Let’s Talk About Allyship: A Key Piece of the Puzzle

The pandemic has had devastating impacts on student learning and well-being. Over the last two years, schools have faced shutdowns, distance learning, and severe staff shortages. Furthermore, students and educators continue to struggle with mental health challenges and concerns about learning loss.

As schools navigate the “new normal” reality of a lingering pandemic, how can educators continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion in and out of the classroom? The answer that I present to you is to become the “Key Piece of the Puzzle” through Allyship.

What is Allyship, and who is an Ally?

Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, the Director of the Diversity Programs at Mayo Clinic, defines the act of allyship as “when a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group’s basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society.”

Allyship starts with reflecting on one’s own identity, and on society’s dominant identities. The next step is recognizing others’ identities and the ways those identities are privileged or marginalized in society. Allies are willing to see these differences and to make an effort to promote equity — eliminating “otherness” even while acknowledging difference. Allies do not speak for or over the communities they support — they stand with them. It’s hard, it takes practice, but it makes for meaningful dialogue that leads to better outcomes for all.

An Educator’s Guide to Allyship

In the wake of a highly charged social and political landscape, ensuring all students feel respected and protected at school requires educators to become allies: partners in empowerment who speak out against injustice and support marginalized groups and individuals on their own terms.

Whether advocating for marginalized students or supporting their fellow educators, teacher allies must accept the responsibility to focus unwaveringly on how power and privilege function in the school environment and beyond. The Guide to Allyship, is a website that hosts a starter guide to help educators along this journey. It is suggested that for one to be an Ally is to:

· Take on the struggle as your own.

· Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it.

· Amplify voice of the oppressed before your own.

· Acknowledge that even though you feel pain, the conversation is not about you.

· Stand up, even when you feel scared.

· Own your mistakes and de-center yourself.

· Understand that your education is up to you and no one else.

I believe that we’re in a critical moment in our nation’s history, and that we’ve been given the opportunity to take the traumas of the pandemic—and the centuries of pain leading up to it—and set our sights on a new path forward. A path to a future that prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion, safety, empathy, and allyship. Here are some suggestions for educators to take on their path to allyship:

Listen

When listening to fellow educators and students speak about their experience, try to see things from their point of view and engage in active listening—that ability to focus completely on a speaker and thoughtfully explore their message. When having a conversation about race, especially when discussing race with someone of a background or perspective different from yours, offer them your full attention and willingness to understand where they’re coming from.

Learn

Seek new knowledge from a variety of sources: read books, attend lectures, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts. Resources exist to pursue your own allyship education, many of them free! And many activists and educators of color have stepped into these spaces to speak to their own experiences. You can buy their books, follow their social media, seek out their leadership, and compensate them for their work. Remember, this journey toward allyship is ultimately a self-directed one.

Reflect

These uncomfortable spaces, as messy and awkward as they may feel, are fertile grounds for new ideas—about yourself, your experiences, your emotions and reactions, and your assumptions about how others operate. Be cognizant of the moments when an uncomfortable feeling surfaces: this may be an impetus for deeper reflection and personal growth. Once you’ve left the space or conversation that felt tense to you, provide some time for self-evaluation or journaling. You can ask, “What about that conversation made me feel uncomfortable? What was the other person saying, and how does it reflect their lived experience? What insights could I gain by seeing through their lens, instead of my own?” And, more generally, “What role does my race play within my own identity, my sense of self? How often do I think about my race? What specific ways have I gained or lost inherent advantages due to my racial identity?”

Allyship is one of the most important partnerships in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. It can be an opportunity to open eyes and meaningful dialogue that lead to better outcomes for all. To be able to see through the eyes of the marginalized; feel with the heart of the oppressed; and listen with the ears of the outgroups in whatever form they exist (race, ability, xenophobia, etc.) and then become challenges leveraging whatever privilege we have to foster inclusion in our lives. When we champion the cause of the voiceless, we help to advance equity in all spaces and places.

The moment to commit to the lifelong work of allyship is now. Let’s solve the diversity, equity, and inclusion challenge together.

Allie Braswell will present The 3L’s of DEI Leadership: Listen, Learn and Lean-In seminar at the BH IMPACT Summit on Friday, June 24 at 2 p.m. for Charter School Leaders. The session will be filmed and available to the public on BH Connect

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Allie Braswell

President and CEO of the Braswell Group