In this month’s podcast we have a conversation with Dr. Terri Watson about the importance of diversity and representation in academia.
Tia Palermo: Welcome to the Buffalo Health cast, I'm Tim Palermo, one of your co-hosts. And I'm very excited to be here today with Dr. Terri Watson. Dr. Watson is associate professor of educational leadership in the Department of Leadership and Human Develop at the City College of New York this year. She is also a Center for Diversity Innovation. Distinguished visiting scholar at the University of Buffalo. She holds a PhD and educational leadership, and her current research agenda examines parent engagement in urban schools and communities. Her aim as a scholar activist is to improve the educational outcomes and life chances of historically excluded and underserved children and families. I'm really excited to have her on our podcast today. Welcome, Terri.
Terri Watson: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. I'm looking forward to this conversation. And I'm excited to be here.
Tia Palermo: So, as you know, this podcast is broadly focused on racism and health. And I invited you here because of your work with historically excluded and underserved children.
Can you tell us a little bit about this work and what brings you to this work?
Terri Watson: Well, thank you. So a big part of the work, I guess, for us as scholars is who we are. And as a black woman born and raised in Harlem, which is a historically black enclave in New York City. My work is for and about, you know, people of color in general and black people more specifically. And my I guess my reason for being here is to bring our realities to the table.
I think oftentimes what happens in communities of color go unaddressed because the people advocating on our behalf do not live in their respective community.
And so, you know, coming from Harlem, living in Harlem, working in Harlem, I think it's important that I represent this particular reality, you know, in the K through 12 pipeline, our institutions, if you will. So that's why I'm here, to see what we can do better and more meaningfully and thoughtfully to improve the realities of all children.
But I'm most concerned with children and people of color because historically our needs have gone unmet.
Tia Palermo: That's great. Thank you. So when you work with these communities, can you tell us a little bit about what you see in how racism and health interact in the families and communities that you work with? And how does this affect their education and their opportunities in life?
Terri Watson: Well, I guess, you know, bring it back to the personal. So although I was born in Harlem Hospital and raised in Harlem, I spent my early years in the South Bronx. So the zip code is a one zero four five four. That is the poorest congressional district in the United States.
And unfortunately, the asthma rates are particularly high. Gun violence premature were many of the realities that this particular community faces and others like it faces that
there are health disparities that simply go unmet or unchallenged because families do not have access to health care.
And oftentimes, when you do go to the doctor, per say, let's say, you know, it's the emergency room instead of going in for, you know, annual checkups and physicals. So the bills that are encumbered on behalf of health care usually can go bankrupt and already challenged, financially challenged family and or community and like education.
You know, many of the opportunity gaps present in education are are systemic, meaning the problems are deeply rooted in the system in itself. So there's nothing wrong with the people per say. It's the systems that we are forced to function in. That does not prioritize the health and the educational needs of our children. And so the unfortunate connect between education and health care is that in both instances, you know, communities of color have little to no to no access to no meaningful educational outcomes or needed medical attention, be it, you know, mental health, the dentist, you know, general health care like those those those things are lacking in communities of color across across the nation, not just in the South Bronx or Harlem, but, you know, there's a Harlem and South Bronx and every state across the the landscape.
Tia Palermo: Yeah. You talked about access to health care and you've talked about educational opportunities. And in 2020, we've really just seen these inequities exacerbated with parents struggling to help their children through school at home. And also, we're seeing disparities in infection rates and access to treatment. Are you seeing any of this with the communities that work you work with? And how is this playing out?
Terri Watson: Oh, yeah, I'm definitely seeing it. And in many ways experiencing it. As you know, I'm Covid-19 disproportionately affects, you know, communities of color, you know, black folks in particular. And even now in New York City. And we're in just earlier this week, many schools that were were shuttered due to Covid-19 baby open. And this is interesting, despite the fact that New York's public schools.
Over one million children are primarily black around. What we found earlier this week is that 12000 more white schools returned, I'm sorry, 12000 more white students returned to previously shuttered schools than black children.
And while, you know, remote learning was considered and is considered less than ideal for all children, many communities of color are afraid to send their children back to school for fear that not only will they get Covid-19, but let's say if they don't and they will bring it home. And as you know, in urban communities, many of our households are intergenerational.
So even if the child said she alive, you're going to infect your grandmother, your uncle, or even an older family member. So, you know, the way this pandemic has impacted education will be felt for years to come. But on the bright side, what I'm hoping to come out of it and learn from this is that even in this pandemic, communities of color have always come together because this isn't the first time this has happened.
You know, if you look at our nation's history and, you know, like 1863, 1964, those were all pivotal years in our nation's history. So what I'm hoping is that in this pandemic in 2020, not only is it, you know, the Covid 19, but there's an attack on democracy.
And, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement is now global. I'm hoping that we come together as a nation and as a people and find some real grass roots ways to address the inequities, not just in equity, not just in education, but to address the inequities in health care.
