Discussing Race in the Adult Education Classroom: Dalsaint

This is the first installment of a blog series from The Change Agent featuring adult education students sharing how talking about race in their programs has helped them navigate their lives differently. A note of thanks goes to Riva Pearson for conducting the interview this post highlights.


by Ebony Vandross

During the past year, discussing race has become a visible priority for people and their communities. Topics concerning Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, and protests were among some of the most searched items in 2020.(1) In the adult education field, many professionals found they were in need of more resources and support for addressing these issues with students, and students themselves expressed a desire to discuss what they recognized as a widespread problem. 

At World Education’s Addressing Racial Equity in our Adult Education Classrooms, Programs, and the Field webinar series in April, attendees were drawn in by the testimonials of students who shared their experiences discussing racism in their programs. One of these students, Dalsaint Lavoir, who is an ESOL student at Jewish Vocational Services in Boston, noted the ways in which talking about race with his instructors and peers helped him to navigate his life in the United States.

As an immigrant, it helped us to be more careful and learn how to prevent some issues. When you come here and you don’t know how to deal with… those situations, you could be a victim.

“It’s the reason why the students want to learn more about this topic, because we live here and would like to be… would like to see a better country… where our community is safe and [we] feel confident… that we live in a safe place without fear and without pain.”

For Dalsaint, it was shocking and painful to see images of police brutality and anti-blackness in the media, particularly because it challenged his previous perception of America as a place of opportunity. Recounting viewing footage of the detainment and assault of army Lt. Caron Nazario during a traffic stop (2): “… it’s unbelievable. I wonder [to] myself… that’s America? What happened??” 

Despite these feelings and the fact that it is sometimes difficult to address them, Dalsaint stressed the importance of becoming educated on civil rights and why having these conversations in the classroom was needed. He says to his teacher at JVS, Riva Pearson, “You give us some advice to handle those situations, some laws [about] how to deal with police officers, and let us know our rights. That was helpful.” (See the lesson Riva developed called “Talking to the Police” here.)

Image of Change Agent article "Strategies for Healing" by Elizabeth NguyenAt a Distance Education Strategy webinar in July 2020, Riva Pearson talked about what led her to address race in the classroom in a more impactful way, and how doing so enabled her to give her students tools to help them process some of the things they were reading and seeing. 

“Several students had seen the video of George Floyd and were feeling a lot of fear and stress, and so I posted… this article from the Talking About Race issue of The Change Agent about healing from racism, and we’d read it before but it became much more personally relevant to them. So we went back to it in order to give them some strategies to deal with their stress.”

As “Strategies for Healing” author Elizabeth Nguyen writes: “I try to take action because when I am changing our racist system, I am showing myself that transformation is possible.”(3)

 

 

 

Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged from doing the right thing.

Dalsaint also spoke about the importance of taking action, including voting. He notes that while barriers such as gerrymandering and voter suppression are rampant, voting is still our “nuclear weapon.” He goes on to say that activism is one of the most important tools people have to address issues in an impactful way, He says, “I saw [on] tv last year people protesting around this country. It’s a great way to fight back but without violence. That’s the best strategy. To make your voice heard.”

References

  1. Google’s Year in Search 2020
  2. Virginia Investigating Pepper-Spraying Of Army Officer Caron Nazario
  3. “Strategies for Healing” by Elizabeth Nguyen from Talking About Race

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