By Emily Rosman ’17
A small group of students at St. Bonaventure University are tackling a big project – raising awareness about “otherness,” especially in education.
The purpose of the research, conducted by Dr. Anne-Claire Fisher and Dr. Paul Brawdy, is to understand how education students who self-identify as “other” might qualify their teacher-training experiences (classes and internships) in a predominantly white university and geographical area.
Fisher, assistant professor in the School of Education, began working on this research when she spoke with a graduate student who lived in the metropolitan New York area and was from the Dominican Republic. The student was bilingual and also spoke with a fast New York accent. During her internship experiences in the area, her accent was consistently corrected.
Fisher began to wonder, “If we’re going to teach students to be culturally responsive as they teach diverse students, then are we being culturally responsive with our teacher candidates?”
The main research question that emerged was whether teacher educators were teaching all students to teach as white teachers, regardless of their origin.
Fisher approached the classes she was teaching and asked if people who felt “other” would be willing to participate in her research. “Other” was defined broadly — race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, culture, language, ability. Some didn’t feel “other,” but decided to participate anyway. Six students agreed to assist.
Using cooperative inquiry — a design first used in 1996 by John Heron, a pioneer in the creation of participatory research — the group created the questions they discussed during five meetings during spring semester. All meetings were taped and transcribed. Transcriptions and emerging themes were then collaboratively reflected on during the summer with the help of Moodle, a free and open-source software learning management system.
After watching the passion with which the students researched “otherness” in their communities, Fisher invited all the students to attend a conference to present their research. Only two — Nicole Dailey, a senior with a double certification in elementary education and special education, and Micaela Young, a senior elementary and early childhood education major — were able to travel to the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) conference in New Orleans in October.
The NAME conference hosted both academics and students from around the world.
“The most eye-opening thing was there were so many people there advocating for those who don’t have a voice and we learned how to integrate that into our classrooms,” said Dailey.
Dailey and Young both volunteered to help Fisher and Brawdy with their research because they both felt “other” at St. Bonaventure’s campus. Dailey feels “other” because she is one of the only people of color in her education class. Young has ADHD, a learning disability.
Both students spoke with academics at the conference. One really stuck out to Young because, “… she gave us a lot of confidence about everything going on at our school. People who feel they are ‘other’ feel like they have to change something about themselves to make the norm group feel comfortable. She made Nicole, in particular, feel like she didn’t have to apologize for being who she is.”
That was Fisher’s goal. She wanted to see the students actively participate in discussion and she witnessed real growth in both of them.
“As a Franciscan university, I really appreciate the Franciscan approach. We do support diversity well in service, but we need to dig deeper about what the nature of service is,” said Fisher. “We need to look at situations where we are equals, where we’re not just giving to people less fortunate but where students learn from these service opportunities.”
Young and Dailey agreed and thought that the conference was a great way to actively start a discussion.
“It’s really important to be aware of differences and make it OK to be different,” said Young. “We want to celebrate differences and appreciate everyone for who they are.”
The next step for Fisher and Brawdy’s research is to come up with a research paper based on the presentation at the NAME conference and the transcripts from the students’ original interviews.
“Something important is that we’re getting this conversation started on our campus,” said Young. “We’re ahead of some places in even talking about it.” Dailey and Young's next goal is to try to start the first chapter of NAME at St. Bonaventure.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #3 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition. Our students are becoming extraordinary.
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