Mission Accomplice: Practicing Antiracism with UDL as White Allies for Systemic Change
By: Tracy Galvin, Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland; Dr. Eric Moore and Dr. Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, USA
In this blog, we aim to share our personal journeys in our professional and personal lives around embedding antiracism to align with the work we already do with Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The associated webinar will not be an introduction to UDL but rather showcases several ways how both UDL and antiracism intersect. More importantly, the UDL framework needs to strive more towards a role in equity work to ensure all our learners are successful. We discuss the ways that both the internal and external work are important, both as individual educators as well as through communities of practice that have the goal of becoming change agents who work collaboratively to dismantle systemic inequalities. We will discuss reckoning in terms of where education currently stands, becoming an ally and accomplice as white educators, how to drive culture change, and the importance of leadership and love in higher education.
|A Note on Language:|
We use the term “learner” rather than “student” because we see learning occurs in many contexts: both within physical or virtual spaces, alone or through collaboration, with scaffolds and accommodations or without, as well as individually or collectively through critical thinking, problem solving and self-regulation. As Loui Lord Nelson (2021) put it “learners exist wherever learning is taking place.”
The work of antiracism, as Andratesha Fritzgerald often reminds us, is work that centers on honoring our learners, recognizing that each individual learner brings with them their whole history, identity, and selves. When we make space for learners to be authentic in the classroom (or wherever learning occurs), we have begun dismantling systemic racism, which is often expressed in repression of learner identity. UDL, in this context, is a tool in service of the work of antiracism. It is a framework that guides the provision of choices and helps us better consider the many ways that we can honor our learners and celebrate their diversity, culture, identities, and experiences.
The work of antiracism in higher education must be shared. When considering involvement, the perspective of all stakeholders in higher education must be how we should be involved, not if. In our experience, the how can be a daunting question. It can be difficult for white allies who want to support the work to navigate the space between being an accomplice but not being in control of the agenda. It can be difficult, too, to find ways to advance the call of antiracism in such a way that leads to meaningful change, rather than the appearance of change without anything happening. In this section, we recognize the reckoning that is happening in higher education, as we come to terms with the racism that has been implicit for generations and is now being exposed. We then explore what it means to be involved in the work of antiracism as white allies and accomplices in higher education today.
There is a reckoning in education today. Now more than ever, educators across the globe are realizing that there are ways that the system of public and higher education are designed that are more supportive of systemic racism than honoring and supporting learners who come from different races. White educators, like us, are seeing the ways that systemic practices- and participation in these systemic practices- create ways to discriminate, separate, favor, and dishonor. While this may seem like a novel concept, it is anything but. Those who have been on the receiving end of systemic racism have known for centuries that basedon a construct of a certain attribute, their worth or presence or being has been judged as inferior or less than. In many cases, such prejudice is not communicated explicitly, or even felt explicitly by educators, but is no less harmful for being implicit. Implicit bias shows up in standardized test design (Gard, 2020), classroom placement and performance (Kramarczuk Voulgarides & Tefera, 2017), and admission to special education (Artilles, 2017). It shows up in school resource allocation (Loera, 2021) and continued promotion of content that centralizes white culture and authors and marginalizes the work of people of color. It shows up in the histories that are taught and not taught (Leslie et al., 2021), often whitewashing uncomfortable racist history and silencing dissent (Kim-Cragg, 2019). We know that this is wrong.
It is one thing to know it is wrong and another to be an agent of change. But whose job is it to disrupt, dismantle, disengage racist practices? Rather than arguing the point, white people should take the lead of black activists and support, amplify, and work with anti-racist groups; they should not dominate or center themselves in the work (Saad, 2020). What does it look like for white people to be allies and accomplices in this work? What does it look like to be active, but not centered?
Allies and Accomplices
Historically and today, teachers in significantly racially heterogeneous nations such as those in North America and Western Europe are predominantly white, at rates that exceed the overall demographics of the nation or student body. The latest reports in the US, for example, revealed that 79.3 percent of public-school teachers are white. Comparatively, 7 percent are Black. Compared to student demographics, white teachers most out-ratio white students (+32%) and Black teachers are most underrepresented compared to the Black student population (-8%). These trends follow to varying degrees to other nations. For example, in the UK, about 86 percent of teachers are white, compared to 3.6 percent who are Black; again, white teachers are above proportion to white students (+11%) and Black teachers are comparatively underrepresented (-2%). Asian, Hispanic, indigenous, and other populations are also underrepresented in the teacher workforce compared to student populations.
