Jones Lecture

Stephanie P. Jones discussed racialized trauma in the classroom during her lecture Tuesday at the Memorial Union.

Stephanie P. Jones, an assistant professor of education at Grinnell College, urged audience members to consider what it means to be considered “the problem” in classrooms at her lecture Tuesday.

According to Jones, this is what Black, Brown and Indigenous students grow up feeling like and continue to feel to this day.

To illustrate, Jones recalled a memory from when she was attending grade school in Atlanta, Ga. She noted how she was one of two Black students in the class. She said that while studying colonial America, her teacher brought cotton plants into class. The teacher then instructed them to pick the cotton from the plants at their seats.

“...As a second grader, I had no idea what this meant,” Jones said. “I was just doing what my teacher asked me to do.”

Jones continued to state that this experience still stays with her, and this is the effect of being considered “a problem” in class due to her race.

“How did I know in that classroom that something was wrong that day, and that it was best for me not to speak up?” Jones asked. “Because I knew if I did, I would be a problem. That I’m ruining this teacher’s lesson. That I could think of a better, more professional way of confronting her about how I feel.”

According to Jones, who referenced James Baldwin, an American novelist, black children have an understanding that they have always been constructed as the problem.

“We tell them [Black students] that we care about them, that they can be anything, yet, on the other hand, we tell them that you are the source of our anxiety,” Jones said.

According to Jones, this problem plays into anti-blackness. Jones continued to share examples of anti-blackness throughout history. From schools that refused to integrate to white women carrying Black dolls in caskets to Ruby Bridges’ school. The examples left the lecture room quiet and still except for gasps and shaking of heads.

“But this is what happens when we think Black children and their education is false,” Jones said. “That will make it impossible for them to learn.”

Jones categorized these experiences as a form of racialized trauma. While trauma is often associated with one specific event, Jones said that trauma can be built up after multiple, repetitive instances. Jones also said that trauma is generational, meaning experiences of trauma can be passed down.

Jones then showed examples of continued racialized trauma in academia. One example was an image of a “freedom punch card” that a student was given by their teacher. The student remained free if they responded to certain quotes correctly, but they would receive a punch if they answered incorrectly. After four punches on their card, they had to “return to slavery to work as a slave.”

Another example showed a paper written by a Latinx student. In the paper, the student used the word “hence,” but the professor refused to acknowledge that the student did not plagiarize their paper due to the use of that word.

Jones continued to explain the relationship between curriculum and academic rigor.

“We have a relationship to academic rigor, a very deep one… it is… how we get students to go to certain schools,” Jones said. She continued to state that academic rigor is seen as challenging and advanced.

“But, at what cost, are we doing this?” Jones said. “When does the rigor not exist as rigor anymore, but it becomes inflexible?”

Jones then questioned how students, faculty and staff are defining rigor. How are professors asking students to show their rigor in class? What are professors and staff members asking students to give up because of their definition of rigor?

Jones then shared a personal experience with academic rigor.

“How this came up for me, and I’m a speaker of Black language, they told me that the language that I spoke, that my mama spoke, that my grandmother spoke was slang, was improper and it wasn’t going to get me anywhere in life,” Jones said. “And because I went to historically white schools, historically white colleges, I learned to take that language out of my everyday vocabulary.”

According to Jones, some professors want to eradicate the Black language out of a student and replace it with white, mainstream English. Others are fine with Black language outside of the classroom, but it has to be changed when a student is in their class.

“So, rather than telling kids they’re dumb, can we tell them that they have a language? That their community has a rich language?” Jones asked.

“So when we think about being rigorous… what happens at the center of Black and Brown students in our classrooms and what they know is valid?” Jones asked.

The conversation then shifted to ways in which students, professors and staff can try to fix this issue of racialized trauma and anti-blackness in academic settings.

Jones said that professors should recheck their syllabi, policies, office hours and other resources that can be helpful for students of all colors.

A’Ja Lyons, a graduate student at Iowa State in creative writing and the environment, offered another way for faculty, staff and students to support Black individuals and eliminate anti-blackness in the classroom.

“So when you see a student of color overcompensating, gently tell them that they can relax… and remind them that they don’t need to do all of the things to simply feel that they are just as good as other students,” Lyons said.

Hannah Albrecht, an Iowa State staff member for international students and scholars, suggests for students to question which voices are being uplifted in class.

“All too often, especially at Iowa State, we’re only talking about white student experience, white student research and things like that,” Albrecht said. “As a student, who are we lifting the voices of?”

“White students have to be better allies and advocates in supporting their peers because anti-blackness is happening all the time throughout the university through different policies,” Missy Springsteen-Haupt, an assistant teaching professor of education at Iowa State, said. “The people who are oppressed and marginalized cannot be the ones constantly fighting on their own. They need allies.”

(1) comment

Ashley Morton

I appreciate The Daily sharing the message of this presentation, however, Dr. Jones has a PhD and this article to does not include her proper title. Please edit to include her designation: Dr. Stephanie P. Jones. We cannot ignore this on a speech given by a black woman discussing anti-blackness.

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