Does the topic of race or the theme of activism have any place in the classroom? SUNY New Paltz’s School of Education says yes, it does.
On Friday, Nov. 8, the School of Education sponsored the 25th annual Multicultural Education conference. This year’s theme was “Stories and Struggles: Realizing the Power of Movement.”
The conference welcomes educators, parents, students in high school and college and community members to learn more about multicultural education and promises to provide quality resources and strategies that are “practical, useful and applicable.”
Maryellen Whittington-Couse, the co-chair of the event and director of the Midhudson Migrant Education Program, says the committee decided on this theme because they realize the paramount significance of individuals being able to share their stories.
“My experience working with lots of different groups as an educator has been that when people feel like they’re in a learning community and they’re learning from each other, they’re able to learn more,” Whittington-Couse said. “The teacher isn’t the only person who has knowledge.”
To display this year’s theme, the organization The TMI Project brought performers from local high schools who shared their stories. Chapman Parker, from Kingston High School, presented his story as part of a larger project entitled “Locker Room Talk.” The project works with the school’s football team and facilitates conversations among the team where they deconstruct what masculinity is and how they will choose to practice it. Parker shared how his older brothers taught him what masculinity means.
Shawaine Davis presented her story as part of Black Stories Matter, a project The TMI Project began. She shared her experiences being a Jamaican woman in America.
Shannon McManimon, the coordinator for the humanistic and multicultural education program, says that this storytelling speaks to one of the main purposes of these education conferences.
“One of the goals of the conference is creating a space where people from lots of places in the mid-Hudson Valley can come together and talk and have some conversations,” McManimon said. “A lot of schools are trying to continue processes of making space for multiple stories that have often been left out of education. And so we wanted to bring that in as a theme.”
There are many ways storytelling can be part of the classroom, such as having writing prompts about personal stories and identities and allowing students to share. The fundamental principle of the conference is that activities like these would be empowering, educational and establish a safe space within the classroom. Then, that safe space would be conducive to better learning.
In addition to professionals, high school and college students also played an important role in the workshops as both leaders and learners. This was no accident.
Tara Manning, fourth-year history and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies student as well as conference committee member, led a workshop entitled “Empowering Bystander Prevention in the Face of Rape Culture.”
Manning stressed the significance of young people realizing their power and potential to create change.
“There is immense power in creating global movements with youth leaders at the forefront,” Manning said. “Inspired by the advocacy of climate activists and the Parkland gun control advocates, we felt it was imperative to empower educators to encourage activism.”
Manning expressed her belief that students should attend the conference: “[Student attendance] helps inform the future pedagogy of education majors at [SUNY] New Paltz, and helps inspire high school students to make meaningful change in their specific schools!”
One of the goals of the workshops is to offer strategies that teachers and students alike can bring into their classrooms immediately. Last year, there was a workshop entitled “Critical Disability” where attendees learned both long-term and short-term changes they could make to improve accessibility in the classroom. One example is keeping versions of class texts printed in larger fonts than other books.
Another example of a quick modification that could make a huge difference is asking everyone to include their pronouns on their name tags and when everyone introduces themselves. This helps to avoid people being misgendered or being singled out to ask what gender they are.
The Multicultural Education conference celebrates 25 years of creating a space where people can learn and gain inspiration and information from all people, students and professionals alike. To be part of this experience, attend next year’s Multicultural Education conference.