Attempts have been made to recruit and sustain a more diverse pool of teachers, but statistically these attempts have failed to this point. This is especially the case for entry into the teaching profession from those who gained a qualification in another country and if they do often face discrimination throughout their career. The reality is that most children and youth of color in heterogenous and white-majority nations are likely to receive most of their primary and secondary education from teachers who do not look like them and are not part of their ethnic group(s). While we recognize that there is work to be done to improve representation among different racial and ethnic groups to provide increased racial mirrors in education, we also recognize that such work is beyond the scope of most teachers and practitioners. Rather than abandoning service to the call of antiracism in education, we recognize that white teachers have an opportunity to use their power and position to serve as allies and accomplices in the work of antiracism in education.
In getting involved in this work, it is important for white teachers, staff, and higher education faculty members to not center themselves in the work, but — to the extent that they are willing to serve — serve the cause humbly as allies (those who support others who are doing the work) and/or accomplices (those who come alongside those doing the work to lend their talent). For example, instead of announcing what we think to be problem areas, we recognize the need to listen to those who have been minoritized by our education systems and to respond to, amplify, and/or support those with lived experiences with inequities in the classroom.
Rather than reducing expectations, as has sometimes been provided as a sort of solution, teachers may learn to honor and amplify the talents, backgrounds, and interests of individual learners, to create inclusive spaces to bring their full selves to the learning experience. This may mean offering flexibility in choice of texts in English/Language Arts and/or intentionally choosing various texts for the class that represent the diversity of the classroom. Rather than promoting quick, high visibility “solutions” to structural problems, take the time to reckon with those who have been hurt, with those who have profiteered from the status quo, and to appreciate the depth of changes needed to bring about restoration.
The three authors are white with backgrounds in social justice, UDL, accessibility and technology. We began our journey by listening to the voice of a Black educator, Andratesha Fritzgerald, who through her book “Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to Success,” has effectively set an agenda for our work. The three of us are part of an open community of practice that currently has white and non-white membership and shares a mission to contribute our efforts, time, and energy to be agents of change by listening, reckoning, and taking action to support the work that our colleagues of color that have already begun. We are not the center of the story, but hope to lend our power, privilege, and talent to support those who are: teachers and learners who have been minoritized for generations. In this work and other work like it, we hope to share what we have learned not only about the practice of antiracism in formal education, but about the roles and limitations of white allies and accomplices involved in the work of antiracism.
We acknowledge that issues around bias, race, oppression, and discrimination are infinitely more complex. Approaching these issues with passionate curiosity, honor, love, and a desire for justice is part of the internal and external work that white people need to participate in. It’s about understanding how you identify in the world and how you are seen as a white person in a white centric designed world and unlearning the ways that it favors you (Saad, 2020). The intersectionality of race, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and class work to weave a tapestry of discrimination based on one (or more) attributes must be a part of the discussion and action. Sometimes, finding that stray thread that can lead to unraveling the paradigm of power and oppression is all it takes.
Culture Change, not Checklists
One of the gravest threats to the work of antiracism is those who purport to support “diversity, equity, and inclusion” by way of checklists or performative gestures. Danger here lies when institutions perpetuate antiracism as a selling point but internally lack the strategies and processes to actively include authentic antiracism work. A student of mine (Eric) once suggested the irony that the fastest way to get people to move on from an atrocity is to build a commemorative monument. It’s as if a grand gesture is the solution. “What more do you want?” And this often happens in schools and universities when a hire is made for a DEI coordinator, who is given ample opportunity to talk, but no meaningful opportunity to effect change. In other situations, this sort of performativity may be wrapped up in call-out culture, the movement of large rocks, or any number of other gestures that administrators or politicians or individuals or groups may do to demonstrate their good will regarding antiracism without actually having to change much at all.
There simply is no simple list of steps to take to “fix racism” or even to come close to addressing systemic inequality. It is not something that will one day be addressed by a well worded petition, a potent speech on social media, a changed name or logo or a once off award. That isn’t to say that such things needn’t also often change, but that the change must be seen as part of a much bigger commitment. Too often, schools and universities celebrate victory having merely crossed a starting line without putting any real thought or intention behind why they crossed it in the first place.
