difficult for me to imagine incorporating dreams into our scientific processes as it seems Garfield (1974) suggests some American Indian societies do as part of their knowledge-gathering traditions, I do agree that as educators, we need to be more flexible to adapting our own rigid means of conveying knowledge in order to better connect with those students that come from exceptionally different backgrounds than our own.

However, one point of disagreement for me that stemmed from an issue raised by a few of these articles was the idea that ‘White, Western’ society’s notion of objectivity in research and knowledge creation is unrealistic, and perhaps limiting.  Specifically, Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas “[rejected] the prevailing orthodoxy that scholarship could or should be “neutral” and “objective.”  These scholars believe that scholarship about race in America could never be written or distanced from or with an attitude of objectivity” (as cited in Cajete, 2008, p. 87).  Similarly, Cajete (2008) maintains that, “…focus on objectivity can block deeper insight into the metaphysics of the reality and process of the natural world.  Western science does not consider the affective, intuitive, and soulful nature of the world” (p. 491).  I find these claims truly vexing when I think about the implications of non-objectivity in scholarly work.  When I read reports and journal articles, read or watch the news, or am told something is a certain way by an authoritative figure, I find myself questioning to what degree individual biases have affected the information that is being transmitted to me; I tend to never take information at its face value.  Call me a cynic, but to me, knowledge creation that is not objective and devoid of emotional, spiritual, and personal notions cannot be truly counted to be knowledge.  At best, this would constitute someone’s educated opinion.  I respect that perhaps my opinion on this matter is colored by the years in which I have grown up with this Westernized doctrine, and I do agree that true objectivity is rare in most all fields and a very real threat to credible research, but to introduce these other aspects into research is to weaken its credibility.

That being said, there is truth to the general theme that we as individuals all learn how to know in our own way.  Just as other cultures perceive the world differently from one another, so to do individuals learn and create knowledge differently.  If we, as the new educational leaders, are to provide access and equity, and create positive impact in our field, we need to reflect on the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all method to learning acquisition, and that perhaps the solutions to some of our society’s most pressing issues will be solved by these new or different ways of thinking.


Cajete, G. (2008). Seven orientations for the development of indigenous science education. In N. K. Denzin, Y. Lincoln S. & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 487-496) SAGE.

Dunbar, C., Jr. (2008). Critical race theory and indigenous methdologies. In N. K. Denzin, Y. Lincoln S. & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 85-99) SAGE.

Garfield, P. (1974). Creative dreaming. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.

All about context

Shernaz B. Garcia and Alba A. Ortiz’s (2013) article, “Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education,” is an inspirational read.  The authors propose a cogent argument for analyzing disabilities and difference through the lens of intersectionality.  Essentially, their position is that intersectionality-focused research allows for a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the complex, dynamic and multi-layered issues or forces that impact educational outcomes.  Noting that we still have not achieved educational equity in spite of over forty years of research and various efforts to improve policies and schools, Garcia and Ortiz suggest that an intersectionality approach is what is needed to finally produce desired change.

I wholeheartedly agree with Garcia and Ortiz.  Reducing human beings to a single identifier or variable is not an effective way to understand them.  Instead, one must consider individual characteristics in context.  Two students who are of the same race can be in drastically different situations with respect to education based on confounding factors such as family socioeconomic background, neighborhood of residence, and school of attendance.  Therefore, it is essential to examine the complete picture and not just one aspect when trying to address educational inequity or any other societal problem.

For me, the most powerful part of Garcia and Ortiz’s article is the notion that a shift in the focus of interventions is also necessary.  After citing some educational disparities and the disproportionate amount of students of color and English Language Learners in special education, they write on page 39:

“When such large numbers of students from an identifiable group (e.g., racial/ethnic, language) fail, it is imperative to shift the focus away from student interventions to interventions directed at schools, programs, and personnel ‘at risk’ of producing ‘pedagogically-induced’ learning disabilities (Cummins, 1986, p. 666).”