So even now that the vaccine will soon be distributed in the United States, you know, who will have access to, you know, who's on the first line? And in many communities of color are afraid to take the vaccine. Right. So if you think, back to the Tuskegee experiment. If you think about the side effects and the long term impact of this vaccine that was newly developed, so many, many communities of color are hesitant to take the vaccine. Rightly so. So I know health care providers are really trying to go out and push for people to take it in. I will. And I hope that as a people and community, we do.
But I can understand one's hesitance. And we have to find, you know, better ways to to not only inform, but to do our due diligence, making sure that we are not selling communities of color, a bill of sale that we can't uphold. If those two doses. So if you give the first dose. Make sure you give the second dose. And then how do we follow up for the long term impact of this vaccine?
And will they give the same care to communities of color that they give to, you know, other stakeholders in this, which is, you know, by large, no white middle class America.
So will we get the same, you know, options and priorities in this drug, in treatment, in battling not just Covid 19, but other issues that are prevalent in our community? There's so much to unpack there. Yeah. You talked about the racial disparities in the reopenings of schools in New York City and here in Buffalo.
I have to say that we're seeing the same thing. So the Buffalo City schools, which are predominantly black and brown, have not gone back to school in person at all, while the suburbs, which are whiter and less diverse, although some of the suburbs are diverse, but much less so than the Buffalo City schools, and they have all to some extent return to hybrid or in person learning. So here in Buffalo, we see a very stark difference in the reopening of schools, which, as you have said, is going to have long term input packs for the foreseeable future.
Tia Palermo: And you also talked about a lot of these disparities in access to health care and how these structural factors really influence. So it's not necessarily always decisions and behaviors at the individual level. Only people are being influenced by these much larger influences in their lives that we don't always recognize and name. So here in Buffalo, we have a long history of redlining, which has contributed to scarcity of resources in certain communities.
We have health disparities where we see differences in life expectancy based on which side of Main street you live on. And there's a lot of factors at the structural level that have led to some of these disparities. And just in normal times, we see how these contribute to differences in health outcomes and access to services for help. And it's going to be really interesting to see how it plays out with the access to the vaccines.
And also, as you mentioned, the follow up for care and the two doses, interestingly enough, here in Erie County, of which Buffalo is a part we don't actually see disparities by race,
ethnicity in mortality took at 19 like has, which has been seen in other areas of the country.
So that is kind of interesting and maybe speaks to the work that a lot of community organizations and Department of Health. I've been doing to ensure access to services for our various communities. So I want to turn a little bit to some of these larger structural issues that factors that you've been talking about, which influence these outcomes at the edge in terms of education, in terms of health.
So you were recently on a podcast with Sheldon Eakins. And it was entitled Being Kind Is Not the Same as Being Anti-racist. And thus was a leading equity podcast. You were talking about the media and the importance of seeing children, seeing people who reflect them, who look at them. So here at the State University of New York or SUNY, we are the largest comprehensive university system in the United States.
We encompass 64 institutions. And according to our University Systems Prodigy Web site, there is a pronounced gap between the racial and ethnic diversity of SUNY faculty members, where the nine percent are underrepresented minority, whereas in our student body, almost one in three underrepresented minorities. So can you talk a little bit how this what you were talking about in terms of children and schools? How is this important in a university setting? And why is diversity of faculty important?
Terri Watson: Right. Well, diversity of faculty is really important because. You can't be what you can't see. You know, much of the work we do as a person of color, I can say is just simply showing up like in many spaces. My my presence itself is liberating. Not only does it say, you know, there's diversity and inclusion literally, you know, in place. But more importantly and hopefully a diversity of ideas. And in terms of potential for young people, what you can be and see.
And so what I found that I shared I just left the faculty meeting, you know, over 100 faculty members in the school of Education. And as I look across, kind of, you know, the panels, the lack of diversity was palpable. And when I thought about, you know, these white voids, I thought about I hope the scholarship does not mirror this meaning. Are we considering the realities of people who look different than us?
I know as a as a black woman, it's important that I put, you know, the realities and experiences of black folk, you know, in the forefront of my work and scholarship. And I wondered, you know, how often is that lost in these spaces and not just for black folks, but for diverse people?
You know, it's important that people of color are represented because as the nation browns,
there will be a need to increase access and make sure that schools become equitable spaces. And I think what happens in higher ed, because, you know, in many ways we inform the next generation of scholars by sharing our ideas and perspectives.
And if they are not diverse, then we are simply repeating systemic inequities. And so it's important that institutions, particularly one as big, big as SUNY, that we are intentional in diversifying, you know, who are students. See, because oftentimes there's a cultural disconnect, in fact, between the professor and the student. And so various realities and experiences do not go unpacked or dressed.
And students often feel, you know, alone or ignored. And you think about attrition rates, you know, who stays and who becomes successful and more importantly, who return back to the academy. As a professor, no, we won't see diverse people if we don't nurture diverse minds and talents and thoughts that are contrary to our own.
