To Be Seen and Valued: Strategies to Affirm and Support Arab American Students’ Cultural Identities
The authors of this article write from a positionality as Black women teacher-educators who value the cultural identities K-12 students bring into the learning space. As such, they prepare teacher-candidates to value, respect, and include the cultural identities and experiences of students. Much of teacher-candidates’ preparation includes modeled teaching and learning practices infused throughout their courses.
Teachers are often looked upon to develop and sustain classroom spaces that include and value the cultural identities and experiences of students. However, many teachers do not share similar cultural identities and experiences with their students. Muhammad suggests, “youth need opportunities in school to explore multiple facets of selfhood, but also to learn about the identities of others who may differ (Muhammad, 2020, p. 67).
Based on the U.S. Census data, 2006-2010, 1.5 million households identified as of Arab ancestry (Asi & Beaulieu, 2013). Although often misrepresented as a homogenous group, Arab Americans come from various countries located in both the Middle East and North Africa (Asi & Beaulieu, 2013). It is essential to recognize that Arab Americans differ in “racial, cultural, religious, geographic, and economic features” (Ahmed, Kia-Keating & Tsai, 2011, p. 181).
We pose this question: In what ways are you creating and sustaining a learning space that acknowledges the “multiple faces of selfhood” of Arab American students? And to a broader extent, how are you including the voices, identities and experiences of Arab American students? Below are a few suggestions.
I see you. Society sometimes can intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate stereotypes, assumptions and biases of any identity group. Instead of being (mis)informed, educators should create spaces that not only acknowledge but affirm Arab American students’ cultural identities. Take a moment to reflect on these questions, Do I know my students’ names and how to pronounce them correctly? How do I acknowledge the presence of all students in the classroom?
I value your life experiences. Students should be afforded opportunities to engage in authentic experiences and encounters that allow them to reflect on self. Experiences happen daily and heavily shape our identities. Take a moment to reflect on this question: How am I valuing the day-to-day lived experiences of my students?
Doing the work. The responsibility or “the work” of acknowledging, respecting, and meaningfully embedding student cultural identities rests on classroom teachers. Teachers can diversify classroom libraries to include texts that center Arab American characters and are written by Arab American writers. Additionally, teachers can include Arab American history in their curriculum year-round, not just during the month of April, Arab American Heritage month.
Take a moment to reflect on these questions: How can I develop lesson activities and classroom dialogue that celebrates the culture, voices and diverse experiences of Arab Americans? How can I sustain a welcoming, inclusive, and safe classroom space where my students feel seen and valued?
Our students’ experiences matter. Their identities matter. And including students’ experiences and identities in the classroom matters.
Christina Wright Fields, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of education at Marist College. She is co-chair of AACTE’s Global Diversity Committee and a member of the Global Education Faculty PLC.
Dana A. Gathers, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of education at Marist College.
Ahmed, S. R., Kia-Keating, M., & Tsai, K. H. (2011). A structural model of racial discrimination, acculturative stress, and cultural resources among Arab American adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 48, 181-192.
Asi, M., & Beaulieu, D. (2013). Arab households in the United States, 2006-2010. Suitland, MA:
US Department of Commerce, Economic and Statistics Administration, US Census Bureau.
Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic Incorporated.
Tags: diversity, equity, inclusion