This is such a powerful statement because the phrase, “at risk,” is so frequently used to label groups of students who are less likely to be successful academically.  Researchers, educators, administrators, and policy-makers who ascribe such a negative label onto students render the students as the problem.   Rather that point fingers at the students, we should reflect upon the conditions in which these students are being (mis)educated and disadvantaged.

This article pertains to my own research because I am interested in the retention, satisfaction, and success of Arizona State University freshmen.  When I conduct my research, I can use the intersectionality framework to approach issues comprehensively and from multiple angles.  Furthermore, I can be sure to consider conditions that impact student success outcomes and not just students when I ponder possible interventions.

This article is also meaningful to me personally as someone who has been a diversity and social justice educator and someone who has experienced multiple forms of both privilege and oppression.  I can relate to how frustrating it can be for an individual with many salient identities to be reduced to just one.  I’ve experienced it myself, and I have also seen it done to many others.  It’s important to always keep in mind that we all have unique combinations of identities, traits, and circumstances that constitute who we are and affect how we live.  Doing so will not only make us better researchers; it will make us better people.


Garcia, S.B., and Oriz, A.A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Freaks and BWRKs: Divulging Disability on College Entrance Essays

Vidali, A. (2007). Texts of our institutional lives: Performing the rhetorical freak show : Disability, student writing, and college admissions. College English, 69(6), 615–641.

This is how I picked a college: My junior year of high school, a big alphabetical book of Colleges in the USA mysteriously appeared in my bedroom, the bedroom in the house I’d lived in since I was three months old. I thumbed through the big book of colleges and, I like to joke now, I got through the A’s. I attended Arizona State University.

Of course, I applied to a few other schools (six, which was in line with national averages but nowhere near the 10, 12, or 15 that some of my students submit nowadays), and I got in to all of them. It’s fun to ponder who or what I would be now, 20 years later, if I’d attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. Would I own Birkenstocks? What if I’d gone to the University of Central Florida, where I was offered a scholarship? Would I be tan? The University of Arizona, the University of South Florida ,the University of Utah, University of Maryland (though I had no intention of staying so close to home or going to the school one of my brothers had attended)? Would I be any different now, or would I just have a different collection of T-shirts and beer coozies?

Unlike so many of my students at the expensive, prestigious private school where I now teach, I didn’t really care where I went to college. I knew I wanted to go to a big school far away from home. I wanted to meet a thousand new people and have teachers none of my three older siblings had had before me. I wanted to major in music. I wanted to flee. I used the compass that had gotten me through geometry to draw a circle on a map of the USA, with Washington, D.C. at its center and a radius of 1,500 miles. Anything within the circle was a no; anything outside the circle was fine with me, especially if they had low admissions standards (I was suffering from burnout, low self-esteem, and simmering anxiety at the time).

I sent in my applications, I recorded my auditions for the music schools, and I awaited the fabled big envelope. I did not write any essays, personal statements, or statements of purpose. If I had been asked to write these things, I would have been confronted with a big decision: do I reveal to the people reading the essay, the people with my fate in their hands, that I have a physical disability–namely, severe rheumatoid arthritis? There would be advantages, of course: a narrative angle that distinguished me from the masses of similar-seeming applicants, for one. But there would be a big risk, too. Would my disability, which wasn’t reflected or revealed in any other element of my application, work against me? Would the admissions people doubt my suitability for sustained academic work? Would they peg me as a dropout risk?