And the I guess the downside of this is that oftentimes institutions as big as Buffalo, you know, we function in silos, meaning we don't talk across the board. What happens in education doesn't make it over to the school of medicine or to the law school or even to psychology.
So it's important that we come together and realize that the problem we have while it's in our institution, but it's also inherent in America. So how can we begin as a place of learning to write these long held injustices like what can we do as people concerned with the next generations,
not just generation, but generations of scholars? And how can we make sure that we are encouraging and nurturing and respecting diversity if we don't hire faculty members who look like our student body and if we don't nurture those diverse members of our student body,
if we keep relying on the canon and, you know, like what a professor should look like, you know, an older white man in a cardigan sweater.
That's not what I see, that that would never sustain or nurture me. So how do we make sure that we are meeting the needs of our students? You know, in a real and meaningful way.
And part of that is simply listening to them and having faculty that looks like them, that comes from those communities and neighborhoods. And because New York is so diverse, you know, how how is that being lost in Buffalo?
What are we doing to encourage diverse people to want to come to Buffalo to do their work?Because Buffalo looks a lot like New York City and in these inequities will not, you know, write themselves if we don't take specific and targeted actions to increase the pipeline.
So I'm hopeful that Buffalo remains the least a leader and is and really, you know, looks at those numbers from that website and ask, what can we do better? What have we done? What haven't we tried? Because the talent is out there.
But we have to have the moral and political will to to make the change that we know we need. Absolutely. And speaking of making those changes, you often talk about deconstructing and reconstructing. So can you talk a little bit about what you mean by those generally? And what would this look like here at Buffalo or here at SUNY?
I think in terms of deconstructing, looking at policies and practices that. In many ways, we're marrying theory to practice, like, you know, is one thing to espouse something. But how do you put it in action? And by doing that, we have to kind of reflect on what we do, like really take apart what we do and understand the rationale behind it and then say if we want change,
well, we have to kind of you know, people talk about the system, right? We are the system.
So if you want to change that, we have to start with ourselves. So part of deconstructing, you know, any person, place or thing is to take it apart, to see what makes it tick, what matters. And if we say that justice matters, then we have to ask ourselves, you know, let's say as a scholar, what in our scholarship or practice, you know, embodies justice. What does justice look like to us? And if we see that although we espouse justice, but we are not doing that justice work, then we have to change the work that we do. And we can only do that by deconstructing what we do, kind of analyzing ourselves, that critical reflection that we can say, you know, we are not who we say we are.
And what do we have to do to change? And I think if you can look at yourself and say, you know, I'm not who I say I am and I need to make a change, then you have to make the change.
And if we have to do that as an individual level, you know, in small groups and then as a system. But it starts with the personal. I am part of that is, you know, I do think that we're, you know, by and large that we are morally sound and good people.
But how do our actions and practices and the policies that we uphold? How do they reflect that? And if they don't, then we have to ask ourselves, why not? So you can't be anti-racist and and be a part of the committee where, you know, it lacks diversity.
But, you know, you say you're anti-racist. You know, being an anti-racist is a verb. You know, you have to do it. You can't just be it. You have to embody. You have to act on it. And then you have to hold people accountable to to being anti-racist is not just for yourself, but it's for everyone. So we have to kind of stand behind the ideals that we espouse and in real ways, and that's it is asking a lot. I said I was in a faculty meeting earlier and I said, you know, race is oftentimes a four dirty four letter word.
People don't want to talk about it. But if we don't address it, then it will, you know, continue to permeate, you know, systems, societies and places.
So we have to talk about the problem. America know that the Boyce noted in 1983, you know, the I know the color line, the problem with race and how we see racist practices, you know, reinvasion and reimagined again and again and again. And we hadn't really taken the time to seriously deconstruct, you know, just what does racism look like? Like, how does it play out? And then how do we write it? How do we make sure that, you know, we're being equitable and representing diverse voices and perspectives?
So I think it's important that we deconstruct our realities, who we say we are. And then, you know, rebuild ourselves, reconstruct, you know, because because we can change but changes a lot. And and it's difficult and it's it's scary. But I don't think we can continue like this.
I think the pandemic has shown us that, you know, we need one another and and we know who all we know who the vulnerable members of our community are. We know who is most impacted by the pandemic, by school closures. We know who didn't have even access to health care to get a ventilator or even could afford to stay home, like we say, that are essential.
Workers matter, but many of them are underpaid and overworked. So how do we put our money where our mouth is? If they if they're essential, then how do we treat them?
No, we being just have we looked at the policies that have created this underclass. And many times it's purposeful. So how do we make sure that everyone makes a living, not a minimum wage, but a living wage, and they have access to health care.
So when we deconstruct and reconstruct our realities, we have to make it personal. We have to look at, you know, our place in that and then we act accordingly and we stand on the side of justice, of righteousness. And that's what anti-racist is. You know, you have to act on it's not just saying no wearing a T-shirt and saying Black Lives Matter.
