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A Critical Lens: Liz Ricketts, SSP'16

Liz Ricketts
Less than two months into her time at HGSE, Liz Ricketts was feeling slightly disappointed. The answers she was seeking when she enrolled in the Special Studies Program were not coming as readily as she had hoped. She quickly realized, though, that easy answers weren’t really what she needed.

“I had reached a point in my work where I wanted guidance in the form of ‘real’ answers; I was equating simple with easy,” says Ricketts, a former fashion designer. “But then I remembered that, in undergrad, the design work I did was never inspired by answers, and yet somehow I constructed concrete ‘real’ things that, in the end, worked. While I had drawn on this experience as an educator, I had never fully reflected on what this meant for me as a learner.”

After this realization, Ricketts set more personal learning goals and chose courses relevant to her original goals of refining and contextualizing The OR Foundation, the nonprofit she began in 2011 to shine a light on the social injustices in the textile business.

“I needed time to apply a critical lens to what I had set out to do and to reflect on my position within the American and international contexts where I had chosen to work,” she says.

“Liz has influenced her fellow students’ intellectual development in genuinely profound ways,” says Lecturer Vicki Jacobs, director of the Special Studies Program. “She has humbled and inspired others by her own humility. She has demonstrated authentic curiosity about multiple world views and a remarkable respect for those in opposition to her own — by listening judiciously, responding thoughtfully, and inviting others into the kind of inquiry that defines reflective practice. Liz has served as an unassuming touchstone for those who have become lost in their own perspectives. As one of her colleagues has noted, ‘Liz has helped me remember the ground in front of me when my sight has been too set on the horizon, and she has reminded me that there is truth in the horizon when I’ve been too focused on my footing.’ In short, with grace and a generosity of spirit, passion and compassion, deep intelligence, and an uncommon capacity for empathy, Liz has led her peers through her uncommon actions and example.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for Special Studies, Ricketts answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? I hoped to walk away with an understanding of how to nurture an activist stance in young citizens, tools for instilling empathic tendencies, and how to transform an organization into a learning network. I also had a lot of questions about service learning. Can service learning ever be equitable or reciprocal in nature? In terms of my business, I hoped to leave with what I felt was an “ethical” funding model for my organization.

More broadly, I came to HGSE to listen. I spent five years refining the core of who I am into “pitch-speak,” a phenomenon that I believe we are embracing with dangerous abandon. It is amazing how quickly speaking up becomes synonymous with the act of selling yourself. It takes time to unlearn that and intentional listening is a step. Building on that I sought community.

What are your post-HGSE plans? I will be returning full-time to my role as director of The OR Foundation. This year has inspired my partner and me to think critically about the complexity of the programs and curriculum we were working on. Moving forward The OR will continue with the core of our programming — a year-long, object-based exchange program with students in the United States, Ghana, and South Africa — but we are working on creating more bite-sized and student-centered digital resources as well. We are also working on a mobile app that will launch in different phases over the next year. The biggest shift for me will be in location. We will spend some time in New York City building coalition, but then plan to move our headquarters to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Is there any class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? [Senior Lecturer] Rick Weissbourd’s H-611B [Moral Adults: Moral Children] course challenged me to consider the benefits of taking a more campaign-based approach to my work. His course also led me to create a curriculum for high schoolers on dress code that includes a unit on gender norms and sexuality as it relates to the fashion industry — a topic I had been hesitant to touch prior. Outside of the course, Rick has been supportive in so many ways. He was available as a thought partner on my concerns about funding models for The OR and continues to challenge my thinking on what can, and should, be measured as impact when working with youth.

[Assistant Professor] Karen Brennan’s T-553 [Learning, Teaching, and Technology] course was definitely the nexus of my learning this spring. The pairing of critical theory with technology trends created the space I needed to make connections across my courses and to think critically about how I have used technology in the classroom. I claimed my design journal as a space to explore the connections between my past life working in fashion and my identity as an artist and educator. I was able to make myself visible in ways that would have felt out of context in other courses and I will continue to use, update and communicate with the teaching team through my design journal. Developing such an artifact of my learning has been invaluable. The entire T-553 teaching team is brilliant, and the discourse made possible in that class has led to many new friendships here at HGSE.

I would have had a very different experience at HGSE if I had not taken [Lecturer Aaliyah] El-Amin’s T-014 [Educating to Transform Society] this spring. Dr. El-Amin and the teaching team created intimate learning experiences, despite the fact that our class was 70+ students. The course content and assignments challenged me to understand my positionality within our exploration of critical pedagogy and activism. In addition, T-014 gave me the tools to engage in conversations about racism and white supremacy with peers and family outside of the course, which has been a transformative experience.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? I stayed inspired by speaking with the people around me. My peers and professors are phenomenal people with so much conviction and curiosity. I also spoke, a.k.a. used various modes of modern communication, with students I have worked with in the past. One student from Ghana in particular was instrumental in helping me ground what I was learning in the relationship between learner and teacher.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Go to office hours. Set personal learning goals. Allow yourself to play with what you are learning. Embrace the opportunity to work in groups as a time to learn, deliberate, and practice interdependence.

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.


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