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The Other Narrative

Varied voices will tell their stories at the 13th annual Alumni of Color Conference

Beginning this Friday, the 13th annual Alumni of Color Conference, sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will examine the dominant narratives that often position racial, ethnic, and cultural identities of communities of color as inferior. Over two days, “The Other Narrative: Celebrating Untold Stories” will feature dozens of speakers grappling with being “the other,” sharing stories of identity, injustice, and, ultimately, success of marginalized populations in our society.

Following this year’s headlines about violent interactions between the police and people of color, many among marginalized populations were left feeling more powerless. In planning the AOCC, the tri-chairs wanted to create an environment in which people could share their personal stories and frustrations safely. “We see AOCC 2015 as a safe space to share the many personal, untold stories with hopes of educating others in an effort to build a stronger foundation for supporting work that will have a positive impact on communities of color across the country,” says one of the tri-chairs, Ed.L.D. candidate Moriska Selby.

The AOCC celebrates the work of HGSE alumni of color, but is also for students, faculty, staff, and anyone in the community who shares a commitment to understanding and addressing issues of race and class in education.

Below, four of this weekend’s participants discuss why speaking at AOCC and exploring “The Other Narrative” is important to them.

Barbara SahliBarbara Sahli
Ed.M. candidate, Human Development and Psychology
Presenting “Countering Stereotypes with Stories: Muslim Youth Voices”

“While negative views of Islam and Muslims dominate public discourse, surveys show that most Americans know little or nothing about the beliefs of Islam, and a majority have never even met a Muslim. This combination — lack of knowledge and lack of personal contact — provides fertile ground for negative stereotypes to persist. I believe personal stories are an effective way to counter dehumanizing narratives, and this belief motivated me to launch the Muslim Youth Voices project. Through first-person narratives, Muslim students, who often feel unseen and unheard, misunderstood and marginalized in their schools and communities, are empowered to speak their truth and define themselves. This opens the possibility for responsive readers to notice and question their own prior assumptions, consider new perspectives, and recognize connections with their own experiences. By sharing these stories at the Alumni of Color Conference, I hope to bring attention to the impact of stereotyping and exclusion on young people and to inspire adults, especially educators, to act to prevent it.”

Maleka Donaldson GramlingMaleka Donaldson Gramling
Ed.D. candidate, Human Development and Education
Presenting “Mistake Handling in the High School Classroom: A Tale of Two Teachers, Worlds Apart”

“I was a kindergarten teacher before I came to HGSE. In my classrooms, I noticed that students had a variety of responses when they made mistakes. There were students who were a little anxious but, with my coaching and support, were willing to take risks and try new things. They soared and were able to push their learning so much. However, there were also students who were afraid of getting things wrong, and actually avoided challenges so they could get everything right all of the time. Because of their fear of mistakes, they tended to make very slow or no progress. This intrigued me, and in my graduate studies I wanted to know more about how students learn, the effect of feedback on student learning, and the complex interpersonal dynamics of teacher-student interactions during instruction.

“My analysis looks at two high school English teachers – one at an elite private school serving mostly economically advantaged white students, and one at a public charter school serving largely low-SES students of color. Comparing across these two individual cases, I was struck by just how very different the student experience of these classes must be…. Both teachers came across as incredibly thoughtful about their practice, devoted to their students, and well-intentioned. However, I think the silent inequalities in mistake-handling and classroom culture can have tangible, long term impacts on students that contribute to the web of injustice in American education. For example, what types of professions are these students being prepared for? Will students become employees who can accurately and consistently comply to stated procedures provided by a manager? Or will they become visionary leaders and entrepreneurs who boldly take risks and confidently carve their own pathways in life? This is something I hope to bring to light in this study and throughout my career — how students understand their mistakes matter, and teacher responses set the tone.”

Brandon WilkesBrandon Wilks
Harvard College sophomore
Participating on the panel, “The Black Male Crisis: Voices from Within”

“The idea of ‘Voices from Within’ is to uncover the voices that do not fit the assumed monolithic tale in the background of discourse regarding black men in our society from debates on incarceration and poverty, to movements like #BlackLivesMatter, to the education gap, and even popular culture. As a black Harvard College male student, born in New York City and predominately raised in a small town in the South, I grew up in a lower, middle class home. In high school, I participated in varsity football, weightlifting, and track and field. I also participated in the debate, math, and French competition teams. I learned to navigate different social spaces from people with different backgrounds, especially while code switching for my middle to upper middle classmates in my AP classes who were ‘nerds,’ to my friends who were jocks, and to my extended family members who came from a complete different background and life experience than even I knew. This navigating circles continued and became an even bigger part of my life at Harvard College, which prides itself on its diversity of class and race, to ultimately bring together people from a very diverse background with varied life experiences to a conversation….

“I’m participating in this panel because it spoke to a common burden I faced in life, with my actions representing what a black male is, especially as one of the few black people some have ever interacted with. This is a burden when growing up in a predominately white area, but my voice cannot speak for every black male and my narrative will not cover all the intricacies that a black male may face in his lifetime. I provide just one voice that is as unique and different as the multiple voices, narratives, and identities of other black males throughout our society. I find hope in that sharing my narrative dismantles the assumed monolithic tale and removes this overbearing stone that burdens a black male by creating stereotypes that he must succumb to or fight against in every interaction.”

Hung Ngyuen

Hung Nguyen
U-Mass Boston undergraduate student
Presenting “Queer and Southeast Asian”

“If you think about asking me to choose between being gay, Asian, or male, it’s impossible because those are my lived experiences. Those are my identities and asking me to choose one among them is an inaccurate depiction of my lived experiences. Specifically, for me, being Vietnamese, asking an elder about what is gay or lesbian, you will either get scowled at or laughed at and it won’t be talked about. When you think of the trauma our ancestors went through with the war and getting to the U.S., then to find out your son or daughter is gay — it is almost, in a way, as if we are not repaying them for all that they did and it’s a shame on the family name…. My mentor Sarath and people I’ve encountered in the community, have taught me we are not really alone. When I make connection with another queer Asian or ‘gayasian,’ in that second, gay racism and Asian homophobia doesn’t seem as scary anymore. You feel like can take on the world with each other. I’ve seen how much I’ve grown from it and how much can be done. I want to continue. I want to bring other young people along not just gay Asians but people of color, and trans folks, who have amazing stories but are too shy to speak about.”