How do you showed up? How does your work uphold those, you know, those ideals that black lives do matter? So I love what you're saying about the need to be critical of our ourselves and
our system and the processes that we're working within and our institutions. You've given us some ideas of how we can be critical ourselves. And I like what you say about. You said earlier about 2020 being a pivotal year.
So we're hoping that part of this podcast will help spur some of these critical takes and dialogs. And these ideas that you've been talking about are how we as faculty and how we as a as a university can be critical of ourselves and critical of us as a system. You've also in the past talking about or talked about from a student perspective that you want children to be critical consumers of their reality. So can you talk a little bit about it from that angle? I think especially with students, we have to make it grassroots. We have to study policies that impact our lives. And when I say that, I mean that, you know, the personal that I you have to, you know, go into their neighborhoods, you know, in many urban communities. Unfortunately, there are food deserts.
You know, you find, you know, liquor stores and corner stores, you know, on every block.
So we have to ask ourselves, you know, is there access to no fresh fruit and vegetables?
How many agencies are available to give people different options or to offer resources and what's not being provided? And so when students can see how oftentimes their neighborhoods are are meant to, in many ways know entrap them, you know, they're they're not given other options, meaning there's no fresh fruit, vegetables. Look at the air pollution levels. Look at even in their own schools.
How many teachers are qualified? How many teachers are meaninglessly qualified? They're not teaching in their subject area or they don't have a masters degree or they're not, you know, content specialists like in which districts do we have, you know, highly qualified teachers?
And then where do we have, you know, teachers who lack credentials and then look at suspension rates, then look at access to health care without with that data, looks like so is making students aware of the systems that in many ways encourage in and frame their realities and giving them the tools to deconstruct it. To say that, you know, I notice in my school, you know, we only have, you know, out of 100.
We only have 50 qualified teachers. But in other districts know they're at 80 or 90 percent or even, you know, the racial diversity. We said diversity matters. And, you know, what does the teaching staff look like and why is it important that school leaders are, you know, really do their due diligence in finding, you know, diverse teachers and bringing in appropriate professional development and finding ways to connect communities to resources that are needed for those students and families.
And so is simply making students aware of, again, the school community, their neighborhoods, you know, arrest rates, just kind of like what's happening in a real in a real way that affects them. What's the crime rate like? Was the unemployment rate like, you know, who's hiring?
What are the services being provided and offered to the community? And how does that differ from what happens in other parts of the state or in, you know, in New York, see of the burrow,
you know, or even, you know, in the in the surrounding states, in areas making students aware of there is an equity around us. And what will be our role in changing that? Because, you know, we're doing this not just for us before our children would be doing it for tomorrow.
And we do that today by by attacking those problems head on and looking at the facts, you know, looking at the details, because that's where the devil is, you know, best where, and that's where the inequities lie. How do we address that and bring that to the forefront of our politicians and policymakers and elected officials? And that's why voting is so important. So letting them know we know which candidates are best representing their interests that are looking at, you know, the food deserts, the crime rates, the unemployment rates.
Who's advocating on our behalf and who's not, you know, who who earns our vote and who doesn't? Who do we need to change? You know, New York City, we had mayoral control. Maybe that's it in what has the mayor done? Let's hold him accountable for what's happening. You know, the hiring rates of teachers, retention rates, graduation rates. Who's moving on to the next grade level? So we're just looking at again.
The reality is that students must contend with in giving them the tools to make sense and to know what they need to be successful. You know, you need to have algebra one. In ninth grade, you know, and even if you don't want to go to college, you have to be prepared. You should by 12th grade, your reading levels should be at a certain place. You should have a certain amount of, you know, sciences with labs. Your school should have appropriate materials and curriculum and faculty. And if you don't, then know that these schools are not created with you in mind.
You don't want to see you win it. But we're winners. And what are we gonna do about it?
You know, and that's what we have to kind of know, feed the next generation, that they are critical consumers, but also that they can deconstruct and reconstruct their own realities to bring about change because change will have to live with young people. You know, every movement started with young people. We have to remember that and give them the tools to continue to lead.
Tia Palermo: Wow. Yeah, those are some really powerful thoughts. So what I'm hearing you say is that we as educators have a really important role in helping young people to see these realities. In terms of the statistics that you were talking about, these are things that people may not be aware of. And so how can we help raise awareness among our students of these issues?
But you've also talked similarly about reconstruction of curricula. So how at the university do you kind of see this playing into what you're talking about here and helping that next generation become more critical about their reality?
Terri Watson: Right. I think at the university level, one ways to reconstruct curricula is by simply revising our curriculum. Now, oftentimes, particularly at the university level, the curriculum would require no death. So how can we introduce new and different perspectives and realities to push in and challenge students to think outside the box?
