Sara Staley is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Learning, Research, and Practice at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. She studies how educators learn and enact queer-inclusive and anti-oppressive practices.
Bethy Leonardi is an Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Her research focuses on the complex relationship between policy and practice, and, specifically, policies that rub up against the status quo.
Together, Sara and Bethy codirect A Queer Endeavor (aqueerendeavor.org), a nationally recognized center for gender and sexual diversity in education that works in partnership with districts and school communities to organize learning environments in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth can thrive.
This special issue of The Assembly features a multimodal collection of reflections submitted by educator-scholars who participated in the inaugural Educator Institute for Equity and Justice (EIEJ) as well as members of the EIEJ team. Last spring, a diverse collective of graduate students and faculty in the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder came together to design A Queer Endeavor’s EIEJ, a professional learning experience aimed to support K-12 educators, teacher educators, and youth-serving adults to learn and enact justice-oriented practices. In designing the EIEJ, we aspired to engage in intersectional effort-building in education, promote solidarity across justice-oriented movements and identities, and practice engaged scholarship in the service of social change. On July 29, 2021, we launched our two-day conference, which featured over 80 educator-led workshops on topics that included anti-racist teaching, queer pedagogy, bi/multilingualism, trauma, and healing. Over 500 educators joined us.
Our collective’s efforts were guided by our belief that transformative justice in education relies on intersectional movement building and a commitment to collective liberation. For us, collective liberation means recognizing that systems of oppression are intertwined and that “the synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives” (Combahee River Collective, 1977/2017). It means acknowledging that when it comes to issues of equity and justice, we all have learning to do. It means owning the contributions we make to systems of oppression and how we benefit from those systems. It means recognizing that in order to create spaces that honor the humanity and brilliance of everyone, we must start with ourselves. It means investing in our own and one another’s transformation (brown, 2020).
But, that is easier said than done. As people who embody different relationships to systems of power and control (Spade, 2015), different identities and lived histories, we recognize that coming together in the spirit of transformative justice is complex, emotional work. It is labor. And, it can be painful. This is because, as poet and activist Andrea Gibson writes, “Something difficult to stomach in this life is the fact that we might all learn and grow at a pace that will hurt people.”
In planning the EIEJ, then, our collective endeavored to create what Bethy calls a “soft space of accountability.” In that space, we implicated ourselves in larger systems of power, privilege, and oppression. We challenged ourselves to be vulnerable; to lean into the discomfort of un/learning; and, by attending to our bodies, begin to recognize what un/learning does to us. In that space, we extended grace, engaged in critical friendships, and invested in each other as a community of educators bound by a shared commitment to taking action toward collective liberation.
As researchers, we know that when confronted with the productive challenge of bringing complex ideas like intersectionality and transformative justice into practice, scholars tend toward obtuse language. As Robert and Yu (2018) put it, too often, intersectionality can be “theorized and re-theorized into academic talk” (p. 97). Because we implicate our own academic tendencies in that tension, we challenged ourselves to bring theory into practice as our team designed the EIEJ. That is to say, our approach was grounded in theory, guided by practice, and changed through action. The submissions featured in this special issue reflect that spirit. They are not scholarly arguments about ideas. They are narratives, artististic works, and personal reflections on educators’ lived experiences at the EIEJ and beyond. They underscore thorny questions that educators are grappling with in this historical moment, and they highlight the emotionality that is ever present as we take action, individually and collectively, that moves us closer to liberation.
As you read these submissions, we invite you to do your own grappling. Toward that end, we offer the following questions:
- What does moving toward collective liberation mean to you?
- As you engage with these submissions, what do you feel? Where do you think those responses are coming from?
- Given who you are – in all of your embodied identities and lived experiences – what might it look like for you to move toward collective liberation in and through your work?
- What support do you need in order to move in that direction?
Most importantly, know that we stand with you as educators moving toward collective liberation. We see you, and we are in this together with you.
Bethy & Sara
Brown, A. M. (2020). We will not cancel us: And other dreams of transformative justice. AK Press.
Combahee River Collective. (1977/2017). Combahee River Collective statement. In K. Y. Taylor (Ed.), How we get free: Black feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
Robert, S. A. & Yu, M. (2018) Intersectionality in transnational education policy research. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 93-121.
Spade, D. (2015). Normal life: Administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.