By: Amy K. Maslowski and Laura T. Simon, on behalf of the GSTA Steering Committee
At the beginning of June, the GSTA expressed its solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and with our fellow Black and brown graduate students in our position statement and call to action for graduate student teaching assistants and instructors of psychology. In our statement, we identified six actions that graduate student instructors and teaching assistants can take to make our instruction more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist. In this series of posts for the GSTA Blog, members of the GSTA Steering Committee will be expanding on each of these action items and including resources that may be useful for other instructors and teaching assistants in psychology courses. We recognize that these are just a few of the many amazing resources available and encourage you to share resources that you have found helpful with us through Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/theGSTA), Twitter (@gradsteachpsych), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or the GSTA listserv.
For our second blog post, we provide background and resources for two more action items that focus on activism and supporting our students and colleagues:
- Engage with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in your classrooms, institutions, and communities.
- Above all, be compassionate and supportive to your students, your colleagues, and yourself during these times.
These unprecedented and uncertain times necessitate the promotion of compassion for everyone, as well as support and information for our students, colleagues, and ourselves. Due to COVID-19, our world has undergone dramatic changes that were not anticipated. The abrupt shift to online/distance learning made instructors think about their teaching and students in a different way than they did before. This change in instructional format, while perhaps not expected or desired, provides the opportunity that may be necessary to “shake up” some of our old ways of teaching and assumptions about our students, as well as what teaching and learning should look like.
For example, we are now reflecting on our classroom experiences, teaching in new ways, and considering challenges we may encounter, such as (Lederman, 2020):
- Reasons class participation and/or enrollment may be decreased.
- Technological inequities.
- Students’ and our colleagues’ uncertainties regarding returning to campus.
- Alternating course instructional format based on the needs of our students and ourselves.
Furthermore, the renewed calls for racial equality are promoting differentiated instructional methods and preparation. With this reminder to emphasize equality, it is important to take this opportunity of instructional formatting changes necessitated by COVID-19. In addition, we should aim to revamp the way we teach to be as inclusive and equitable as possible. As the leader of your classroom, there are many ways to incorporate social justice in your curricula.
Schmidt (2009) outlines why social justice should be a pillar in all classrooms in a journal article designed for educators to assist students in starting the process of activism. The article illustrates how the process of becoming an advocate can happen naturally or instructor-driven, past examples of social action projects, and the skills students learn by becoming student activists.
Once you have decided to incorporate social justice into your classroom, there may be various unexpected benefits or barriers to pursuing equality in academia. Rose (2017) addresses benefits and challenges she has faced in the pursuit of social justice, as well as strategies to prevent and circumnavigate obstacles to academic activism. This review demonstrated feedback accusing the author as having a “political agenda” when engaging in social justice activities, the lack of transparency and accountability associated with bias on committees, and recommended strategies to address these barriers on a personal and university level.
Teachers and educators may find the following resources useful to engage with students and colleagues in creating, encouraging, and facilitating activism:
- Student Activism in School - How to Get Your Voice Heard - Guide on how to become a student activist.
- Pushing the Edge - Podcasts for educators about how to engage in social justice activism. Includes content about creating safe schools, being an ally, navigating being an advocate while not “pushing an agenda”, etc.
- SPARQ Toolkit - Toolkit with videos on how to develop students’ and colleagues’ racial literacy through identifying actions that are (perhaps unintentionally) racist and to promote racial equity.
- Lesson Plans - Free lesson plans, student texts, and teaching strategies for K - 12 grade students, which still may be relevant for college students.
- Additionally, please see blog posts 1 and 3 (forthcoming) for additional resources on decolonizing your syllabus, increasing representation in academia, and structuring discussions with students.
In addition, we are aware of the impact current times have had on us as instructors and graduate teaching assistants. Self-care and being compassionate are important. There are many resources for embedding compassion and self-care into our work on campus, including:
Part of self-care, however, is also stepping back and taking off our academic “hats” to focus on ourselves. COVID-19 means that self-care may have to look a bit differently, yet it is even more strongly encouraged during these times (Geisinger, 2020). Possible strategies involve:
- Setting aside time that is only for you. Pick an activity you enjoy (e.g., reading, knitting, art, yoga) to help unwind.
- Maintain physical activity.
- Ensure that you stick to a routine/schedule.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat regular and nutritious meals.
- Remind yourself “why?” Why are you social distancing/in quarantine? Why does it matter?
Additionally, encourage your students and colleagues to also take time for themselves and implement self-care into their schedules.
Overall, be forgiving and understanding. This applies to your students, colleagues, and, importantly, yourselves. We are all navigating this time in different ways, and more likely than not, others are feeling the same way as you. Take time to engage and collaborate with others, and take each moment day-by-day.
Curan, G. (2020). Social justice resources. Pushing the Edge. https://pushingtheedge.org/social-justice-resources/
Geisinger. (2020). Make time for self-care during a quarantine. https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/03/18/17/56/self-care-during-quarantine
Lederman, D. (2020). Will shift to remote teaching be boon or bane for online learning? Inside HigherEd. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/03/18/most-teaching-going-remote-will-help-or-hurt-online-learning
Rose, B. (2017). Moving from chasm to convergence: Benefits and barriers to academic activism for social justice and equity. Brock Education Journal, 27(1), 67-78.
Schmidt, L. (2009). Stirring up justice. Teaching Social Responsibility, Educational Leadership, 66(8), 32-37.
Stanford (n.d.). RaceWorks toolkit. SPARQtools. http://sparqtools.org/raceworks/
Thompson, E. (2019). Student activism in school: Getting your voice heard. Accredited Schools Online. https://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/resources/student-activism-on-campus/