In the work of Black authors who speak of supporting systemic change, such as The Black Butterfly by Lawrence T. Brown and Antiracism & Universal Design for Learning by Andratesha Fritzgerald, we often encounter not checklists, but a process to address systemic racism in systems. In some variation, these often include stages that involves:
- Reckoning – obtaining a deep understanding of the historical trauma and current systems that propagate inequity in schools.
- Acting – taking ongoing, adequate, and robust steps to bring about change.
- Engaging – ensuring that the voices at the table represent those who are served, including those at the head of the table.
- Sustaining – investing resources (human, fiscal, power, and otherwise) to sustain an ongoing process of repair, restoration, reflection, and response.
In this way, the work of antiracism and the work of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) overlap. Both have faced attempts to be reduced to checklists, but both speak to deeper systemic and cultural change. Both aim not to simply address the needs of the moment, but to equip, amplify, and enable individuals to thrive and take ownership over their lives and learning. Both call for radical re-evaluation of systems that have largely been unchanged for many decades. Indeed, we feel that the parallelism of UDL with antiracism makes UDL an effective and natural framework to deploy in schools as a means of addressing antiracism as well as other systemic inequities. This change is certainly highlighted through CASTs re-envisioning of the framework as they strive toward UDL Rising to Equity.
We identify this change as multi-level and interconnected. It can be started individually through identifying one’s own positionality and privilege by making the change necessarily through personal growth, increasing knowledge, and becoming comfortable with your discomfort, but more importantly through a growth mindset by bringing others with you toward compassion, empathy, and love. We must work in partnership and collaboratively with others within our own teams, directorates, schools, and faculties by being an ally, accomplice and advocating for cultural change to occur both at a grassroots level, aligned with structures and policies, as well as driven by (and/or supported by) leadership. By embedding the principles of UDL across an institution through utilizing technology, physical spaces, instruction, administration, professional and student support, we are not only minimizing barriers but fostering inclusive environments, as well as striving toward equity for all.
As part of the conversation about performativity, it is critical to remember that the work of antiracism isn’t essentially academic — it is ultimately pragmatic. It is not enough to simply talk about or write about what it means to change our institutional cultures; we must roll up our sleeves and do the work of reformation: internally and communally. We have spent the last two years in community learning together and challenging each other to advance the work of antiracism in our own settings. We know that we have a long way to go, but we also have already learned a great deal. In this section, we share some of the lessons we have learned along the way.
Structural vs. Servant Leadership
Servant leadership is not a new fad or trend. Servant leadership has roots in ancient cultures, appearing in ancient religious texts and ancient Chinese philosophy (Stewart, 2017). Servant leadership came into vogue in the 1970’s with Robert Greenleaf’s book The Servant as a Leader. When it pertains to schools, servant leadership has great power and potential to shift the authoritarian tone that is often prevalent. The assertion of one’s power over another to achieve a goal that benefits the organization is no longer effective. In fact, we challenge if coercion and asserting of one’s power are ever effective means at recognizing the brilliance in every learner (ibid, p.4) attests that servant leadership is an act of love that benefits every member in the organization:
The key, according to van Dierendonck and Patterson (2015) is to lead with love (p. 122). At first a seemingly trite recommendation, these authors explain their proposal by contrasting it with the idea of those who lead by fear, noting that many organizations lead by fear, which they rationalize must be a good idea because it works. In reality, however, leading by fear is unproductive—and perhaps, even likely to be destructive to an organization.
In her book Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to Success, Andratesha Fritzgerald reminds us that honoring black and brown learners is one of the most impactful ways to disrupt typical classroom power dynamics. Honoring learner preferences, needs, and understanding the lived experiences of those that may be different from ourselves are surefire ways at the classroom level to disrupt the power dynamic. Fritzgerald said elsewhere (2021), “A learning community of honor creates opportunities for learners to make decisions for themselves and evaluate their best possible outcomes.”
To make this disruption in classroom power dynamics happen, one of the fundamental shifts that educators and leaders need to do is to disengage from traditional power structures in structural leadership roles and shift to servant leadership roles. Taken from Tait (2020) knowing the difference between structural and servant leadership is an important aspect of shifting the power dynamics in educational settings to one that is anti-racist.
