Literary Research Group Seeks Systemic Change on Racial Justice in Field

The Literacy Research Association recently released a report calling for racial justice in the field. The organization wants its new report to spur real change in a field that regularly ignores racial components of literacy research.

The literacy research field has too long ignored issues of racial justice, and it’s time for practitioners to take it into account, says the Literacy Research Association. LRA recently released Racial Justice in Literacy Research [PDF], a report that it hopes not only spurs conversations about the topic but also action.

“LRA is going to share this information, but not just share it; we are asking people to make some changes,” said Gwendolyn Thompson McMillon, Ph.D., LRA president. “We want this to be transformative.”

The report was coauthored by four women of color studying literacy. LRA researchers often look at reading scores for students and reading practices in education, and the authors say that research is predicated on a notion that prioritizes whiteness, rather than taking a racially equitable view.

“We want to push back on the dominant narratives that are in literacy research where students who are Black and other minority groups are compared to white students, so that white student scores are the norm,” McMillon said. “We pushed back on that and said it’s important to have culturally responsive types of practices and instructions and culturally responsive assessments so that we understand the uniqueness of each culture. Everybody should not be compared to white middle class students.”

Another concern of the report’s authors is that talk of racial justice is too often limited to Black and white people.

“Long before the uptick in anti-Asian violence that we see being covered in the media, even before COVID, we recognized the lack or representation of Asian Americans in language and literacy research,” said Betina Hsieh, Ph.D., one of the report’s authors. “One of the important points of the report is to go beyond the Black/white binary and to advocate for research that also focuses on other racial and ethnic groups, including Asian Americans.”

Arlette Ingram Willis, Ph.D., one of the report’s authors and a past president of LRA, said the goal of the report is to spur action. “We are saying that these soft, passive, but thoughtful statements that organizations have made in support of equity, diversity, Black Lives Matter, Asian Americans Pacific Islanders are not enough,” she said. “We want people to show up, and we want change.”

LRA is trying to model the type of change it wants to see. Patriann Smith, Ph.D, a report author and LRA board member, is working on models that can serve as examples at the University of South Florida, where she teaches.

“We are taking this very seriously and trying to develop a how-to model for teachers and for schools and universities who are focusing on literacy,” Smith said. “We want them to see how we, for example, will do a racial-equity audit of our program or how we work to revamp our courses for teacher preparation to include racial-justice modules in each course. Also, how we were able to show teachers how to translate addressing racial linguistics ideologies in their lesson planning.”

The report came out last week, but there’s been positive response already. “The feedback that I’ve received from other scholars of color in these last few days has been great,” Hsieh said. “They say how significant this report is and how much it means to them to have this report. They are grateful the organization has taken a stance and not been race-evasive.”

(rihard_wolfram/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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