NVC Leads Way with Ethnic Studies Educators’ Academy

Teaching racism as a public health crisis was the theme for the first Ethnic Studies Educators’ Academy (ESEA), which is a part of the “Democratizing Racial Justice,” grant between UTSA and the Alamo Colleges.

UTSA was awarded a three-year, $5 million grant, from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support community partnerships focused on advancing a more democratic society through racial justice and social equity.

Twenty-five higher education faculty from around the region attended the virtual event (about half of those were from the Alamo Colleges), said Dr. Sandra Garza, coordinator for the Mexican American Studies Program (MAS) at Northwest Vista College, which is project liaison for the Alamo Colleges. As the liaison, Dr. Garza and her team will be key institutional partner in creating Educators’ Academies for faculty, shareable teaching guides, and strengthening transfer pathways to UTSA for students committed to the study of racial justice as a career path.

Below Dr. Garza notes some of the highlights of the recent Academy.

Racism as a Public Health Crisis

Our theme for this first year focuses on teaching with the Resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in San Antonio. The City of San Antonio City Council members voted to pass the resolution on August 20, 2020, amid an ongoing global Black Lives Matter movement and an intensifying Covid-19 pandemic. This important document was co-drafted by Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan from District 2 and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval from District 7.

According to the City of San Antonio announcement page, “The resolution recognizes San Antonio’s history of segregation and redlining; the link between racism and negative health outcomes; and the health inequities experienced by Black, Latinx, and other people of color in San Antonio” (link to announcement). By selecting this as the theme, we encouraged attendees to think about instructional design and campus programming that reflects our current realities as a city and the aims of the Resolution to promote racial equity in San Antonio as a matter of public health. This declaration serves as a way for us to consider our responsibilities as educators and community partners working in the areas of Ethnic Studies and other racial-justice centered areas.

Community Speakers to Hearing Student Voices

We featured speakers who represent local community organizations to emphasize the importance of understanding our relationships to communities beyond the college and university. Our “Ethnic Studies as Community Praxis” panel included Karla Aguilar, Development director at the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, Susana Segura, Coordinator for the Arte es Vida Project and Barrio Historian with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and Heather Williams, Program Director for the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum. They spoke about the purpose of these organizations, current initiatives, as well as how to form meaningful and sustainable relationships that will benefit our students and city.

We also featured a panel of Ethnic Studies students and alumni from the Alamo Colleges and UTSA who spoke about the significance of African American Studies and Mexican American Studies courses in their higher education paths: Benjamin White, Elizabeth Thomas, Nati Román, and Julissa Juárez. These brilliant students addressed the personal and academic benefits of African American and Mexican American Studies courses by sharing how they apply knowledge gained through them in everyday settings, in the workplace, and in their personal lives. They shared their goals for a better future and grounded us in that vision for Ethnic Studies programs in San Antonio.

The Need for Intersectionality 

We created speaker panels that addressed the need for intersectional approaches and methods to addressing racism and public health across the curriculum and the importance of understanding Black and Brown representation, realities, and relations. Dr. Nicole Carr (TAMUSA), for example, spoke about the importance of centering the voices of Black mothers and birth-givers in the efforts to address the Black maternal health disparities in the United States.

Dr. Philis Barragán (TAMUSA) spoke about the centrality of Mexican American women in the creation of culturally responsive schools, or escuelitas, in South Texas. Dr. Adrien Sebro (UT Austin) explained the significance of pop culture and spoke about the role of the media in creating just futures for African Americans and Afrolatinx people. Dr. Valerie Martinez (OLLU) and her student addressed Afro-Latinx representations in local public spaces and shared current and ongoing research in this area. Dr. Jesus Esparza (TSU) shared his approaches to teaching and the history of Mexican American and African American education in Texas schools and police brutality in the region.

Academy participants attended speaker panels and then entered into brainstorming and writing workshops that allowed us to exchange ideas, share experiences, and develop meaningful connections to strengthen our work as Ethnic Studies educators.

Next Steps

Our next step is to recruit the group of Academy graduates who will continue with us into the next stage: creating a shareable teaching guide that will be available through the UTSA Democratizing Racial Justice website. This is a three-year grant so each year will include an ESEA Academy and the creation of a shareable teaching guide.

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