We can only do that by introducing different thinkers like an education. Yeah. Doing is important, you know. But would Dubois, who is the father of sociology. What about Edmund Gordon? Like we have some thinkers, you know, who are like Edmund Gordon, many of us, you know, are still alive, that we have to look at those people who are advocating for change, whose scholarship is founded in the struggle. And that's who we study because this is a continuation of a struggle, you know, in many institutions, particularly education,
if we're free to push thinking forward, then we have to use forward thinking scholars and many, many of those dead white men we study.mWe're very much about upholding the status quo. You know, they they regurgitate old ideas.
We have to go back. I think looking at, you know, black education and in looking at diverse scholars and I just know black books. But across the board, like, we have to ask ourselves, aren't we talking about who's missing from this, who's not at the table? What what idea was contrary? You know, who said something different? And all oftentimes those people with different ideas probably look different and had different realities. And that's what we need to hear from what would have made would have made of scholars said about this. You know, what has no Hispanic scholars or Mexican scholars or just people who don't look like us?
What have they said about it? Because the problem hasn't changed, but it's how we look at the problem and then how do we reconstruct, you know, the future? And I think we have to do that with diverse ideas and thoughts. And we can only get that from diverse people with diverse experiences. So I think the scholars we have to welcome, you know, just different trains and thought leaders.
That's what's going to show us forward. That's great. So a call for us as educators to diversify our curriculum, to listen to scholars of color and people with different perspectives. So thinking about how and again, this is kind of along the theme of how these are structural issues which are leading to these and equitable outcomes at the individual level.
On the podcast, what Sheldon and you talked about the structural problem of racism, but how many of the answers to the problem are proposed at the individual? So in terms of teaching young people kindness, mindfulness, resiliency, so why are these types of solutions a mismatch between, you know, what the problem is and these solutions that are being proposed?
I think in particular, when we teach particularly kids of color and talk about teaching kindness and mindfulness and resiliency, I think in many times we are assuming that they don't they aren't kind, that they don't already have resiliency or that they're not mindful.
I think the fact that they come from challenging environments, you know, they don't need resiliency there. They got up and came to school. That in and of itself is resiliency and kindness, especially, you know. Why do you assume that young people are not coming? I know now people say kindness matters or they have. They made kindness like a this kind of benevolence that, you know, is like you are doing an act and you're doing it for a reward.
You want a button or sticker order to check a box. But in many, particularly communities of color, we are community, meaning we trade on kindness that but to not be kind does not even into the paradigm. So to assume that people and children of color are not kind or that's missing in their community.
And I think we do them a disservice. And again, from mindfulness, you know, it's like thinking critically examine what you do. I think the fact that in many urban households, families are struggling to make ends meet, that they're, you know. On budgets and, you know, intergenerational and even housing arrangements like, no, that is mindfulness, they've thought deeply about it. They haven't just, you know, just kind of made this a one off.They have thought critically about how to make sure that, you know, the children are OK.
So to assume that no kindness, mindfulness and resiliency is not a critical part of who they are already, I think we do them a disservice. So I ethnic instead, we should ask them about their realities and experiences and learn and build on that. We have to look at communities in children of color as asset rich people in contexts and learn what they're doing because that's what you know, the cultural disconnect is really palpable because we don't know enough about them to know that.
Of course, they're resilient. Of course they're mindful. No kindness. No, let's say this. I know growing up, it was, um, I'm the youngest of three children. And so, you know, my brother often work my sister and I to school. So he made sure, you know, we crossed this street safely. We came home together.
He waited for us. He asked us about homework like kind fulness and mindfulness and resiliency was was a part of us growing up. Now, we looked out for one another. We know we took care of one another. We were latchkey kids. No. So we not only went to school and came home, but oftentimes you came cable to an empty house. We had to do our homework and have our snacks and wait for our mom to get home.
So to assume that, you know, you need to teach us how to do that. Look at what we do already. And that's what we celebrate and reward. And maybe, you know, help us improve in some way. But to assume that, you know, it's not already there. I think I think it's simply not true, particularly in communities of color where resources are scarce, where we are forced to be creative. You know, like we we are a genius people by design.
We've always made something out of nothing. So instead of assuming that we we need you to teach us not, you better look at what we do already. And that's what we marvel. That's where the the the I think best practice should come from.
Yeah, so I think what I want to do is I want to go back to this idea of I think you've talked in the past a little bit about how,
you know, students of color come from these situations and these, you know, backgrounds where they actually do have a lot of resiliency.
So how do you have any thoughts or suggestions of how, as university professors and college professors,
that we can recognize those and things that we can do in our own classrooms to recognize the strengths that students
are bringing to the table and maybe tailor our courses better for the diverse voices that we have in our classrooms.
I think is simply listening to your students. I think too often, you know, I'm thinking about the work of Pablo Creary.
We assume that our students are empty vessels waiting to be filled without realizing that they're actually quite full already.
And we're simply enhancing was there. So I think we do that by simply engaging in conversation, by being transparent and telling people who we are. Like sharing, opening up, using the eye, you know, talking about, you know, your experiences growing up in and finding ways that, you know, your realities in many ways intersect.
