Columbia University Teachers Conference Tackles ‘Whiteness’ And ‘Microaggressions’


Ian Miles Cheong Contributor
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A recent conference hosted at Columbia University for teachers included workshops on dealing with white privilege and challenging microaggressions in the classroom.

In the “Reimagining Education Summer Institute” conference at Columbia University’s Teachers College, educators were invited to tackle these subjects and address “Eurocentric pedagogical approaches,” per The College Fix.

The four-day event, which drew 300 school principals and K-12 educators from around the country, explored the “opportunities and challenges of creating and sustaining racially, ethnically and socio-economically integrated schools.”

The website claims that “diversity alone does not lead to integration,” and that the only way to create “truly integrated schools” is to “reimagine teaching and learning.”

“And still, if I had a dollar for every White educator or parent who told me with great pride about their or their children’s colorblindness, I would be a rich woman,” wrote conference director Amy Stuart Wells. “While most of these educators and parents are well-meaning, their ‘blindness’ is not to the color of people’s skin but to the systematic way in which our educational system has tried to ignore the central role of race and culture in our collective understanding of ‘ability,’ ‘intelligence’ and the ‘achievement gap.’”

To facilitate the new educational focus, the event included a variety of presentations and workshops revolving around social justice and “whiteness” directly. One event called “Whiteness in schools” explored how “Whiteness and White culture shapes what happens in schools.” Another workshop called “3 ways to face white privilege in the classroom” invited teachers to combat white privilege affected education. A workshop for “Deconstructing Racial Microaggressions” called for teachers to actively fight against small, unintentional insults.

According to Oxford University’s Equality and Diversity Unit, not making eye contact with someone while speaking is a microaggression because it could potentially cause “mental ill-health.” Oxford eventually backtracked from their position after autism activists pointed out that it was difficult for autistic individuals to maintain eye contact in social situations.

A similar workshop, titled “Teaching for Social Justice,” challenged “colonialist” methods of teaching. “We will challenge Eurocentric pedagogical approaches that not only under-prepare students for the realities of our increasingly multiethnic, multilingual, globalized society, but are also rooted in colonial and racist ideologies that stifle the voices, identities, and realities of students of color,” the description reads.

Educators who participated in the event are expected to take what they learned and apply them in the classrooms they teach.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter.