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Mya Poe delivers keynote at UCONN event

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Award winning teacher and scholar of assessment, Dr. Mya Poe is the Director of the Writing Program at Northeastern and an Associate Professor of English. A past recipient of the Northeastern University Teaching Excellence Award and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities Outstanding Teaching Award, Dr. Poe’s commitment to teaching shines through in her most recent speaking engagement, Racism in the Margins. Hosted at the University of Connecticut, the conference sought to create spaces for educators to reflect on socially just approaches to teaching and evaluation.

This idea of “space” is important to Dr. Poe. As she noted in her presentation, racism needs a space to take root and “happen.” For many students, that space is the classroom. Poe noted there is a history of racism against students of color in the classroom. Violence occurs in more forms than just physical violence—“structural violence” refers to ways social institutions can harm a group through deprivation and manipulation. While depriving some of opportunities, the injustice also allows others to dominate and widen social gaps. Dr. Poe said that it is not enough to provide access; educators must create safe learning spaces. Dr. Poe elaborated on what she meant by violence in the classroom in a later interview:

Violence is the way that we position students through their comments on their papers. Do we think of them as people who we are in conversation with? Or as people who need to be “fixed?”

Mya Poe

“For white people, whiteness is about forgetting how they move throughout space freely.”

The teaching of writing has a long history of violence, from the fixation on static grammar standards that denies the value of linguistic diversity to the uncritical teaching of genre. Often this history of violence starts well before college and has been reinforced through standardized testing.

Dr. Poe’s presentation focused on the necessity of self-reflection to bring change to the classroom. Reflecting on her own identity as a white woman, she stressed:

I don’t identify as an ally. Allyship suggests that you’ve arrived somewhere, but you should always be learning, always trying to rectify and remedy and do better work as you go forward.”

Mya Poe

Likewise, during her presentation, Dr. Poe reminded the audience that anti-racist teaching is about more than just incorporating content. It’s “about how you teach even if race isn’t the subject matter,” and that this begins with self-awareness that then works itself outward into the space of the classroom. 

A recording of Racism in Margins will be available to the general public soon.

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