Makeba’s Corner: The Power In Alliance

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As an education professor, I focus on educational equity and education reform, particularly for students who have been under-served historically by the public school system. Social scientists have long documented the educational injustices served to generations of low-income students and students of color. Inequality is systemic, meaning deficit-oriented, prejudiced and stereotypical beliefs and attitudes held by education leaders influence their decisions about policies and practices aimed at under-serving students. These policies and practices become the daily routine of schools across the country, regularly depriving underrepresented, minority students from their right to a high quality education.

Organizations play a vital role in education reform because they can apply pressure from outside of the system to change damaging policies and practices. For example, organizations on campus run by education researchers, educators and outreach specialists such as CREATE and EAOP develop programs that increase access to academic opportunities and to college information. What makes this work significant are the alliances formed between UCSD organizations and school districts and communities. But equity work needs the voices of students too. College students have an equally vital role to play by merging their individual voices into a strong collective in order to continue the equity work started in K-12 schools.

In my courses I spotlight students’ voices in order to understand educational equity. For one course I assign students the task of investigating a UCSD student organization to understand how student organizations support students’ college experience.  Many students choose to investigate an organization that is unfamiliar to them, whether it’s an organization that focuses on particular ethnic groups, religious views, or common interests such as promoting community service.

The most important outcome of this assignment, for me, is that my students discover that although there are many different organizations on campus, they all try to provide UCSD students with a safe space to be themselves, to feel at home, and to feel connected to a community that helps them deal with challenges they face in college. Student organizations serve an equity purpose they provide students with access to resources and supports otherwise not available to them. However, in light of recent hateful events targeting immigrants and Mexican students at UCSD (and the preceding hateful events surrounding the 2010 “Compton Cookout”), what more needs to be done around educational equity, particularly on college campuses? UCSD student voices are important drivers here in order to extend K-12 equity work.

Students’ experiences on campus should influence larger conversations about equity moves needed at UCSD to create an equity-oriented and inclusive environment. However, individual student groups can’t shoulder the burden. Uniting the voices of various student groups creates a solid foundation for pressing reform on campus. I encourage student organizations to form alliances aimed at working with campus leadership to change the culture of UCSD. Students sparking change has a history in social movements around the world. But what makes social movements a force to be reckoned with, are the alliances that build the foundation for change. Equity moves on college campuses need students who see that equity and inclusion benefit all students and that the fight for equity needs all students.