Dealing with Difference Institute


Wednesday, May 14, Presenters

Dr. David Stovall and Dr. Shaka Rawls: “Making Social Justice Education Tangible”

Dr. David Stovall, a faculty member in the departments of Educational Policy and African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Mr. Shaka Rawls, an educational consultant, will address the issue of social justice in education from their perspectives as activists as well as academics, as individuals as well as community members. They will speak from their experience as involved members of the African American communities in Chicago and from their research in educational policy.

In the context of a rapidly changing globalized educational system and evolving challenges in education, Dr. Stovall and Mr. Rawls will deconstruct social justice education, making applications tangible. The challenges have created new situations that have complicated how educators understand social justice and undercut its importance for some in the face of pressure to implement “the common core.”

Dr. Stovall will begin with an introduction to popular terms, jargon, and buzzwords associated with social justice curriculums and situate them in their current context.  Mr. Rawls will then develop these definitions from theory to praxis.  He will contextualize social justice not only as a theory but, as a guiding philosophical ideology. Finally, Dr. Stovall will explain how communities have resisted and made demands on what justice means in the context of their lives, making a clear understanding of community conditions an essential baseline for educators doing any type of justice work.

Professor Stovall, a University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign alumnus, “studies the influence of race in urban education, community development, and housing. His work investigates the significance of race in the quality of schools located in communities that are changing both racially and economically. From a practical and theoretical perspective, his research draws from Critical Race Theory, educational policy analysis, sociology, urban planning, political science, community organizing, and youth culture.” Besides his responsibilities at UIC, he teaches social studies at the Greater Lawndale/Little Village School of Social Justice High School and is a member of the school’s design team.

Mr. Rawl is completing a dissertation in Educational Policy Analysis at the UIC. His research focuses on the intersections of high risk communities and their impact on Chicago’s turnaround school improvement efforts. His interests “reach across both the historical/philosophical discourse of urban education and the practical skills needed to be an agent of change.” He co-founded IMPACT, (Inspiring Motivating, Positive Actions for City Teens), a not-for-profit organization that focuses on student-teacher interaction, community development, and conflict resolution.


Dr. Tracy Davis and Dr. Rachel Wagner: “Choosing Love and Abundance:  Personal Transformations to Advance Social Justice” 

When describing their DWDI presentation, Drs. Tracy Davis and Rachel Wagner began by noting that the “great jazz artist Miles Davis is known for his emphasis on ‘the silence between the notes.’” He insisted "It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play." Drs. Davis and Wagner agree that when promoting social justice, advocates often focus too much on the notes and not the space between, on content at the expense of process. Often they also forget to attend mindfully to positionality, to their own and another’s lived experience and identity.  Lots of space exists between individuals’ perceptions and others' realities. In many instances, the space between speaking and listening, between empathy and one’s own pain, and between personal lived experiences and abstract (often veiled) institutional-level policies, practices, and procedures remains unexplored.

Both presenters will draw from their research and from the friendship they've constructed over the past 15 years as they've negotiated a space permeated by power, privilege, and difference.  They have found that tensions and disagreements were often rooted in their different positions, requiring an empathic negotiation between subordination and privilege. Despite their love and respect for each other as friends and colleagues, identities and social realities complicated their interactions, pulling at their loyalties or urging them to reconstruct their discussions to fit their existing mental frameworks. They have struggled with the need to have their different social and cultural experiences validated and understood and have chosen at times to disengage from their discussions to seek others whose experiences more closely mirror their own. They have, however, remained committed to their interaction with each other and have resisted the urge to negate the other’s perspectives or suggestions, turning instead toward larger and more imaginative thinking. The result has been a renewed commitment to their own “unfinishedness” and a willingness to understand, empathize, and act in ways that reflect other aspects of their commitment to social justice initiatives.

Dr. Davis is a professor and coordinator of the College Student Personnel graduate program at Western Illinois University and also serves as director of the Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men's Development. He earned his doctorate of philosophy in student development in post-secondary education (1997) from the University of Iowa and has published widely on men's development, sexual assault prevention and social justice. His publications include two books he co-authored, the monograph Developing Social Justice Allies and Advancing Social Justice: Tools, Pedagogies, and Strategies to Transform Your Campus. He has co-edited Masculinities in Higher Education: Theoretical and Practical Considerations.

Rachel Wagner, Associate Director of Residence Life for Iowa State University’s Department of Residence, recently completed doctoral studies in Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst after effectively defending her doctoral dissertation, "Safe Space for Hard Conversations: College Men's Experience in Diversity Education.”  She earned her BA in American Studies and her MA in Education in College Personnel from the University of Dayton where she also served as Director of Residence Life before her move to ISU. With colleagues who share her background in college student personnel and residential life, Dr. Wagner has frequently made presentations and served on panels at the annual American College Personnel Association Meeting and contributed to anthologies, focusing primarily on social justice, masculinity, and issues related to male college students.