Removing the Shield

Ti'Era Worsley, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Positionality
I identify as both a Black woman and a woman of color from North Carolina. I am an informal STEM educator currently going into my third year as a doctoral student. As I navigate academia, I find that I am drawn to creating spaces where historically marginalized youth feel that they can bring their whole selves and engage in learning in ways that have traditionally been overlooked.

Reflection
March 27, the first day of the stay at home order in NC, was the moment when Covid-19 became real for me. Initially, I took some solace in the statistics not showing a disparity among the Black community, but that quickly changed. The unsettling statistics of how the Black populations were disproportionately being affected by the virus (Kaur, 2020). My fear was at an all-time high, not only was I scared of contracting the virus, I was afraid to be turned away at the hospital. I listened as most people were afraid of just contracting the virus and my fear was to be turned away or not receive adequate help just because I am a Black woman (Bridges, 2018). I hated thinking of this, but I knew this was my reality as a Black woman.

This quarantine has further amplified a lot of the daily struggles and fears I have living in a Black body in the U.S. These feelings were heightened because I no longer had my daily routine of work and school to hide behind. Over the years I have learned to silence parts of myself to fit into academic and professional settings. My earliest memory is in kindergarten, where I was implicitly expected to not know more than what my teacher was prepared to teach. When I answered questions correctly with pride, it was met with comments such as ”Oh, well clearly Ti’Era knows more than everyone else.” To be singled out consistently for knowing caused me to silence my voice in class. Because of this when I enter spaces, I leave parts of Ti’Era at the door (i.e., my lived experiences and my honest thoughts/opinions). In being trained to leave these pieces at the door, inadvertently, it has become my shield when I enter professional spaces. Working in predominantly white spaces, I have found that my colleagues and peers find it difficult to discuss race and discrimination; thus, further allowing me to shield myself from having difficult conversations with them. But during this pandemic, I have removed my shield and faced racism head-on. Facing racism head-on during the pandemic, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, has been a very vulnerable yet empowering moment because I have finally allowed myself to fully engage in the moment instead of hide. I have embraced these feelings of anger, fear, and sadness and now feel empowered to use my voice to speak out on injustices.

As an emerging STEM educational researcher, I have used this time to reflect on what this pivotal moment means for me as a socially just and critical educator. I keep asking myself “How do I return to teaching STEM to Black youth while addressing the current events that have taken place?” and “What changes do I plan to make to my STEM instruction?” I find it critical to address these current events with youth by providing them with the opportunity to speak, reflect, and express themselves. I refuse to forego their social-emotional learning to create the illusion of a positive classroom environment. I strongly believe it is important for Black students to bring in and unpack their history, culture, and experience into the STEM classroom. If these things are not discussed it implicitly tells youth that their experiences and knowledge are not welcome.

This moment in history is crucial to address in all contexts. For many, this is the first time they have had to confront racism head-on and sit with the discomfort. With the disruption to our daily schedule, it has been difficult for people to pull away or disengage from watching these injustices towards the Black community. As we move forward, it is my hope that people learn to confront their discomfort and engage in these critical conversions that must happen.

References

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Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.