Professors don’t often get to hear the stories of all their students. Dena Simmons, speaker and activist for anti-racist social justice, said she intends to make a space for students voices to be heard.
Simmons engaged students and educators at Western in an intimate conversation on social justice in the academic setting Thursday, Jan. 28, at Woodring College of Education’s Center for Education, Equity and Diversity.
Students expressed their personal experiences surrounding the threats made to students of color at Western at the end of fall quarter. Many expressed disappointment in the media’s controlled narrative of the incident.
Most of the people at Western don’t know what actually happened, said one student.
Simmons is the Director of Implementation at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She is a speaker and activist focused on anti-racist social justice as well as assessing teachers’ preparedness for bullying.
While Simmons may have been the official facilitator of the conversation, she stressed students begin the conversation. She wanted it to be a student empowered space, Simmons said.
Much of the conversation focused on race issues in education. One Woodring student commented that it is important for students to have an open mind about race.
One attendee expressed the struggle she has experienced being Native American. Simmons then hugged her and sat down to ask when do we share hugs? When do we tell people we love them, Simmons asked.
You should tell people you love them, Simmons said.
Simmons said she did not want to be seen as a social justice savior. She’s not here because she’s extraordinary. She’s here because she has to do the work, Simmons said. She want to be put out of work someday, she said.
Simmons commented on the importance of students being the start conversations inside and outside the classroom.
“If we are talking about anything in education, we need to be clear about power dynamics,” Simmons said.
If educators really engage in that conversation first then it’s empowering to students, she said.
As an educator, Simmons said she focuses on bringing compassion and empathy to her students. In education, we have completely lost our humanity, Simmons said.
Simmons discussed how professors might offer more compassion to students.
Simmons said that the educator must step back to allow students to feel that there is an open space to share. Experiences and narratives will show the diversity that is inside the classroom, Simmons said.
“It’s important for educators to reflect on their power of privilege as a way to see outside of themselves,” Simmons said. “I think it takes a concerted effort, especially people of privilege and the mainstream to look at themselves because everything really caters to them, the dominant culture.”
At the end of the conversation, Simmons invited attendees to action. Tell your own story, Simmons said. Be as authentic and as unapologetic as possible because until we make ourselves seen, we are invisible, Simmons concluded.