In “Texts of our institutional lives: Performing the rhetorical freak show : Disability, student writing, and college admissions,” Amy Vidali (2007) argues that “institutional writing”–of which these college entrance essays are a type–pose risk for all students, but particular risk for students with disabilities. According to Vidali, students who choose to write about their experiences with disability for their college entrance essays are, in effect, participating in the same push-pull of power that participants in freak shows did. Students are are acting out of necessity, Vidali argues, as they “would  not write these admissions essays if they didn’t have to, and freak-show performers would likely have worked other jobs had gainful employment been available to them” (2007, p. 625). Furthermore, students find themselves in an “unequal rhetorical negotiation … where one person performs while others judge … similar to the relationship between freak-show performers and the objectifying gaze of spectators” (2007, p. 625). In short, students who write about their disabilities on these kinds of essays must be willing to “risk discrimination and create a ‘rhetorical spectacle’ of disability if it increases the chances of ‘getting in'” (Vidali, 2007, p. 623).

For her study, Vidali examined undergraduate students’ application files (after they’d been admitted to and begun attending college). She examined the rhetorical devices, structures, and tropes these students used in writing their experience of disability, and then she interviewed them to better understand their intentions, strategy, and reservations about doing so (if any).  In the case study presented here, Vidali examines the essays and interviews with three subjects, all of them white, English-speaking women of “typical college age” (2007, p. 617). Though the larger pool of subjects included students with “vision impairments, brain injuries, cerebral palsy, and repetitive stress injuries, as well as students who are hard of hearing” (Vidali, 2007, p. 617), the three women who constitute this case study all have learning disabilities.

It is crucial to point out that Vidali comes at her study operating on the sociological model of disability, as opposed to the medical model, and therefore “conceive[s] of disability as a social and political identity rather than as a pathological condition, individual burden, or personal tragedy” (Linton qtd. in Vidali, 2007, p.  617).

Some really interesting commonalities emerge from Vidali’s examination of these women’s essays, commonalities that the author argues derive from the limited ways disability is framed and talked about in the larger culture. For example, two of the three employed a “three-part structure, moving from humiliation to a moment of change to overcoming disability-related obstacles” (Vidali, 2007, p. 672). Anyone who’s seen any movie featuring a disabled character will recognize this arc: disabled people are often depicted as being shamed, humiliated, or depressed until the magical moment when, after persevering nobly, they have their wishes granted (often by an able-bodied physician acting as fairy godmother) and overcome the obstacle presented by their disability. Likewise, these two students emphasized having overcome their disabilities. Their essays have “happy endings” (Vidali, 2007, p. 627). Furthermore, they write in terms of old selves and new selves, echoing another classic aspect of the rhetoric of disability, as expressed by Kristin Lindgren: “illness represents not only a crisis in the body but also a crisis in identity” (qtd. in Vidali, 2007, p. 626).

The third woman in the case study did not rely on the three-part structure, nor did she provide a happy ending. She did not write about old selves and new selves or transcending or overcoming her disability. In fact, this third writer eschewed personal details of her disability narrative altogether, opting instead for a discussion of “equal opportunity for people with learning disabilities” and “the politics of disability disclosure” (Vidali, 2007, p. 627). This student-author writes in an assertive voice, even slipping into second person to challenge the reader (a college admissions professional, the holder of power, the person who paid admission to this freak show) in a series of questions. Vidali calls this decision daring and even suggests that it’s somewhat subversive: she is bucking “the traditional representation of disability as personal and the strict confines of the admissions essay–which compel that all successes be solely the result of individual effort” (Vidali, 2007, p. 626).

One thing that all three student-authors had in common was the desire to stand out. This isn’t surprising; the students I teach have been hearing since fifth grade how important it is that their college applications make them seem unusual, unique, well-rounded, multi-faceted, different from the others. Nowadays, it seems, “standing out” isn’t even enough! Vidali quotes from Rachel Toor’s Admissions Confidential: “Many schools are looking for what they call ‘angular’ kids, those with a much more focused interest or talent,” (qtd. in Vidali, 2007, p. 630), kids she calls “BWRKs,” which is “admissionese for bright well-rounded kids” (Toor qtd. in Vidali, 2007, p. 631). The necessity of “standing out” is particularly interesting in the context of young adolescents with disabilities who, if my own experience is a reliable indication, spend a great deal of time expressly trying not to stand out. Particularly for students with intellectual or learning disabilities, for whom their difference has most likely been treated as a deficit in the context of school, it must be something of a relief, if not a trip to bizarro-world, to encounter this writing assignment where, suddenly, they have an “angle” other students lack. They stand to gain from the exhibition of their disability just as a bearded lady or a pair of conjoined twins did by joining one of P.T. Barnum’s traveling troupes of freaks and oddities. When you’ve been marginalized, and an opportunity comes to get paid for your marginalization, it’s hard not to jump–or limp–at it.