Structural leadership vs. servant leadership
|Structural (Traditional) Leadership||Servant (Empowered) Leadership|
|Focuses on organizational structures||Focuses on people in organization|
|Pushes agendas, compliance for the benefit of the organization||Actively listens to the people in the organization for the betterment of the organization|
|Cold, Calculated, Ego-driven where ethics are questionable||Empathy, Compassion, Human-centered focus in an authentic manner with ethics|
|Perceived authority is used to force compliance, coerce, manipulate people to do what the leader or organization wants||Perceived authority is used to encourage, support, motivate those in the organization|
|Creates a mission and vision of excellence for the organization that is superficial||Co-creates a mission and vision of excellence for the organization/team|
|Does not build a community- sees themselves as separate from the members of the organization.||Build a community with members by actively involving members|
We’ve learned that one of the most fundamental ways to shift this dynamic in leadership is to approach everything that we do from a place of love, empathy, and compassion. This does not give white people “a pass” when it comes to actively participating in their own understanding of systemic inequalities, racism, ableism, etc. It invites a different approach that is more human centered as opposed to system centered. When you are in the pursuit of true justice and equity, that is the ultimate act of love.
Love in Higher Education
The title of Tina Turner’s song ‘What’s Love got to do with it?’ is very prevalent here in terms of how we perceive ourselves and others and how we treat others. If we embrace life through a lens of compassion, trust, empathy, humanity, and love, love then has everything to do with it. A recent publication on Higher Education and Love highlights several ways that “universities have a unique place in our culture which gives them the opportunity and responsibility to activate and manifest love” (Brendon 2021). Few in the neoliberal academy can escape the sense of isolation through not being promoted, grant refusals, negative teaching reviews, publication rejections or bad reviews, loss of colleagues through illness or changing employment, ineffective processes or practices and ineffective leadership. This continuous pressure to succeed, publish or perish, teach, and carry out administrative roles is mostly focused on an individualized and competitive approach that certainly highlights the absence of love. Instead, Peterson (2021) refers to shifting this thinking toward academic citizenship as a moral, ethical, and civic practice by stating that “without the virtues of trust, fellow feeling, public spirit, loyalty, faith and hope in community, the nature of academic work will remain both disheartening and without a heart” (p.77).
Ethical values as well as love are not new to education (Freire 2008, hooks 2005). Like all ethical frameworks, hooks’ love ethic is concerned with how we live, the choices we make, what we do, and whether what we do is consistent with the values that are meant to underpin our actions. There are three core assumptions in hook’s ethics of love, that it is:
- resists domination.
- transformative and transforming.
In her book All About Love, hooks (2000) claimed that “awakening to love can only happen as we let go of our obsession with power and domination” (p.87). In this sense, a love ethic is a set of values that enable us to resist, dismantle, and move beyond systems of power and domination (2005). Over the past two years it has certainly been a time to critically reflect on the global pandemic that has showcased how fragile our education systems are- but equally how our educators reacted and became change agents at a pace never imagined. What was showcased by many was love for learners, love for teaching, love for learning, building communities of practice, supporting peers and the importance of wellbeing. However, we must ask ourselves if the institutional decisions, guidance, support, policies, and processes enacted were centered around its people and community and if not, why not? In the forward of the book Higher Education and Love (2021, p.xxi) we are encouraged to critically reflect on our experiences over the pandemic and where do we go next by concluding, “what love has felt like to us all over this period is impossible to categorize, yet it may have offered time to question what love actually means in its absence, what love actually is and how it matters to HE?
Robinson (2021, p.33) highlights that we must focus on “hope, morality, justice, courage and self-worth.” In addition, Waghid (2021) from an African perspective constitutes to not only be aware of societal, environmental, and political predicaments but to have a notion of cosmopolitan activism and in doing so internalizes the passion for love. He refers to cosmopolitan activism that consists of three aspects that involves both educators and learners together:
- Autonomous reflective beings that are open to learn from one another, share ideas and practices across cultural markers
- Commit themselves to being educational change agents, to embark on pedagogical and societal initiatives in opposition to global injustices, wars, global warming and human suffering
- Summoned to awaken, where they make sense of their learning, become reflexive to what they know and open to what is still to come (ibid, p.91)
Paulo Freire, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2008), emphasizes that love is a conscious act stating that “the pedagogy of love humanizes learning by engaging students in an ongoing process of self-exploration.” This not only showcases the importance of an educator’s journey of relational connections but to become an accomplice and ally it focuses on, that all learners matter. Thus, it is abundantly clear to us that the core part of what we need to become change agents to embed antiracism into our practice is rooted and centered in love. In the words of the Beatles, “All we need is Love”.