Because what I found particularly teaching diverse students, is that I have far more in common with them than one would know that each of us probably thought, you know, on the onset.
So simply finding ways like when I said, you know, I don't know about you, but I'm the youngest of three. You know, I grew up in a single parent house. So I'm first generation.
I know what it's like to, you know, to come home to an empty house because my mom worked two jobs. I know what it's like to tell my mom that come to the PTA meeting because, you know, she she had to work.
In fact, my mother told us just the opposite. She told us that if she had to come to school for us, a we we'd have a problem. So when teachers thought that, you know, oh, well, this young mother doesn't care, it's quite the opposite. Not only did she care, but she told us if we did not act accordingly, that, you know, we would have a problem. So the good behavior that teachers saw, that was parent involvement, because I knew that if I acted any other way, that my mother would not have that.
So I think, you know, it's looking at the inherent cultural wealth that's in every child in the classroom. Now, we have to assume that they come from loving and caring homes and that our job is to celebrate that to to make them proud so that they know that I never once the mother didn't care. I knew she was working two jobs to make sure we were OK.
So let's celebrate my mother and in shame on those system that underpaid her, that she had to get a second job at that first job. She couldn't make a living wage to take care of us. So wasn't my mother.
But it was the system she was working against. And I understood from her, you know, resiliency, you know, kindness, mindfulness, the fact that, you know, she called us when she thought we should be home and asked us what we were doing and how she found the time and her work day to check in on us.
And she had to come home early. She did. But it was understood that she was losing money. And so we really tried to lessen the burden of, you know, taking care of us.
We knew that in school. We could, you know, we could do our work. We could be, you know, upstanding citizens. And she believed in us. So we worked together. So if that's not community, if that's not kindness and grit, then I don't know what is. But when teachers say that, you know, students need that, particularly students of color, that you're not looking at the cultural wealth of that child and his or her family.
So I think the best ways for professors to kind of unpack the cultural wealth that's already in their classroom is by simply talking to to their students in real ways and finding out who they are and why they are even in college and what they hope to gain from this experience. And I think once we have that relationship, then the learning can happen. But if you don't know who your students are, then how can you reach them?
How can you speak life an agency and and let them know that you care about them and that we have this, you know, this community that we form? You know, the heart of that is relationship. And we do that just by by listening to one another. We'll have to do that. I love how you're talking about this culture of, well, that kind of turns on its head.
Another ideology you've talked about, which is deficit ideology is where we often look and see problems. So kind of similar to that. What do you think we can do in our own work to challenge this idea of deficit ideologies? I think we have to you know, we have to mine for gold. We have to go in assuming that, you know, all parents care about their children, that that and that kids want to learn.
And more importantly, they have the capacity to learn. Our job is just to find new and creative ways to learn and grow with them. And that while we're teaching, we're also learning and growing. And we have to be graceful, not just with our students, but with ourselves.
And I think we do that by, again, looking at our students as as goldmines in our our our real challenge is how do we. How do we find that goal? What can we say to spark the conversation and creativity? Because it's there, but it's our job to try to make it shine, to bring it out and to show them how to move in the world, because particularly as a scholar, color a big part of what I do.
Simply telling my story, you know, so that you can notice this. You know, we in many ways we demystify the academy. You know, I'm first gen. I know what it's like to be counted out. I know that when I told my colleague, my, um, my advisor in high school that I wanted to go to St. John's University, he was like, oh, you'll never get in.
She didn't believe in me. So part of my job was to make sure that I got in and came back to tell her, oh, guess where I'm going. You know, in the fall, because I knew that, you know, she didn't think that I could do it. So I think a big part of what we do, is that that we are dream keepers.
You know, we have to harvest and keep young people dreaming. We have to dream with them, believe in their dreams. So when I tell you what they will be, you buy into that. You don't agree with them. Tell them, yes, you can, and then show them how they can do so.
Tell your story and help them find their own story. But our job is to nurture, to care and to dream, you know, and I think that's missing in many communities of color.
We stop dreaming with young people. We stop believing in young people. We don't see that they are gold mines literally in our presence. We think that they are broken and we need to fix them. Young people are not broken. We have to fix our mindsets and move away from these deficit ideologies that we've been taught in the academy that these are broken or disease people.
No, not at all. We are rich and resilient people. And I think well, maybe. Sorry. I think maybe that comes from also how we're always having to frame a problem, right. So with that search,
we also we always need to see what the problem is and how we can generate evidence which helps provide solutions to these problems. So I like how you're challenging us to think about this. You know, it's interesting you should say that because the Spencer, they just released the funding opportunity and the funding opportunity.
It's a racial equity special. Right? A racial equity special research grant initiative. So they're looking for ways to do that. They're looking for ways to fund promising directions for engaging and supporting children, families and communities. And I think the best way to do that, like in solving any problem, we have to go to the people who are most impacted by the problem because they are working on solutions and real meaningful ways because,
you know, their lives depend on it. And I think that's why we have to go back to the community, go back to the people and see what they are doing.