But benefiting from one’s marginalized status is not an uncomplicated decision, especially given a culture that is suspicious of disabled people and all too eager to accuse disabled people of inflating, exaggerating, or even making up their disabilities. In fact, one of the student-authors here begged Vidali not to include a comment she’d made in the interview about manipulating her application. Vidali writes that the author “sensed that she was not supposed to admit that her discussion of her disability in her admissions essay was anything other than a pure distillation of her disability experience … admitting her disclosure is a managed performance pulls the curtain back too far” (2007, p. 632).

Another potential pitfall of attempting to write about disability on an application essay is the mismatch between the conventions of the genre and the nature of disability. These are short, pithy writings, and chronic disability is by definition not short and is rarely pithy. “This isn’t the winning touchdown, the cultural awareness gained on a trip to Mexico, or even the insight from experiencing a moment of racial discrimination”–all popular topics for student essays–and the writer “cannot place her disability in the past or check off a box labeled ‘lesson learned,’ because the extraordinary scholastic needs that result from her disability are past, present, and future” (Vidali, 2007, p. 616).

Vidali argues that “reconsidering the ambiguous agency of the freak in a circus setting provides an important opportunity to rethink the idea of students (with and without disabilities) as mere rhetorical dupes of an impressive admissions system” (2007, p. 616). This is no small thing, given that, according to Vidali, “9 percent of all students in postsecondary education have disabilities and because the consideration of disability urges attention to the diversity of all students” (2007, p. 617).

The purpose of Vidali’s study wasn’t to examine the effect of divulging disability on an applicants’ acceptance, though that would be a fascinating onion to peel: As schools develop public statements of diversity, is the climate changing such that it becomes increasingly advantageous to reveal a disability? While according to the rules admissions committees may not be able to factor in a student’s disability, admissions committees are made up of people with intricate identities, biases, and values just waiting to be plucked by the right story from the right student at the right moment.  I’d also like to know more about the rhetorical styles and features student-writers with non-intellectual disabilities employ: is a student who suffered a paralyzing accident also likely to use the three-part structure? How do students write about depression and anxiety, which rarely are conquered but rather accommodated? What about eating disorders? How far does the category of disability extend: Could/should a student write about recovery from drugs or alcohol and expect to “stand out” in the right ways?  When does the risk outweigh the reward? Which kinds of freaks are going to be most successful?

Vidali argues first that the field of disability studies–and its associated lexicons, rhetorics, and models–needs to be brought to the forefront of discussions of composition and language. She argues that teachers tend to discuss disability with their students, if they do so at all, from medical and psychoanalytic models as opposed to the postmodern identity-making models they use to discuss race or class (Vidali, 2007, p. 618). The secondary English classroom, which in my world is a training ground for the rhetoric and composition classroom these students will graduate to, already examines “‘how language both reflects and supports notions of the Other'” (Brueggemann qtd. in Vidali, 2007, p. 618), “challenges false binaries, and connects issues of practice and theory” (Vidali, 2007, p. 618) and so a significant and purposeful discussion of disability in these contexts would be natural and appropriate. Vidali is not in the business of critiquing these student essays; rather, she is preoccupied with “analyzing and locating the power dynamics and inequities that admissions essays both produce and reproduce” (2007, p. 622).

