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The Power of Activist Scholarship in Addressing Injustice and Intolerance

The events that recently took place at the University of Missouri are not isolated incidents. Sadly, they are only the most recent examples of a growing trend and reflect the injustices on campuses and in communities across the United States and worldwide. Rather than use this space to recapitulate these events, we instead consider how and why the field must be responsive to these injustices, how we should use these events to make decisions about instruction and about the culture we establish in our classrooms, and how we might use our scholarship to aid in the struggle for justice.

On one hand, acts of injustice seem incompatible with the culture of higher education—which is supposed to support rational thinking, human rights, and informed debate. Yet even at institutions of higher education, where most individuals consider themselves scholars, each of us carries with us experiences, prejudices, and perspectives that are not informed by scholarly work or debate. We cannot take the position that we are “above” the prejudices and stances which have long personal and sociological histories.

Scholars who investigate issues of racism, who have studied the nature and impact of personal and professional identity, and who have done work in other relevant areas have contributed much to our understanding of beliefs, decision-making, and social interactions. Their contributions are what schools and colleges of education, and faculty in these places, must attend to. We must create programmatic strategies that can lay bare to those we teach these perspectives and prejudices and informed insights about their origins. We must provide space in our classrooms—not only for conversation and informed debate, as painful as these might be, but also for opportunities for such dialogue to extend beyond classroom walls in the hope that it will lead to greater mutual respect and deeper learning. We also must include administrators in these efforts. It’s the least we can do for those we educate and for society, to whose health and well-being we have always claimed to contribute.

As members of the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial leadership team, we want these conversations to be informed by our research and scholarship. JTE has published scholarly papers with insights about the ways in which individuals of color have experienced toxic environments in K-12 schools and in institutions of higher education. Much of this work takes an explicitly activist stance in using research to solve real-world problems. As teacher educators, we must respond to events which contribute to such environments; if we do not, we are, in fact, complicit in their occurrence.

We see JTE and AACTE as vehicles for promoting and highlighting courageous conversations and for providing space for scholarly inquiry around issues which contribute to the creation of a safe, inclusive, antiracist, and antihegemonic learning environment, whether in a K-12 classroom, in our universities, or in our communities.

In sum, we ask that you, as scholars and as teacher educators, consider the following: How can what we have learned from our scholarly work inform the way we live and the way we treat each other, and, conversely, how can living better and treating each other well prompt particular kinds of scholarship?

Gail Richmond, professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, is coeditor of the Journal of Teacher Education. Alyssa Hadley Dunn, assistant professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University, is assistant editor of JTE.

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Gail Richmond

Professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University

Alyssa Hadley Dunn

Assistant professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University