You know, in real time. And that's what the solution is. Too often we come at problems with this top down perspective, because if you don't live in these communities and how can really understand or even frame the problem, to say that it's a problem because what you think is a problem may not be for that particular community, could be something totally different.
And what you're seeing is a an outcome of the problem, but not the problem in and of itself.
So even defining the problem, I think we have to go to the community and ask them what do they feel the problem is and how have they thought about addressing it?
And then how can we lend our intellectual talent to marry what they are already doing?
Like, we have to go to the community, like they already have the answer, because,
again, they are closest to the problem because their lives depend on it. So they have a vested interest in solving the problem.
And for I think we search as many of us, we don't live in the communities that we study are a part of it, know we are outsiders. And that's bad in so many ways because then becomes you know, we come in at a handicap, like we're doing this community a favor or, you know,
they are a problem and we are here to fix them without realizing that you don't think they care like you think it doesn't matter to. Of course it matters to them. Of course, they've tried addressing it and I'm delighted to see what have they done.
And then what can we do together that may improve it? Like, how can we add to an already rich resource and it's just how we frame it. You know, we have to you know, too often we think that we are the light and we're not. And many times, you know, I think we don't celebrate the community enough. But this is a really I call this is really a call for more community based and participatory research methods.
Exactly. Too often we are outsiders studying the problem at a very esoteric level. We have people who are living with their day in and day out and trying any and everything.
And that's where we really need to lend our intellectual talents to work on them. I want to tie this back to something you said earlier when you were talking about community involvement and service and how as universities, we need to make our institutions relevant. Can you talk a little bit about how maybe some of this community and service work can
help make our universities more relevant to the communities that we're trying to serve? I think that for many of us, we have to reframe.
You know, unfortunately, in the academy, you know, we are very ego driven. We don't want to be you know, we want to be the biggest and the best and the smartest. But you know what we learned in leadership and I think you said this, but leadership must be embedded in service.
And if service is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you. So if we are to be forerunners, then we have to ground ourselves in service. And that means not working for the community or speaking to the community, but as working with the community and speaking with the community and more importantly, becoming part of the community.
Like we have to truly invest in those, you know, we claim to want to serve because what we do,
particularly if we are to change, you know, change lives, you know, its service. But in changing lives, there's reciprocity in it because we become better, our scholarship becomes more informed. But we have to, again, go back to the community because that's what's going to make us better.
And part of that is being humble, saying what we don't know and understanding the community and the challenges they face. Looking for ways collectively and collaboratively to address those problems. But too often, as researchers, we come in with the answer. You know, we have the funding and we're going to throw money at it. But that's not really addressing deeply rooted problems.
And we can only do that by being in community and understanding kind of, you know, what's exacerbating the situation. And then, you know, how can we, you know, think with them to address it? Like we don't have the answers that that's not that's not the right framing of the problem.
You know, here's the situation and then we have to look at the participants in and see how we want to change the outcome and the reality. And that has to be a conversation that has to be about trial and error. It's not a one and done. You're not going to come in with, quote unquote the answer and then, you know, magically, you know, the situation is is right and that's not going to happen.
I think you're right that as researchers, we do kind of have these big egos. And I think even if you're a person that's not necessarily has a tendency to have a big ego going into it, the way that success is measured and the way that you kind of go through the system,
it makes you kind of be that person that pays attention to, you know, these measures of success. So thinking about how we measure success as academics, you know, it's really about publications and grant.
Yeah. So what did you as an individual? How much money are you ringing in and how many publications did you have this year? So thinking about the criteria in which we judge academics. Do you have any thoughts about how we can move the dial on these criteria to maybe make it more engaging or recognizing some of the very important and time consuming work that scholars are doing?
Younger scholars, scholars of color? How can we recognize those efforts to make them successful in the system? I think we have to revise the standards for tenure and promotion. You know, too often is about quantity. It's like how much money, you know, how many publications. Instead of looking at the qualitative aspect of it, like where is the work, you know, seated? Who are you working with? And how are the outcomes applicable to real, real world problems? You know, oftentimes, you know, we're so theoretical. Our work is sometimes so absent of practice, not across the board.
But what I found by and large is that, you know, we all have these grand, grandiose ideas that we we speak about and create this utopia without looking outside our windows. And in many of these institutions are, you know, so removed from, you know, everyday people, particularly those who could really use our scholarship.
So I think what would makes it I guess what makes the academy or doing this kind of qualitative, meaningful service, deeply rooted in service work in studies, is that, you know, you won't get the big bang, you won't get the you know, the publication in a you know, a tier one journal or you won't be at an hour one.