I am interested in these things, too. I’m also interested in helping students more successfully navigate the demands of these personal statements as part of their college application processes. To me, these essays are problematic partly because they ask students to write personally, revealingly, and profoundly about themselves when many of them have spent 12 years being trained to believe that first-person writing is unacademic, unimportant, unprofessional, and unwelcome. I think we need to do a better job in general teaching students how to write about themselves without navel-gazing or resorting to derivative, trite cliches.

After reading this article, I think the mandate to do so is especially necessary for our students with disabilities. We need to teach them how to write about their disabilities in ways that aren’t limited to these Hollywood-sanctioned story arcs. If we want them to be empowered by and unapologetic about their manipulation of rhetorical tropes, if we want to give them narrative control of their stories, we need to help them discover what those tropes are. We need to clue them in to the power dynamic that is the context of ability/disability in the world they live in. To do so, we need to include disability studies in our curriculum the way we do studies of race, gender, and class. Though the benefit of this inclusive curriculum would be strong for students with disabilities, it would also be good for students who don’t identify as disabled, just in the way that exposing and analyzing racism benefits both minority and majority students.

As a working professional, I know the treacherous legal complications of divulging disability at a job interview. The freak show push-pull dynamic is present in that context, too–but, I would argue, the potential gains are smaller than in the college admissions process. Hirers are considering the drain you’ll pose on their health plan, how many days of work you’ll miss, and whether you’re a liability for a discrimination lawsuit. Of course, all of that could change if we increase the visibility of disability as an axis of social identity.

If I’d been asked to write an essay to get into college 20 years ago, I don’t know if I would have written about my arthritis. But perhaps it’s very telling that when, less than a year ago, I was asked to write a personal statement for admission to this very doctoral program, I consciously redacted my writing for any direct mention or allusion to my disability. I split the difference, though–the writing sample I submitted along with my personal statement scrubbed clean of arthritis was a published essay in which I made explicit reference to my chronic illness. I’m 37 and confused and ambivalent about how much to say, how much to protect. I can only imagine what my 18-year-old students feel.

Teenagers know well what it is to feel like freaks, especially students with any kind of difference. Perhaps we need to educate them better about the complexities–the risks and the rewards, the empowerment and the objectification–of the freak show and then let them decide what kind of performance they want to put on.


Brueggemann, B. J., White, L. F., Dunn, P.A., Heifferon, B.A., & Johnson, C. (2001). Becoming visible: Lessons in disability. College Composition and Communication52(3), 368–398. doi:10.2307/358624

Lindgren, K. “Bodies in trouble: Identity, embodiment, and disability.” Gendering Disability. Ed. Bonnie G. Smith and Beth Hutchinson. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004. 145-65.

Linton, S. Claiming disability: knowledge and identity. New York: New York UP, 1998.

Toor, R. Admissions confidential: An insider’s account of the elite college selection process. New York: St. Martin’s, 2004.



Is Empathy Enough?

Garcia (2013) posits that researchers’ own biographies “greatly influence their values, their research questions, and the knowledge they construct” (p. 41).  A researcher must have credibility (be an “insider”) to be trusted and effective with study participants (Garcia, 2013).  The sense of Garcia’s writing is that a researcher can’t really understand the plight of someone who is different and whose life experience is different. Because a researcher’s identity is intertwined with his research, he may (or should) exclude some groups, but this, in turn, renders them invisible and marginalizes them (Garcia, 2013).  This marginalization may occur even as the researcher is trying to help the subjects of a study.

Medicine Stories (Levin-Morales, 1998) also discusses the marginalization of groups by colonizing powers who try to help those they deem inferior by educating their young.  Levin-Morales states that “colonizing powers take over the transmission of culture to the young” (p. 23) in the guise of helping them.  Culture has always been the glue that holds a society together, and children are inculcated into the society and government by schools.  My own daughter started her school years in Argentina, where we lived as part of an exchange program.  Her assignments were often to draw the flag, create art representing the country, and sing songs about the motherland.  One day, her father said to her, “That’s what Argentines do.”  She furiously informed him that she was an Argentine, although we knew her to be an Anglo-American Caucasian.  Seeing this through Levin-Morales’ eyes enlightened me to a different view of these practices.