UDL as Love
But is love really all we need? We assert that seeing each other as fellow human beings is a must, as opposed to a category, sorted by class, race, gender, ability that incorrectly assumes that one group is superior to another. Our common thread is our collective humanity- why not center that? What educational practices allow us to replicate this notion of honoring our collective humanity in various learning spaces? Universal Design for Learning has a place and opportunity to support this. We will discuss the ways that this can take place.
The first principle of the UDL framework is Engagement, which aligns to the Affective Network. This is where we decide as learners what matters to us, what actions to take, and identify the emotional connection to the learning (Rose & Dalton, 2007). UDL empowers the educator to intentionally design the curriculum to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of all learners (Meyer et al., 2014). It celebrates learner variability to remove any barriers that the learner may face. If HE continuously attempts to widen access to all learners to gain entry by promoting inclusive and diverse institutions, then why do we still have significant drop out rates or student satisfaction is often under par or there is no representation from minoritized learners on some courses or programs? Any job application now advertising a post upfront state those from diverse and under-represented groups are encouraged to apply, but this does not always result in employment or even an interview from those that are targeted to apply. The lack of adequate representation of black, brown and indigenous populations in HE (and K12) also serves as barriers to access for those groups. If one is unable to “see” themselves in a space, how are they able to effectively access it?
What does that mean to feel part of a community or have a sense of belonging in HE? For many faculty, depending on the institutional context, their expertise and research is the focus and often teaching comes in second. While there are many who deeply care for learners, go above and beyond their role and teaching responsibility, but are often confined by the neoliberal institution to be encouraged to genuinely care for learners. We need to ask ourselves what really matters in education?
Over the past two years what we are seeing from learners is the passion, empathy, and love for the environment through climate change, accepting and celebrating differences -and not accepting violence or racism, in particular around #BlackLivesMatter and a more call out nature of the #MeToo Movement. These movements are certainly interconnected to an individual’s mindset, environment, experiences, and backgrounds. Just like in a learning context if an individual faces social and emotional hardships through isolation, microaggressions, bias and discrimination through racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, this can have serious negative consequences on their learning experience and engagement practices. Such negative relational connotations or perceived perceptions can often mean that ethical values are omitted and that the variability that is inherent in all of us is not honored or valued. In her interview with Dr. Catlin Tucker, Andratesha Fritzgerald reminds us of this fundamental point: “We cannot, in good conscience or in good teaching, stand by and watch another generation be marginalized because we didn’t take action.”
UDL refers to empowering expert learners but how do we empower educators to become expert teachers beyond a subject or discipline? If the learning environment has dramatically changed where more flexible options have become available or even a possibility for many HEIs, how can faculty development not only support the DEI/EDI rhetoric and legal obligations around discrimination, but drive deeper change to ensure UDL, accessibility and antiracism are included around challenging stereotypes, bias, microaggressions and gaslighting at an individual level but also at a systems level to being antiracist, where everyone has a place and feels a sense of belonging? How can institutions provide safe spaces, invest in its people, acknowledge the painful issues and histories, unpack, and learn from them and take action? How can this in turn develop into learning moments and growth mindsets (that are centered in equity) for educators to be part of that change in partnership with learners? The shift away from compliance, checklists, and logos on websites needs to focus more on the institution’s community, its people and those that it serves, rather than the marketisation and corporatization of our HEIs.
The work of antiracism is continual. Indeed, the easiest way to spot performativity is when individuals, leaders, or systems point to single events and actions as demonstration of change. On the contrary, antiracist change is demonstrated in continual review and redress of systems. For districts, a commitment to distributing educational resources based on need, rather than local tax brackets is far more potent than giving a grant for 1:1 chromebooks to a local low-income school. For schools, a commitment to regular culturally responsive reviews of curriculum that represents diverse voices is far more potent than adding a book from a Black author to the curriculum. For individual educators and other stakeholders, a commitment to listening and acting based on what we learn from our colleagues and students of color about what is needed is far more potent than signing our name on a petition or making bold posts “in solidarity” on social media once in a while.
Being a white ally or accomplice boils down to a commitment to listen, learn, and act. Continually. Our privilege is such that we don’t have to care about systemic racism in education. We can easily opt out of caring and sustain the status quo with our inaction. For our students and colleagues of color, there is no such opportunity to opt out of caring — systemic racism isn’t merely a concept for them, but a lived experience. If we can opt out, however, we can also opt in. In doing so, we must avoid centering ourselves. That means avoiding performativity and instead embracing servant leadership and ongoing commitment. It means lifting others up without show or fanfare. It means doing the internal work before the external work. And doing it again tomorrow.
