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Toward a Just and Loving World: Phoebe Co, HDP'20

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Human Development and Psychology reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Bright-colored textiles

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Phoebe Co will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Human Development and Psychology (HDP) at HGSE's Virtual Commencement on May 28.

Phoebe Co
Senior Lecturer Richard Weissbourd and Professor Meredith Rowe, co-directors of HDP, and program administrator Mandy Farhoodi-Moberger said of Co's selection: “We're delighted to give Phoebe this award. Her professors describe her as a deeply curious and critically oriented student, who asks important questions about how educators can best build on the knowledge of local youth and communities. She has brought great spirit, generosity, and curiosity to our HDP community. She lifts us all up and makes us better.”

We spoke to Co about her time at HGSE, her future plans, and what the new normal in education might look like:

What does the image above mean to you?  

Phoebe Co: These are beautiful woven fabrics from my home country, the Philippines. The colorful pieces are woven by the Yakan and Tausug women, two of which I would wear as scarves on colder days, while the other is a portion of my Filipiniana barong that I intended to wear during Commencement.

Just as these fabric pieces are woven together from many individual threads, my experience in HGSE has been meaningful because of the many people who have significantly contributed to the ways I understand and engage with the world, and accordingly, how I view education and research. I chose this photo in honor and admiration of them. As I told administrators and faculty directors when they informed me about this award, I do immensely feel that I am receiving this recognition on behalf of the deep wisdom of young people, critical scholars, and many people, especially fellow Filipinos, who have long been desiring, dreaming, imagining, and working towards an emancipatory, just, and loving world. Taos-pusong pasasalamat (heartfelt gratitude).

Although I am halfway across the world, my heart, mind, and energy have always been with the Filipino people. Our nation has long been dealing with oppressive structures and forces, and Filipinos deserve so much more. A lot of collaborative action is definitely needed to work toward actualizing loving alternatives, and all the collective care, longing, resistance, persistence, initiatives, and envisioning that are already happening among many Filipinos make me proud and give me hope in the midst of all the challenges. As many Filipinos have said, mananaig pa rin ang kabutihan (goodness will prevail), and may we actively embody this vision of goodness and love in every aspect of our lives.

What are your post-HGSE plans?

PC: I attended HGSE with the intention of applying all that I learn back home in the Philippines. The conditions in my home country were in my mind with every reading, class, and output. Given the landscape that this pandemic has brought about, I am still discerning my next steps. One thing is for certain though: the experiences and relationships I have encountered in my life have contributed to my strong commitments to social justice and love, and I cannot imagine myself pursuing work that contradicts these moral imperatives that I hold. For these reasons, I am drawn to education and research that uphold love and liberation. I have also been interested in the intersections of developmental, community, and liberation psychology in the context of schools and communities. I am still continuously learning and deepening my knowledge and practice in these areas. All these require collective efforts, and I would love to be in conversation with people who share similar interests — and I am eager to learn from their knowledge, wisdom, and experiences, too! The road ahead is definitely not easy, but I find sources of hope and strength in the legacies and ongoing efforts of people of all ages committed to the pursuit of embodying and actualizing social justice and love.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?

PC: Oh, it will be hard to choose! I was privileged to be able to be part of courses taught and facilitated by dedicated professors who generously shared their insights and the tensions they grappled with, and undoubtedly invested thought and care into every class. I deeply appreciate them for cultivating such learning spaces. These courses have also emphasized how applying the ideas we discussed requires so much listening and learning from others and deep understanding of context.

Through Emancipatory Inquiry: Listening, Learning, and Acting for Social Change with Dr. Aaliyah El-Amin, I gained knowledge about rigorous justice-centered and anti-oppressive research, critical theories and epistemologies, and became all the more committed to being curious, listening, empathizing, and doing research as acts of love. I appreciate how our course community engaged in reflexivity through interrogating our own positionality in relation to all aspects of the research process, wrestled with tensions in the work of emancipatory research, and embodied, explored, dreamed, practiced, and applied ways of doing such kind of inquiry. The course experience definitely helped me become more courageous in my commitment to doing research and teaching in ways that center love and contribute to actions towards social justice.

"The road ahead is definitely not easy, but I find sources of hope and strength in the legacies and ongoing efforts of people of all ages committed to the pursuit of embodying and actualizing social justice and love." – Phoebe Co

Fugitive Negotiation: Negotiating Power, Space, and Purpose with/in Educational Institutions with Whitney Benns and Sam Straus offered opportunities to gain valuable ways of thinking about institutions, power, the reproduction and maintenance of oppressive structures and forces, as well as the significance of a loving spirit of persisting, imagining, envisioning, relationship-building, critical connections, caring, listening, adapting, learning, and dreaming beyond oppressive barriers in the pursuit of emancipatory and loving alternatives.

Through Risk & Resilience in Social Contexts/Birth to Young Adulthood: Strategies of Prevention & Intervention with Dr. Gretchen Brion-Meisels, I was able to explore and learn more about developmental and prevention sciences, and we also discussed these through the lenses of critical and liberation theories. I also had the opportunity to practice developing a proposal for an intervention informed by research and these epistemologies. I also took her other course, Establishing Loving Spaces for Learning: Preventing Bullying and Discrimination in U.S. Schools, and although it was supposedly centered on the U.S., I was able to still think about the Philippine context as the course offered opportunities to learn and imagine ways and approaches to working towards loving, inclusive, and equitable learning spaces.

In Empowering Human Relationships Across Developmental Contexts with Dr. Junlei Li, we constantly reflected upon the transformative key question, "How does this (practice, program, or policy) help to encourage, enrich, and empower human relationships?" In his other course, Simple Interactions: Improving the Practice of Developmental Relationships through Adaptive Facilitation, we did not only talk merely about what to say and do as facilitators, but we engaged in reflection about our assumptions, position, and dispositions in relation with participants and worked towards adaptive approaches that fostered learning with and from one another through communities of practice that acknowledged, drew from, and built upon the strengths, desires, ideas, and potential of participants who support and work with young people.

Taking Collaborative and Participatory Evaluation and Continuous Improvement in Education with Dr. Candice Bocala also gave opportunities to practice, experience, and learn about the practical skills, frameworks, and knowledge needed for improvement in ways that centered equity and collaboration.

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

PC: Even before COVID-19, young people have been dealing with intersectional manifestations of colonialism, classism, patriarchy, white supremacy, racism, and other oppressive forces that are being exacerbated by the pandemic. Rather than shifting my views, the pandemic further affirmed the necessity of an education that centers love and liberation, which many young people and critical educators have long been desiring and striving for.

This period that gave rise to barriers to the dominant ways of schooling widens the opportunity to envision and structurally redesign in pursuit of an education that embodies pedagogies and cultures of care, love, and hope. There is no single way of actualizing such education. However, educators are already advocating for and finding innovative and adaptive ways to prioritize the well-being of learners, deepen connections, and uphold equity and inclusivity. There are also educators who are aware that we are facing an opportunity to adapt curriculum and focus on essential learning experiences that provide young people opportunities to learn content in interdisciplinary ways that also intentionally support them in learning knowledge, skills, and language to navigate and challenge the realities they are grappling with, as well as imagine and work towards emancipatory and loving alternatives they have been yearning for. We are also witnessing the significance and strength of authentic collaboration and relationships among learners, schools, families, and communities. We need to make time and space for dialogues about collaboratively fostering systems, structures, and cultures that highlight and celebrate these embodiments of love in education and allow for opportunities for young people, educators, families, and communities to unleash the depths of their potential to do so.


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