What makes us different must be acknowledged, celebrated, contemplated, and understood to find similarities and shared oppressions that will mobilize us to foster desirable change.
As I read Santamaria & Santamaria (2015), I grew frustrated that their findings exposed my vulnerability as a scholar of color. I do agree with the authors that there is beauty in our diversity and there is strength, too. I can bear witness to their assertion that change is within reach when we work together, through our differences, to overcome injustices and inequalities. But I must admit that if we are to initiate this change by exposing our differences to others who will appraise our stories, our feelings, and our visions, that exposure must be acknowledged as a Professional Liability.
As an early career scholar, I have tried to minimize my differences to gain access to the Ivory Tower. For a brief time I explored the development of a research agenda that centered simply on gender and school leadership, until I realized that I wasn’t seeking simple answers to questions about women’s experiences. For an even shorter time I considered transferring lanes to explore education policy, a field that mutes the differences of scholars’ identities quite effectively. But after a direct conversation with my mentor and after experiencing the collaboration that Santamaria & Santamaria (2015) describe when scholars of color work together, I came to understand that my passion for educational leadership is rooted in an exploration of Muslim culture. Despite the lovely scarves that I adorn over my hair each day, I perceived a scholarly risk in conducting research on a marginalized and demonized cultural group that is significantly underrepresented in the literature.
After reflecting on this article, I came to the understanding that my ability to join a community of scholars requires that I identify as both a member of and an advocate for American Muslims. I need to tell my stories, share my feelings, and convey my visions for the change that needs to occur in our nation’s schools so that American Muslim children can achieve success. At a time when this group is not only seen as “the stranger,” but whose children are feared as a national security risk, our nation’s educational leaders bear the responsibility for ensuring that these students experience social, emotional, and academic success in their classrooms. My role as a educational leadership scholar will position American Muslims at the center of my studies to enable school leaders to better meet the needs of this population. It will also, likely, further cement the differences that I bring to the table when scholars of education leadership gather together.
While I am prepared to face the rigors of academic research in an area that has been largely overlooked in peer-reviewed journals, I am working to prepare myself for the professional risks involved in exposing my identity as an American Muslim scholar of educational leadership. Although I am ready to tell my stories, share my feelings, and convey my visions, I do so with the trust that others at the table will hear me and accept my words as my truth. I am eager to have others acknowledge, celebrate, contemplate, and understand my identity as a scholar of color. And, I am anticipating the similarities and shared oppressions that are likely to be uncovered through such an honest exchange. But, I can’t help but admit that the risk is high, even as I know in my heart that the rewards are even higher.
This is a call to action directed towards my fellow scholars of color. Even if we must take the first step to expose ourselves and our experiences when it feels like a Professional Liability, we should feel confident that we will be met halfway by other scholars who are also willing to risk sharing their stories of identity. Together, we can embody the goals projected in Santamaria & Santamaria’s (2015) text, by realizing what makes us different must be acknowledged, celebrated, contemplated, and understood to find similarities and shared oppressions that will mobilize us to foster desirable change.
Santamaria, L & Santamaria, A. (2015) Counteracting educational injustice with applied critical leadership: Culturally responsive practices promoting sustainable change. International Journal of Multicultural Education (17) 1, 22-41.