Education and Social Justice Students and members of the Human Services Students of Color Union stand together after the Feb. 1 Woodring community assembly (from left to right: Sanne de Boer, Elizabeth Kelly, Daisy Ceniceros, Arely Dominguez, Gloria Guizar, Ana Lisa Lazaro, Natalie Chan, Anne Lee). // Photo by Laura Place
by Laura Place
In response to alleged failures by Woodring College of Education to adequately prepare students for the education field as well as support students during their time within the college, various student groups have formed to bring forth demands and needs to improve the program. These needs were presented on Friday, Feb. 1 at a Woodring Community Assembly in Miller Hall.
Woodring faculty sat in the front two rows of the lecture hall and listened as students from the Human Services Students of Color Union, Students for Public Education, the Education and Social Justice minor, the Master’s in Teaching program, Woodring alumnae and students from other areas of Woodring shared testimonies and demands for improving Woodring programs.
“We felt kind of powerless in our program, we felt intimidated by the size of it and the scope of it,” said Jace Cotton, a second-year elementary education student and member of Students for Public Education. “We wanted to create a community for ourselves and incoming students to learn from each other.”
Student co-chairs for the Woodring Equity and Diversity Committee Sanne de Boer and Gloria Guizar led the community assembly and invited different groups and individuals within Woodring to share testimonies and demands compiled at past meetings.
“We are here to work with each other, not against each other, but we cannot guarantee that there will not be some discomfort with the topics discussed,” de Boer said at the beginning of the assembly.
The student-led assembly was a stepping stone to a larger forum planned to take place on March 1, where faculty and administrators will be the ones up front, telling students how they plan to address areas of concern in the department, Guizar said.
According to Guizar, the dean of Woodring college Horacio Walker has been receptive to students’ push for change and increased accountability, and sent emails to Woodring faculty members reminding them about the assembly.
“The [upcoming] forum will be more on them,” Guizar said of the Woodring faculty.
Certain needs for improvement within the college were reiterated by different Woodring student groups, including the need for increased transparency when it comes to navigating different education programs, better incorporation of social justice topics throughout students’ time in the program and more opportunities for student feedback.
Cotton said despite the considerable length of the elementary education program, Woodring’s classes do not incorporate enough social justice and equity-focused content. Cotton added that the responsibility is then put on students to seek out this knowledge themselves.
“You can put some of it on majors and hope people are able to take the Education and Social Justice minor, but a lot of it is on this program,” Cotton said. “I really hope we’re able to do better.”
Zachary Lundgren, a graduate student in the Master’s in Teaching program, said Woodring’s graduate program also exhibits a lack of continued focus on and commitment to teaching social justice and equity to students.
“The MIT program is not adequately preparing me and my classmates to navigate the complex social challenges embedded in education in regards to diversity, inclusion, equity and justice and a lot of other issues,” Lundgren said.
Lundgren cited a recent incident at Squalicum High School where a teacher at the school, who Lundgren said is also a graduate of Woodring’s MIT program, threatened to call the police on a Black parent attending a basketball game on Jan. 22.. Lundgren said this racially-motivated incident is an example of the consequences of the lack of realistic preparation of students in the program.
“That concerns me a lot,” Lundgren said of the incident. “It should concern everybody in this room. My ask is that Woodring do a better job in preparing its students.”
A list of student needs, compiled by different groups within Woodring, has been in the works since December, when the college held a Fall Student Feedback Forum for Woodring students. Following this forum, plans for the Feb. 1 assembly were developed and discussed by students on Jan. 25 at a Woodring Students Planning Meeting.
The Human Services Students of Color Union, organized in fall 2018 by Human Services student and Associated Students Vice President for Student Life Anne Lee, highlighted a number of needs, including increased support for marginalized communities in the Human Services program and more resources for the Center of Education, Equity and Diversity, or CEED.
“As many of us who hold marginalized identities, we and many other students in Woodring find community, nurturance, and care in a program and space like CEED,” a document listing needs released by the Human Services Students of Color Union states.
The needs and demands document, titled “Human Services Students of Color Union Demands/Needs 2018-2019” also describes students’ concern that Woodring isn’t completing its first priority, “Justice Oriented, Diversity Practices,” listed in the college’s strategic plan.
“These terms remain empty of tangible funding, college-wide support, and acknowledgment / compensation for the faculty and staff (of marginalized identities) who work around the clock to mentor and support students emotionally, physically, socially, and intellectually,” student union members stated in the document.
Lee said she started the Human Services Students of Color Union with the encouragement and help of Woodring professor Brett Coleman as a way to create a space for students of color to connect in the predominantly-white program.
“I started this group to talk about the experiences in the classroom about how we felt pushed out and excluded,” Lee said. “Through meeting with each other and just connecting, we found community, we found solidarity, and the energy to present our needs today.”
In a list of general college needs, Woodring students asked that Woodring Diversity Recruitment & Retention Specialist Nat Reilly be given a full-time staff position within the college. When presenting feedback from the Woodring student meeting on Jan. 25, students emphasized the importance of putting resources for students of color within the department directly on class syllabi, so students of marginalized identities can reach out to sources of support such as Reilly.
Members of the Students for Public Education also shared a list of needs that included three main goals for Woodring: transparency regarding the length of the program and guidance from faculty, increased social justice education throughout the program and more chances for student input regarding curriculum.
The group shared concerns about the lack of weight course evaluations carry in impacting change in the college, a sentiment that was also reiterated by other groups during the event.
“Course evaluations are not working for feedback,” Students for Public Education members read from a Powerpoint outlining their demands at the assembly.
Students also expressed a need for clarification regarding exactly programs are considered to be part of Woodring, saying there has been confusion regarding the role of the Education and Social Justice minor, Family and Community Engagement Teaching and the Future Woodring Scholars Program within the college.
Students within the Woodring Peer Mentor program also expressed their demand for Angela Harwood to be reinstated with full tenured pay as a professor in the Future Woodring Scholars program, among other demands. A number of students in the program read testimonies speaking to Harwood’s role as a crucial instructor and mentor for students, especially in the Future Woodring Scholars program.
Following the assembly, Guizar said she hopes that addressing and tackling these issues within Woodring will help students in other colleges at Western to take similar actions.
“We’re trying to start small, in this college, so other colleges can look at what we’re doing and hopefully make institutional change,” Guizar said.
One Woodring student also spoke to her negative experiences within Woodring as a transfer student. Education and Social Justice student Dania Jaramillo said she did not end up with the amount of transferred credits she was promised when she decided to transfer from the education program at Skagit Valley College. Jaramillo said she transferred through the Maestros Para el Pueblo partnership program between Skagit Valley College and Western, which seeks to increase opportunities for teaching education for Latinx students and families.
“The fact that there were promises made that are now unfulfilled is what makes me the most frustrated, because I did over 100 credits [at Skagit Valley College] and I don’t even have a transfer degree right now,” Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo also detailed how she is not eligible for a parking spot on campus due to her lack of credits, which she said causes complications when she commutes from Mount Vernon for classes at Western. She said since she can’t park on campus, she has to rush to drop off her son at Western’s Child Development Center and then find other parking, which causes her to be late to class.
She said aside from the stress of not being able to park on campus, constantly having to be late to class is not only a waste of her time, but also her tuition money.
“I just feel like by even doing that, I’m not only wasting my own personal resources but also the resources allocated through scholarships here, because I’m simply not getting my money’s worth by not getting a parking space,” Jaramillo said.
At the end of the assembly, organizers gathered questions and comments from the audience directed toward Woodring faculty and dean Walker, to be addressed at the next forum on March. 1 .