At this year’s annual Fall into Place conference, we invited Val Day-Sanchez to be one of our guest keynote speakers and workshop leaders. Val (she/they) is an antiracist educator, professor of communication, social activist, author, and champion of inclusivity. Val is the founder of The Only Back Girl in the Room, a company with the mission to utilize education and facilitated discussions to help individuals and organizations adopt inclusive practices to advance equitable policies and procedures for marginalized group members. Val has dedicated her life to education and believes in the power of knowledge to combat the social justice issues that plague society. The Equity & Justice Workshops she facilitates take place all over the country, and most recently have been taking place virtually, such as with us.
Val created a “safe space” for open discussion among OST and Afterschool providers on some tough topics: race, racism, and intersectionality. She guided the group through a couple of prompts to warm things up. The first prompt was to think and write about the first time that you felt truly confident in school, this oriented the critical discussion that would follow around the underlying motivations people in the OST space have to teach and support kids. Val also asked participants to remember the first time that they had felt “seen” by an educator or had an educator that looked like you. One of the biggest takeaways from the discussion to follow was that students do not arrive at your door with a clean slate. If a student is experiencing daily discrimination based on some aspect of their identity, whether it is constructed around race, gender, ethnicity, or immigration status, then it is inadvisable as an educator to treat them just like other students without acknowledgement of their inner life and struggles.
On a fundamental level, Val’s workshop served as an important reminder for educators to increase their awareness of their students’ lived experience and give grace to their students. There are many ways educators can do this. Whether it is having more flexibility built into their curriculum and assignments, having more appropriate (and private) response to what is seen as “bad behavior,” or being sensitive to individual needs. She found that a good way to demonstrate best practices in this regard was to point out several examples of what not to do. Such as, assigning a project that requires driving during out of school hours. She points out that many students’ parents work late into the evening, even on weekends, and there is no guarantee that they would have access to transportation.
Check out Val’s Ted Talk, “Silence is Killing Us,” to learn more about the issue of race and racism in the United States, and more specifically in New Mexico.