By Kimberley Jung (she/her), teacher, West Vancouver
We gathered some perspectives from former students who were a part of Rockridge Secondary’s Youth Alliance for Intersectional Justice last year. We asked them about what their experiences were like having the support of BIPOC teachers before, and moving in to, their post-secondary lives.
How has having BIPOC teachers changed your perspective on education?
Twyla Frid Lottenberg
“It is hard to say one thing when it is everything. There is a fellowship to seeing someone at the front of the room who is a BIPOC teacher and has an understanding beyond the Eurocentric cannon. Seeing a teacher who looks like me shows me what could be possible for myself. As a young woman of Colour, having female BIPOC teachers has been so impactful, and having a teacher who intentionally tries to bring in diversity into the curriculum means the world. I know about safe spaces, but now I want brave spaces. BIPOC teachers hold brave spaces for BIPOC students.”
“West Vancouver is not a hard place to grow up. I have no problem admitting my privilege, and I am able to see how privileged everyone around me is. My high school was a predominantly White school, and although the students were given these advantages by a society shaped by bias and inequalities, that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are there. Having BIPOC teachers who I was able to connect with and learn from, allowed me to better understand my own identity in this confusing environment. I often lacked the ability to advocate for myself and found that at times it was easier to avoid the subject of identity and background. By surrounding myself with teachers who I know understand me, I have gained a wider definition of education. Education is not just learning how to correct your grammar or solve a math problem: it’s learning from others with a different perspective, gaining empathy and open-mindedness of how not everyone experiences the same advantages and privileges.”
“Throughout school, the most honest and powerful conversations on topics of social justice, race, prejudice, etc., have always been with BIPOC teachers. As I engaged more and more with BIPOC teachers on these concepts, my perspective on education changed. I became more consciously aware that BIPOC teachers are often left with the burden of carrying out challenging and important discussions regarding larger historical and political issues.”
How have BIPOC teachers had an impact or influence on your experiences in school?
Twyla Frid Lottenberg
“BIPOC teachers have had an impact on my learning in high school, and it has extended into my university experience. At Columbia University, three out of my four professors have been women of Colour so far, and there were parallels in the approach to learning that were so different and important. As a junior teaching assistant (TA), I now find myself connecting even more so with these professors with commonalities in our identities. I am in a joyful space with two other women of Colour (professor and associate TA). Teachers of Colour bring perspective and joy into learning that can be missed in predominantly Eurocentric learning. Anti-oppressive learning structures open up ways of learning. Education can be a path of liberation and joy, and that has been reflected in teachers of Colour and their pedagogy.”
“As I grew older, I was able to identify the issues taking place in my school that were not okay. I felt that a lot of these issues were brushed off because they had been going on for years, and not of concern to a lot of the staff at the school. Having BIPOC teachers, those that I could discuss anything with, allowed me to have a safe space where I could communicate these issues, with the reassurance that they would understand me. With a perspective of more than just instilling the school curriculum into their students, these teachers made it a mission to spread kindness and make every student (no matter who they were) feel accepted and heard.
Without these teachers, many of the clubs at my school could not continue running. An example is the Youth Alliance for Intersectional Justice school club. Both of the teachers helping to run this were committed to educating and helping the students in the club understand a wider range of issues going on in the world. The most impactful lessons for me were the ones where we discussed broader issues beyond the standard curriculum. I hope that every student has the chance to learn from teachers like I did, because it significantly bettered my experience at my high school. I feel confident in my ability to face these prevalent issues in the real world, because I was exposed to them at a younger age.”
“BIPOC teachers have influenced my experiences at school by providing me with a safe space to question, reflect, and truly understand the extent of my racial privilege. It has been within this space where I have learned to listen and deepen my understanding of the experiences of marginalized people—it is where I have learned to be an ally. Learning from BIPOC teachers has given me a clearer idea of my place in the world and what I care about. I have learned how to better address topics of prejudice and racism inside and outside the classroom. I am more aware of how to use my privilege in a meaningful, confident, and compassionate way.”
Calling all BIPOC teachers and teacher-allies!
The Youth Alliance for Intersectional Justice (YAIJ) is a non-profit organization that is a Black, youth-led collective of racialized youth, adults, and allies amplifying the voices of Black and Indigenous youth at the intersections of race and ability. YAIJ’s mission is to create and support Afro-centred safe spaces across Vancouver and Toronto in which BIPOC youth with intellectual and/or developmental dis/abilities navigate the education, technology, and entrepreneurial systems through meaningful, engaging community-supported, and youth-led projects, programs, and research. Two of our BCTF BIPOC 2050 Project team members are a part of the team of this non-profit organization.
There are multiple ways for teachers to get involved with YAIJ in the classroom and beyond. A way to get involved with YAIJ in the classroom is by sharing YAIJ as a resource with students that you think could benefit from this organization. To get involved with YAIJ at a school level, teachers can sponsor a school YAIJ club and connect with the organization through the website to find opportunities for students. Lastly, opportunities for close involvement with YAIJ are available through the website, such as volunteer applications for the non-profit organization and/or by donating. Visit yaij.org for more information.
As a federally incorporated non-profit, YAIJ depends on donations (no matter the size) from supporters. We couldn’t do this without your support! Donations go toward transportation for youth to travel to/from work and employment training, a central space for youth to gather safely among allies, life skills development, civil rights awareness and self-empowerment training, activities supporting emotional and mental well-being, and programs promoting lifelong leadership skills.