Levin-Morales (1998) also includes a thought-provoking essay about “good English.”  She feels that editors have tried to strip away part of her identity by changing her writing in the name of correcting her English to a standard that is not representative of the many Englishes spoken and written throughout the world.  This article touches on a hotly-discussed issue in linguistic circles:  world Englishes.  Who does English belong to?  British?  Americans?  Or the millions of other English-speakers?  The paradox is that, as an English as a Second Language teacher, I must teach my students something that equates to correctness.  At one level, this is English to help them communicate ideas, which must follow some set of basic norms (for example, using past tense to talk about the past, pronunciation that is distinguishable to the listener, or word order in sentences that is clear enough to express an idea).  As the fluency of English rises, my students are preparing to study in American universities, where the English used is probably the English of stuffy, white male professors.  However, if the student is to compete in this playing field, he/she must know these rules, which I teach.  Am I harming my students’ identities by trying to strip away their brand of English to replace it with one that will serve them well in an academic setting?

Pondering the ideas of Garcia & Ortiz (2013) and Levin-Morales’ Medicine Stories (1998) worried me:  can I  teach students of color if I am not a teacher of color? am I doing a disservice to the identities of my students by teaching an academically-acceptable brand of English?  These concerns were  somewhat allayed by Howard’s “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.”  According to Howard (2003), teachers must first believe that all students can succeed and make sure that their actions don’t reinforce prejudice.  They should view different cultures and the way they learn as an asset in the process and use a wide variety of teaching practices which change with the students’ strengths and weaknesses.  This left me hopeful that I can do justice to my students and be helpful to them within their own context.  I need to spend more time getting to know them individually and not labeling them with one-dimensional descriptions.  Through on-going critical self-reflection, I can confront my own learned prejudices in order to overcome them and move forward.

Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013).  Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research to special education.  Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Howard, T. C. (2003).  Culturally Relevant Pedagogy:  Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195-202.

Levins-Morales, A. (1998).  Medicine Stories: History, Culture, and the Politics of Identity.  Cambridge: South End Press.

Who We Are…Culture and Education

In the article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Reflection” by Tyrone Howard (2003), the author argues that in order for teachers to be most effective in teaching culturally diverse populations, they must first go through their own critical, self-reflection, with regards to their own cultural identity, and how that identity is reflected in their teaching style.

In addition to experience, education, training and a specific skill set(s), teachers also bring into the classroom their own cultural values, and cultural identity. According to Howard, teachers must “reflect on their own racial and cultural identities and to recognize how these identities coexist with the cultural compositions of their students” (p. 196). Only when teachers have an understanding of their own cultural identity, can they create a learning environment best suited for their students. Howard goes on to say “Effective reflection of race within diverse culture requires teachers to engage in one of the more difficult processes for all individuals – honest self-reflection and critique of their own thoughts and behaviors” (p. 198).

This was a powerful statement as I began to reflect on my own culture, and the how my cultural identity impacts me as an action researcher.

Having been raised in a predominantly Caucasian, affluent community, I have often thought back on how my own upbringing shaped my attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts regarding race, ethnicity and my own cultural values. As I now consider my own cultural identity, I wonder how that identity influences my ability to effectively, or ineffectively, engage students in the work that I do.

While I am not a teacher in the classroom context, I am an educator. As such, I can see how this information might also apply in my own work with students in higher education. While the aim of the article is primarily from the context of ethnicity, language and race, I wonder, to what extent, more subtle cultural contexts also play into the development of cultural identity. For example, how they were parented, the community where they grew up and the values that their community espoused.

