The "Brown Bag Lunch"
How to create a Critical Diversity Literate Art School, in which students and teachers of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, genders, sexualities and (dis)abilities feel treated with equity and are supported to explore their full potential? This is the question at the heart of, and one of the main goals of, the project 'Brown Bag Lunch' (BBL) presented by WdKA Makes a Difference. We are thus interested in rethinking pedagogy, in increasingly diverse learning environments within the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, through various programmes and methods. Our concern as educational professionals is that traditional academic environments are inadequate in serving this diverse body of students. In response we decided to create a space for interested teachers in which informal academic exchanges could occur.
In September 2015 we organised the first in our series of Brown Bag Lunches. We began by discussing an article by Frank Tuitt on 'Realizing a More Inclusive Pedagogy'. Tuitt proposes 'a variety of pedagogical models that focus on the education of the whole individual – that is, the union of the mind, body, and soul of human beings.' (Tuitt 2003, 243). 'Inclusive Pedagogy' is a form of Pedagogy which advocates teaching practices that embrace the whole student in the learning process. Learning and collaborating at the boundaries and intersections of different educational backgrounds and levels, disciplines, genders, ages, interests, etc. are issues recognised by all teachers in the group. As practitioners we feel the need to be self-aware, particularly asking the questions: who are we? and: who are our students? Are we facilitators, transformative educators or providers, serving pre-framed knowledges and practices?
Narratology, one of the many models reviewed by Tuitt, appeared to be a compelling method. Teachers were keen to explore how personal narratives could promote critical thinking by using students' personal narratives to appraise the canons of knowledge used in our various educational settings. This method could also be used to increase awareness of wider systemic power structures. In this way the stories become de-personalised and rather represent a framework for critical reflection and possibly reveal aspects of shared experiences amongst dominant and marginalised groups in the learning environment, thus enabling the development of (self-)critical awareness in everyday life.
However, in our discussions teachers also expressed caution in engaging students in this way, as it puts more pressure on teachers to manage emotional slippages and possible discontent among other students who may prioritise more formal knowledge streams, as well as concern for the students who speak out about their experiences as part of marginalised groups. While seeing this as a valuable experiential resource for themselves and others, it can also leave students exposed and vulnerable, running the risk of becoming a spectacle for students belonging to more dominant (hence less vulnerable) groups. It is thus intrinsic to hear the dominant group's reflections and opinions in order to analyse their contributions equally. In this way students can also be encouraged to contribute to the construction of knowledge and classroom dynamics. Teachers felt that they too could harness their own personal narratives in the learning environment, at the beginning of each new course, so that students have a better understanding of who they are. This also allows us to think through which aspects of our identity students would perceive as important and that are thus related to, or influence, the way we teach. Such sharing can be a form of pushing, i.e. making students do connecting work whereby the diversity of the reactions elicited by the teacher's narrative can be used to help students learn about competing narratives and analyses.
'We are working and living in an emotional environment – but the school constructs itself as rational,' one WdKA teacher mentioned. Owing to a concern with the contradictory nature of this observation, teachers are apprehensive of such approaches being perceived as replacement therapy sessions, while nevertheless agreeing that it is invaluable to raise awareness of the notion of differences in 'speaking positions'. An important remark during this discussion focused on the concept of emotional safety in the classroom, with teachers finding it important to distinguish between empathy and sharing on one hand and friendship on the other. Employing these kinds of practices does not mean that 'everybody leaves as friends'. A desired framing is one that prioritises transparency, in other words to address the power structures which our Bodies reproduce in a classroom setting, and to be able as professionals to discuss and reflect on these power structures with the group.
While there was a general agreement that Inclusive Pedagogy offers many valuable tools and insights for further development, there was also a realisation that many teachers would not only lack the confidence to embrace such an approach, but also do not necessarily see it as part of their professional (cognitive, task-driven) imperative. However those teachers participating in the BBL, which is a racially and culturally diverse group, who embraced Narratology and apply it in the pedagogical approach, face different responses by students which are often forms of personalised projections on the teachers' Bodies. White teachers are often confronted by students with remarks such as 'who are you to address the issue of power and race', which white teachers said make it difficult for them to respond. In the BBL group we agreed that there are no universally correct answers for these questions, but that it was important to try to understand and reflect upon each critical (and sometimes painful) comment.
The BBL has proven to be an opportunity to not only support teachers who are committed to bringing social change to the ways in which we teach, but also has become an invaluable resource for us as researchers to develop strategies and methods for creating more awareness of the power structures that are reproduced in our classrooms.
Teana Boston-Mammah (MA) is a sociologist. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Sociology at Essex University (UK) and a Master's degree in Urban Studies and Public Policy at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is particularly interested in notions of identity in an urban context. For the first ten years of her career she worked as a teacher of sociology in London. In the Netherlands, she went on to develop her research and policy advising skills. She worked for more than eleven years as a policy advisor / researcher for Scala, a non-profit expertise centre for gender and diversity in Rotterdam. Research areas include: the glass ceiling, emancipation in Rotterdam, radicalisation, fatherhood, sexual diversity and gendered social contact patterns. Since 2012 she has worked as a consultant and researcher for various organisations in Rotterdam: Formaat, Het Peutercollege and the research centre Creating 010. In her free time Teana organises, as a co-founder of the foundation RotterdamINK, various events in the context of women's empowerment issues. Teana is a board member of various non-profits. Her research on gender and social contact theory in a superdiverse neighbourhood in South Rotterdam was published recently (July 2015).
Nana Adusei-Poku (PhD) is a Research Professor in Cultural Diversity at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, and a Lecturer in Media Arts at the University of the Arts, Zürich. She was a scholarship doctoral student at Humboldt University, Berlin, working on the curatorial concept of post-black in relation to contemporary Black artists, following degrees in African studies and gender studies at Humboldt University, and in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Ghana, Legon; the London School of Economics; and Columbia University, New York. She is an advisory Board Member of the Swiss Research Project Art School Differences and the Queer Theory Institute, Berlin. She published 'The Challenge to Conceptualise the Multiplicity of Multiplicities – Post-Black Art and Its Intricacies' in Post-racial Imaginaries, a special issue of Dark Matter, among other articles including most recently: 'Catch me if you can!' which is a critical reflection on the state of Diversity and Decolonisation in the arts and art education: http://www.internationaleonline.org/resources/decolonising_museums.