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The PAWLP Social Justice Study Group Goes to PAWLP Day

By Deanna Gabe

When Pauline Schmidt, the Director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, asked for volunteers to lead breakout sessions for PAWLP Day on March 6th, I piped up and said, “I guess I could talk about what we do in our study group.” Immediately after she accepted my offer I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” It is a question that I frequently ask myself during our third Saturday study meetings as well because while my tone here is light, the work we do there is not. Critically examining the history and evolution of our own racial identities as well as the historical and current systemic racism that is embedded in the foundation of American culture is heavy lifting

Just like lifting heavy weights makes muscles stronger, doing this deep and challenging work both individually and in community with each other has strengthened our ability to extend our discussion about race and racial inequality outside of our collective and into our institutions. Furthermore, the group provides a network of support and a proving ground to test ideas about how to translate that discussion into transformative action. 

Recently, inspired by the Black Literary Societies we read about in Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad, we challenged ourselves to write a preamble for our little study society. We thought this exercise would be a good way to bring some clarity to our purpose and provide trailheads for further study. These snippets from the working preambles of several of our members give insight into our collective work and the norms that have organically evolved from our shared and divergent identities.

  • Through critical reading, writing, and discussion that centers race, we challenge ourselves and one another to expand our perspectives on issues of race.
  • We question our own biases, assumptions, and intersections of privilege and oppression in order to understand and develop our racial identity.
  •  We apply a critical social justice lens to our own teaching practices, individual schools, and larger systems both in America and globally.
  • We use our study as a catalyst for transformation in big and small ways.
  • We provide support to each other in our endeavors to bring social justice and equity work into our institutions, which can be precarious.
  • We embrace discomfort and vulnerability, and take a stance of inquiry and critical humility.
  • We listen to each other.
  • We take responsibility for educating ourselves about the true history of America and American education.
  • We acknowledge that we are a work in progress and that our understandings and knowledge are incomplete. We commit to speaking out and taking action in this incomplete and imperfect state.

I plan on bringing this spirit of collective inquiry and critical humility to my PAWLP Day breakout session on Saturday, March 6th. If you have already or want to begin a journey of individual or collective inquiry centered on race and social justice, and would like to experience how the PAWLP Social Justice Study Group goes about doing that, I hope you’ll stop by!

Deanna Gabe is an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at West Chester University.