Recently, I had the opportunity of working with a student who had been caught smoking marijuana. As I met with the student, and learned more about the context for why they made the decisions that they did, I learned that their family dynamic and community culture, partially formed the basis for their decision making process. The student was from a state where marijuana was legal. The student’s parents smoked marijuana in their home, and allowed their children to smoke at a young age. In her small community, it was common place to smoke socially.

While this situation does not fall into the cultural categories indicated in the article, I believe it raises further questions as to what other values and cultural identities should be considered when engaging with students in the work that we do.

Understanding my own cultural identity, and how that identity was reflected in those conversations with this particular student, impacted my ability to connect with and understand the cultural context for which this student came from, and ultimately my ability to engage the student in a meaningful way. In looking ahead to my own area of research, I wish to explore how meaningful conversations, programs, resources, and targeted outreach efforts improve retention in already at-risk students. Namely, low income, first generation, and students with disabilities.

While Howard focused primarily on the educational process and self-reflection of teachers and teacher educators with regards cultural relevance, I would suggest that those who work with students outside of the classroom, might also benefit greatly from critical reflection with regards to their own cultural identity and values.


Howard, T.C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

Know Thyself

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

For the readings this week, there was a common theme between a couple of the pieces that really resonated with me, and probably because I see direct correlations with my field of study, which is education abroad.  That theme is identity.  Not only do I see a relationship to my field, but I find the theme of identity applicable to our course’s guiding question on access, excellence and impact. Let me explain…

In Garcia and Ortiz’s 2013 piece, Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education, their argument is that it is impractical to hope to draw conclusions or prescribe solutions when dealing with a disparate group of individuals; you must acknowledge that every individual is comprised of multiple identities which colors their experiences and how they perceive the world.  As they explain, “A master category like race/ethnicity fails to account for within-group diversity based on people’s multiple social identities. Concomitantly, the education system’s failure to account for within-group differences renders these sub-groups invisible, and increases the risk that some students with special needs are overlooked and may not receive services to which they are entitled” (p.36).  By choosing to examine a subset through the lens of just a single, superficial identity, such as race, we as educators, fail to acknowledge that what works for one member of that racial group might not actually be what is best for another member of that same racial group who also identifies with another subset.

When I think about this principle in my field, one example might be concerning the dearth of African-American participation in education abroad.  When we make sweeping generalizations that the reason for why this population is under-represented in education abroad is because of economic deterrents, we fail to account for other factors that might be contributing to their decision to pursue this opportunity.  Perhaps they also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and have reservations about navigating another culture with this identity because of difficulties living with this identity at home. Or perhaps their parents never had the opportunity to study or travel abroad and so they do not even have the background from which to ask the right questions and start the research to take part in this opportunity.  The possibilities are as infinite as there are unique identities.

Perhaps more interesting to me, in terms of drawing comparisons to my field, was the 2003 article by Howard, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.  In my current position, I lead our Student Orientation and Re-entry Team (SORT). The SORT team is responsible for organizing our students’ pre-departure orientation meetings before they depart for their programs abroad.  As recently as this past year, I had a quintessential light-bulb moment when I realized that we were going about preparing students for their short-term programs the wrong way.  We had been focusing on introducing students to their host culture when really, one cannot begin to understand another culture before one understands their own culture, and more specifically, their own identity.  In a similar fashion to Howard’s argument that teacher’s need to engage in critical reflection to understand the particular biases that they bring into the classroom environment, so to do our students who are going abroad need to understand who they are as a person and an American and how that will influence their perceptions and understandings of a host culture.

Therefore, identity is perhaps one of the central foundations of problems related to access, equity, and impact because it is identity which raises the questions of who has access, is there equality across all involved, and what is the impact for individuals?  In terms of education, identity seems as though it may forever be the guiding light to which educational leaders must continually return in order to solve the issues related to these areas.


Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection.  Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.