For Melanie Martins (SED’17), an assignment to craft a portrait of a bilingual hit close to home.
“I wrote a portrait of a bilingual, that bilingual being my father,” Ms. Martins said. “I wrote about his experiences immigrating to Boston from Brazil as a 21-year-old man and learning English in a society that highly values assimilation.”
Ms. Martins, who is studying bilingual education, said that her father married an American woman and no longer speaks his native Portuguese language at home or with his children.
“Though he privately maintains his Portuguese language and Brazilian culture, outwardly he is very assimilated to English-speaking American culture,” Ms. Martins said.
The portrait that Ms. Martins constructed of her father for Dr. Christine Leider’s Issues in Bilingual Education course was incorporated into a presentation that she gave, along with Dr. Leider, Glenda Lopez-Schmitt (SED’17), and Camila Ferreira Lins E Silva (SED’16) at the recent Boston College Diversity Challenge on October 28 and 29.
The title of the conference this year was “Developing Whole People, Not Widgets,” which is contextualized by the overall theme of “Race, Culture, and Educating our Youths.”
“What’s neat with this particular conference is it’s very interdisciplinary,” Dr. Leider said. “So you have a group of teacher educators like myself, you have teachers, you have social workers, school counselors, counselors, and students preparing to enter these professions.”
The overarching aim across these disciplines, Dr. Leider said, was to explore how to value and honor the diversity of students. For their presentation, titled “Stop the Deficit: How do we honor and value bilingual individuals in the United States,” Dr. Leider and her students focused specifically on bilingual and immigrant individuals.
“Really our presentation had three goals,” Dr. Leider said. “The first was to recognize how American society and schools are rooted in racism and linguicism, which doesn’t allow for the lived lives of bilingual and immigrant individuals to be valued.”
After Dr. Leider touched on this aspect of their symposium, Ms. Martins, Ms. Lopez-Schmitt, and Ms. Lins E Silva shared some examples of counter narratives of bi-linguists and immigrants living in the U.S.
“So sharing lived experiences … really bringing home the point that we don’t really have the best school environments that honor the lives of these individuals,” Dr. Leider said.
While Ms. Martins utilized her father’s story to highlight the relationship between language and immigration, Glenda Lopez-Schmitt, who is working towards her EdM in Curriculum and Teaching, wrote a narrative of her sister to explore multiculturalism in the context of dominant White culture.
“My sister embodied the ‘traditional’ physical characteristics of what it meant to be Latina and was not easily accepted into the predominately White rural community in which we lived in Iowa,” Ms. Lopez-Schmitt said. “The narrative discussed the detrimental implications that the dominant culture of the ‘White-gaze’ had on a multicultural student who did not have an outlet for self-expression or acceptance. ”
The third goal and component of their symposium presented options for how to create classroom environments that counteract this notion, and that act as the sort of outlet that Ms. Lopez-Schmitt said her sister did not have.
“Molly Ross, an ESL teacher in Malden Public Schools—and also a teacher mentor and adjunct faculty member at SED– shared some examples of how she’s created a space for her students,” Dr. Leider said. “She works with bilingual students and enables them to share their stories where they can be valued.”
The call after their symposium, Dr. Leider added, was to challenge audience members to be more cognizant of the fact that these types of environments need to be created.
“My biggest take away was that many students have experiences that we’re not asking about,” Ms. Martins said. “And these life experiences are, contrary to some assumptions, crucial for students to develop the kind of cultural competencies and skills we want to see in schools.”
Ms. Lopez-Schmitt expressed a similar sentiment, and said that she felt a sense of awakening about her ability to address diversity in the classroom.
“Especially as educators we need to not shy away from this issue that drapes over many of our students and all of our students of color,” she said.
“It is important that we acknowledge the hierarchy of societal powers and how this trickles down the very sense of identity that our students internalize as a result of the negative, perpetuated rhetoric of what is ‘better’ and who is an ‘other.’ There is much work to be done, but when educators collaborate and relentlessly work together they can be sure that our students are aware of their importance and the powerful impact they have on our communities.”