I think we have to look at not what we do, but why we do it and ask ourselves how how does this leave not only the people that we hope our research will impact, but how does we must better make are we more thoughtful? Is our scholarship, you know, does it really matter like this? It's like I'm pretty sure that you're someone is going to be fine. And I know my daughter just graduated from Tufts University, so that's cool. But I'm not really trying to talk to you. I'm trying to talk to the people in those mom and pop stores who live in food deserts who are first gen.
Like, that's where the real change is going to happen. So oftentimes, you know, the academic journals that we publish in and the conferences that we go to talk about our work.
They don't affect the people that we care most about. So I think if we're really to to change the focus of the work we do, then, you know, unfortunately, we can have to change the guidelines for tenure and promotion. We have to see. No. Why do we give you know, like we talk about service, you know, service.
Where is it? A university committee or service in the community? You know, like how is how do we define service and what does it look like in a publications should be published in a tier one journal or should it be a a union newspaper or for public consumption?
You know that we really talk to people who don't have PTSD, who aren't, you know, whose university does not subscribe to this particular journal, you know? Is it a grass roots community based Forward-Looking publication or is it, you know, written with academic academic standards that, you know, the common person just won't get?
And I know from myself one of the things that I promised myself, that if my mom with a with that with the high school graduate high school degree, like if my mom can't read it, then I should write it. I want people I care about to be able to understand, you know,
the ideas and thoughts and methodologies that I'm using and writing about and spending so much time on. So people I care about can't read it and I don't want to write it,
that I have to find ways to make my language accessible and more importantly, that the work I do matters for those I care most about. So we have to kind of reframe even, you know, tenure and promotion and what's quote unquote research.
Tia Palermo: Absolutely, wow, you've. You've given us so much to think about today.
So what I want to do is I want to give you an opportunity to just maybe follow up or or, you know, is there anything that you want to say that you haven't been able to say?
And I just again, I just want to thank you for being with us today. It's always a pleasure to talk with you.
The first time you and I met, you were giving a talk to a group of faculty, and it was VSL in a breakout session. And I was having a rough week and it was a Friday afternoon.
And you just gave such a fiery and inspiring talk. And it was similar about, you know, doing work that's meaningful and being true to yourself and making a change in your community.
And it was really just what I needed to hear at the right time. And so it's been such a pleasure to talk to you again. You've given us so much to think about and unpack and ways that we can be critical in our own lives and our work with students and how we can really make small changes that can make big differences. So I really do thank you for everything you've said today. I just want to give you an opportunity, you know, if there's anything else that you want to tell us before we have to go today with those kind words.
Terri Watson: And I just remember that conversation and, you know, I guess I practice what I preach, you know, what matters, matters in everything, matters like something always matters to someone. And I never I never disregard that. So I tell people, you know, do what matters for you. You know, speak like speak truth and make sure they all reflect and resonate within you,
because then it will always matter and our work will never be in vain. We spend a lot of time doing this work.
A very big portion of our lives is scholarship, is the reading, is the writing, is the, you know, unpacking what we've learned. And if we're not, it doesn't matter. Then why are we doing it?You know, like who does it change in? And if it's it's not changing and changing.
If it's not improving, then the realities in life outcomes of people and communities that we care most about, then it's all for not in my perspective.
So for me, I always ask myself, you know, is it important? Is it important to me? Doesn't matter. And nine times out of ten, nine times out of ten it does. And so I put my heart in it. And I think we have to go back to that. I think we have to put our heart in this world, you know, like I I love people, you know, and I love black people in particular.
So I'm going to do my best not to show up and to speak life. I'm going to speak love and win.
And even if it doesn't work, know that I cared. I tried. And this is my best. And I feel good about it, you know, and every grant that goes unfunded, every project that goes left know that I came in with an open heart and my job was always to be of service.
And I tell people that, like, that's that's what I'm looking for. Well, I'm looking for the asset.
I'm looking to celebrate the good work you already do. So it's never a aha moment.
You know, I don't I don't. Do we call it deficit data? I'm not here to tell particularly black, black and brown people that they are broken. That's not my job. That's not what I do.
I'm here to tell you that you're awesome, that we are awesome in this research will simply highlight the good work you already do. If my people can't read the work that I do, the why am I doing it? Because, you know, I am my people, you know. And that's important. We have to remember the communities that we come from, particularly ourselves, sellers of color.
You know, we didn't get here by ourselves. I come from a long line of beautiful black people, and my work will always reflect and celebrate that. And that's important. And I hope that others find a similar, you know, important. It's an agency in their own work. You know, find the beauty, find a true speak like, you know, speak life for people who care about.
Tia Palermo: Love you through this because that's how we got here. Dr.Watson, and it's been so fabulous talking to you today. You've given us so much to think about. And as always. Just very inspiring. So I really thank you for your time today and for our listeners.
Dr. Terry Watson is associate professor of educational leadership and the Department of Leadership and Human Development at the City College of New York. You can look up her work there. And this year, she is also a Center for Diversity Innovation, distinguished visiting scholar at the University of Buffalo.
So, again, Terri, thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you.