This week we’re featuring the fifth episode of text.soul.culture, a podcast hosted and curated by Dr. J. Derek McNeil, Academic Dean at The Seattle School. Derek is joined by Dr. Caprice Hollins, affiliate faculty member at The Seattle School and co-founder of Cultures Connecting, who teaches the Multicultural Perspectives class that is a required part of all three graduate degree programs at The Seattle School.
Dr. Hollins shares how she entered substantive conversations around race and difference for the first time when she was a graduate student, even though she had grown up in a home of complex and different identities. Before entering those conversations more fully, Dr. Hollins says she would try try to minimize her awareness of race and its impact, like saying “thank you” when someone said they didn’t think of her as black. That season of education and conversation started her own work around identity and how she navigates the systems and cultures around her, and it inspired her to help spark that journey in others.
“It was freeing, and I wanted everyone else to be free too.”
Multicultural Perspectives is rooted in the belief that our individual stories matter, and that we can only work toward dismantling the systemic effects of racism once we are willing to wrestle with our own experiences, family dynamics, and historical messages about identity and difference. “I tell students on the first day of class, we’re gonna make this all about you so that you know this isn’t about you,” says Dr. Hollins. “As long as it’s about you, you’re gonna wallow in the shame and guilt and stay there.”
But that introspection is not the end goal. Dr. Hollins and Dr. McNeil talk about the “stuckness” of many diversity programs, when students are left wallowing in shame or anger without moving toward the meaningful dialogue that sparks change. The internal insight required by Dr. Hollins’s class is only the beginning, and students are then sent out to educate themselves about the realities of the system and the histories that formed it. Self-awareness and a deep willingness to keep learning are both necessary to risk the kind of action that leads to meaningful change.
Dr. McNeil also asks Dr. Hollins about the hope that keeps her coming back, and about her embodied, participatory, and invitational teaching style, and Dr. Hollins admits that it sometimes means there is conflict and tension in the class, and that she consistently has to check in with herself so she can remain in the conversation.
Dr. McNeil: “These students come to love you, actually, and you care and love them. That’s a different type of teaching. No one ever modeled that for me in academy. I think we made it the life of the mind, not the life of the being, the wholeness of people.”
Dr. Hollins: “Oh my goodness, I love teaching here. I love going deep with students in a short period of time, not letting them come up for air. […] I get giddy and excited that I get to be a part of someone else’s journey.”