As a queer, immigrant, woman of color, my commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusivity is deeply rooted in my personal experiences and is reflected in my teaching and research philosophy. To decolonize my own ways of knowing and being, I constantly question the normative processes that structure lives, actions, language, power and knowledge. By doing so, I attempt to create educational spaces that are inclusive of different voices, identities, ideas, and people.
Although the terms diversity, equity, and inclusivity are often discussed, their true meaning is often left ambiguous. These terms are often tied to capitalist issues that sustain economic competitiveness of institutions rather than being discussed as issues of justice and fairness that exclude the voices and knowledge of women and people of color from history and achievement. It is important to me as an educator to listen to what people say, their silences and the contextual meanings behind them by fostering the agency to tell their histories. As a scholar and teacher educator, I respect that the University of Arkansas as an institution serves to include voices of people from disenfranchised communities, listens to the diversity of their perspectives, and understands, respects, and includes their ways of learning, knowing, and doing.
I practice what I preach in my research and teaching. Taking inspiration from the humanizing, culturally sustaining, and socioculturally grounded works of Freire (2000), Crenshaw (1989), and Ladson- Billings (2000), I am critical of the single-sided narratives that erase the stories of people of color and create a distorted analysis of race and sexism nationally and internationally. The critical lenses of culture, race, and gender provide me with the tools to seek equitable, inclusive and decolonial ways of thinking about science, engineering, and computer science education. As a scholar, these three lenses inform my work and so far, have helped me explore the complexities of culture, race, and gender in science, engineering, and computer science education. For instance, my identity as a woman of color and a computer science engineer has helped me better understand the nuances and complexities prevalent in the heteronormative, male-dominated, euro-centric ways of knowing that marginalizes indigenous and eastern ways of engaging with coding. I use this understanding to help create spaces where women and students of color aspiring to be computer scientists and future problem-solvers can engage in computer coding
In my research, I attempt to question the normative exclusionary way of approaching equity and diversity in computer science education at the undergraduate level by understanding the experiences of first-generation, students and women of color (Mehta & Yadav, SITE 2020, AERA 2019, RWE Conference 2018) and intentions of teachers to adapt culturally responsive pedagogies (Mehta dissertation, 2021). I problematize how educational technologists perceive the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the design and development of educational coding and programming software (Lachney, Mehta, Dunbar & Opps, AERA 2021). Through my research, I urge policymakers and practitioners to consider transnational experiences, perspectives, and struggles of women and people of color globally to better understand equity and justice in education.
In my teaching, I attempt to make my students aware of their own privilege—their cultural ways of being, knowing, and doing; and their own identities that are deeply tied to their communities. Without centering my own perspective or politics, I aim to serve as a mentor for first-generation and younger students in their first encounters with higher education, particularly understanding those whose families have limited or no experience with academia. I recognize that my position as a teacher and scholar should not overshadow that of my students. In my student-centered approach to education, I am a co-collaborator with my students, letting my individuality become a constituent part of the diversity of the classroom. I deploy my privilege and power as an educator to amplify my students’ voices and experiences and to advocate for their success. For instance, in my ‘action research in the multicultural classroom’ graduate- level course, the final assignment asked teachers to choose three themes from each of the two books ‘Rethinking Multicultural Education’ by Wayne Au and ‘The Line Between Us’ by Bill Bigelow we read over the semester and use action research to discuss how these themes impact social justice in the classroom. This open-ended prompt allowed teachers to envision and enact in their classroom the consequences of capitalism and how they could decolonize their own curricula; critique how standardized tests are a manifestation of neoliberalism; analyze how immigration policies suppress the voices of the oppressed; and how can language practices empower immigrants and people of color. Science and math teachers explored how they could make their classes more multicultural and adapt an anti-racist pedagogy in their subject area while sharing unique disciplinary challenges they face in catering to a culturally and linguistically diverse student population many of whom are English language learners. It was humbling to listen to immigrant teachers from Mexico share their stories of crossing the US-Mexico border and how that allowed them to create a bond with their immigrant students. These interactions with each other through video reflections and online discussions provided teachers a space to be vulnerable, construct a shared meaning of the texts they engaged with, and reflect on their experiences of marginalization, their privilege, and their disciplinary challenges of conforming to normative educational practices.
As a scholar I have committed myself to service that has an impact in two key areas: social justice and activism. I believe these are important for the complex realities we live in and the social dynamics we share with people who look different from us. Over the summer, I worked with a non-profit group called Genesis based in Oakland, CA. Working with seniors from a local high school, we attempted to convince the school and district board in the Pleasanton Unified School District systems why the educational dollars being invested in hiring school resource officers and law enforcement need to be redirected towards prevention, early intervention, and mental health care for youth. Furthermore, to promote equity and global perspectives in pedagogy and technology, I volunteered to assist teachers and teacher educators from Azim Premji University, India, to navigate teacher education and technology integration with international partnerships at Michigan State University. Extending the initiatives of the Women’s March 2017, with two of my colleagues at MSU, I established a women’s action-oriented group that aimed to support women and effectively make progressive change in local communities. I have also served as a department steward for the Graduate Employees Union (GEU) at MSU to promote a healthy work culture to make MSU a more democratic, equitable, and diverse community, where everyone’s work is valued and respected.
As a teacher-researcher, I address the gendered, racial, and sexual injustices and inequities in STEM fields and relinquish my own power to foster student agency. Bringing together the nuances of intersectional feminist works and culturally responsive teaching, I continually reflect on my own privilege. For these reasons, I seek to continually add to the on-going conversations on and commitment to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusivity within and across institutional boundaries.
Dr. Swati Mehta
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
Kremen School of Education and Human Development California State University, Fresno.