Universal Design for Learning is a powerful framework for designing for inclusion of diverse learners; antiracism is a critical lens that helps us focus our efforts on addressing systemic barriers that were (or are) intentionally developed and maintained to marginalize individuals based on race. When we bring them together, there is opportunity to use brain-based pedagogical research that calls for intentionally designing for diversity to laser focus on those barriers that have hindered individuals of color for far too long. This is the first time in history that these two frameworks, now both fully mature, have been united at scale. As Fritzgerald (2021) reminds us in a guest post: “Every learner has a gem inside of them. It is our job to blast away at barriers until we find it. And that is what is antiracist. Universal Design for Learning does blast away at barriers until the gem of brilliance is clearly shining for all the world to see.” We are just beginning to see the impact.
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About the Authors
Eric, was born to a white middle class family and grew up predominantly in a well-to-do suburb (Grand Rapids, Michigan). I was only distantly exposed to issues of race and racism, and never truly affected by it growing up. When I became a teacher and taught overseas in Indonesia and Korea, I was forced to confront biases and prejudices I didn’t even know I had. Toward people of other religions. Other cultures. Other socioeconomic status. I credit my learners and colleagues for their patience with me as I navigated and often blundered through learning about how my own background had shaped me, and how I needed to be intentional in reflection and in action for the benefit of my learners – whose experiences were different from mine in so many ways. In pursuing my M.Ed and PhD, I focused on inclusive education. I wanted to know more, I wanted to do more. And in the years since, I have been fortunate to have opportunities to learn from many wonderful colleagues and mentors and to continue my journey of being an apprentice ally and accomplice. I am grateful to have had the chance to make important changes in myself and in my classrooms and communities. Though I recognize there is still so much to be done!
Hillary, was born to a white working class (blue collar) family in a coastal community in Maine. While my parents worked multiple jobs to put food on the table, there were definite privileges that I benefited from as a white person. My experience of race and racism only were “in the past,” where history lessons told us those days were over and that the U.S. was a great nation that saved the world. It wasn’t until High School that I saw in person a black person. It was then that I realized that I had these biases, thoughts, and feelings that I didn’t understand where they came from, yet they were coming from within me. They weren’t all about blackness. There were thoughts about gender, ability, sexual orientation as well. It wasn’t until college that I was further exposed to diversity and as a resident assistant, received training in diversity. I had no idea that I still had these beliefs, and biases. Even as a grad student in special education, I had to recognize that there were ableistic notions to my training, which is the exact opposite of how to educate learners with disabilities. My first teaching job was in a predominantly latino community, where I was immersed in a completely different culture, yet didn’t quite understand the systemic barriers the children I worked with faced, and how I was a barrier. In 2017, our school district was sued by a black educator for racial discrimination and won. My fear of retribution kept me silent, which was wrong. It wasn’t until I started doing the internal work in 2017, starting with Layla Sadd’s Instagram Challenge that eventually became her book Me and White Supremacy, that I began to realize how insidious bias and racism can be, that it is an onion that the layers need to be peeled repeatedly. While I am actively participating in my own unlearning within myself and within communities of unlearning, I acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do.
Tracy, was born to a white working class family and grew up in a housing estate in Limerick, a mid-west region of Ireland. My experience of racism as a young child was very much in relation to the Traveller community, that still today remains a prominent issue in Ireland, where the community is still under-represented in all aspects of society due to the systemic inequalities. In terms of diversity, it was not until high school (secondary) aged 13 when I met a mixed race (bi-racial) student, one out of 900 students in the whole school. Through my own lived experience my work, volunteering, teaching and research focused on social justice but through a narrow lens of inclusion on poverty, and educational disadvantage. This led me to my beginning journey around understanding the intersectionality of inclusion. I realise now that my assumptions and implicit biases came from my upbringing and culture, like many other young Irish people, besides the local Chinese restaurant, there was a lack of exposure to other ethnic groups with the only experience been through television that was often portrayed only as starving children from Africa. It was not until my early adulthood through travelling, volunteering, university and work experience that I became exposed to other opinions, identities, cultures and lived experiences, resulting in my work in equality, diversity and inclusion in education and widening my focus of social justice. My own personal journey of recognising my own positionally had led to growth and understanding, as well as constant unlearning and undoing, but it is only at the start of its journey as I continue to become an accomplice, ally and anti-racist through by being a change agent.