OISE at AERA: a Q&A with co-presenters Jennifer Brant and Kayla Webber

By Perry King
April 11, 2023
jennifer brant kayla webber

This April, many OISE faculty and students will converge to one of the world’s largest education research conferences.

The American Educational Research Association annual meeting is the world's largest gathering of education researchers – offering a showcase for groundbreaking, innovative studies in an array of areas. This year’s theme is “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in pursuit of Truth.”

A large cohort of OISE community members – faculty and students – will be travelling to Chicago for the event, which begins Apr. 13. Many community members will be presenting their findings and contributing crucial ideas to the proceedings.

That includes Dr. Jennifer Brant, Assistant Professor in OISE’s department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, who will be co-presenting with doctoral candidate Kayla Webber. Their presentation carries forward ideas from their recent entry to the Curriculum Inquiry journal, “Hood-in-g the ivory tower: Centring Black, Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous feminist solidarities.”

OISE spoke with the duo, in advance of the annual meeting. The conversation below has been lightly edited.


Why is highlighting Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities so important in this moment?

This moment is one that has been characterized by a state of precarious existence among Black, Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous peoples. In fact, from February 2020 to the present, the Covid-19 pandemic revealed social and economic inequalities across racialized communities that were exacerbated by multiple cases of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. We know that our educational institutions are not immune to these acts of racism that have become endemic throughout society, and we witnessed a rippling effect was felt across university campuses and within classrooms. In the last several years we became more aware of an increasing number of students struggling with housing precarity, food insecurity, connectivity, mental health, and access to resources during times of grief and uncertainty. An alarming number of these students identified as Black, Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous, and this highlights persistent systemic and institutional racism. Although these issues were not new, the pandemic brought them to the surface.

In response we engaged in acts of solidarity with colleagues in campus collectives and community organizations. As an example, we are both on the leadership team of the Indigenous Education Network and work to support the unique and express needs of Black, Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous students. Through guest speaker events, lunch and learns and writing workshops the IEN offers a collective hub to support holistic care and togetherness. In our work with the IEN we are also concerned with pressing issues such as food insecurity and housing precarity.

Such a response is rooted in Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities. Our communities have a deep kinship with past, present, and ongoing relationships forged through shared experiences of oppression and resistance. This includes the matrilineal interconnections between women in each community who organize, share knowledge, and exchange ideas. They rebuild a different type of world grounded in transformative love, care, and joy, prioritizing the needs of the next generation.

We understand the interconnections between a past-present-future continuum that is interwoven in Black and Indigenous feminisms, and we witness women from both communities coming together in collective organizing. This movement is characterized by radical acts of love and care that prompts us to reimagine community safety, collective wellness and truly showing up for each other.

Overall, highlighting Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities is crucial because it gives us the fuel and fire to embrace a different type of feminism; one that attends to the issues that are discussed around our kitchen tables and within our communities. This is one that is based on care, collectiveness, and transformative love.

By guiding the audience through the understanding of “hood-in-g the ivory tower,” what did you want to reveal to your audience?

Our understanding of “hood-in-g the ivory tower” extends a historical genealogical legacy as we honour those who came before us to carve out spaces for decolonial feminist theorizing. Core to our shared work is our engagement in the kind of political solidarity articulated in the writings of bell hooks, Mikki Kendall, Beth Brant, Lee Maracle and many others who fill our bookshelves and course syllabi. Their writings provide the intellectual sustenance that fuels our own research, teaching, activism, and community engagement. Their writings also nurture our spirits as we enact the kind of feminist solidarities that bridge a path from the hood to the ivory tower.

We position our work as a form of protest and refusal and extend decolonial feminist writing aesthetics to challenge the traditional academic writing style that is often favoured in the “ivory tower”. By drawing on the sentiments of the “Hooding Ceremony,” we document lessons to map out what it means to support Lively-Hood within academic spaces. We elaborate on the concept of “hood-in-g the ivory tower” by offering reflections on our individual and shared positionalities about activist practices in and out of classrooms, in our hoods, on our blocks and within our communities. In this way, we explain what bringing the hood into the ivory tower means and offer visions of relational accountability and reciprocity.

By writing in a way that is accessible to a wider audience and representative of “hood feminisms” the writing attempts to break down barriers and bring attention to relevant issues that may not always be given enough consideration within academic circles. This can be seen as a form of resistance against the dominant academic culture that often excludes Black and Indigenous voices.

 Centering Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities is about bringing the issues that matter in our communities, families, and daily lives into our academic work and, in turn, bringing the knowledge that we gain in academia back to our communities. Our intentions to engage in acts of co-dreaming with Black and Indigenous communities involve infusing visions of our futurisms into education by weaving intentional care into our classrooms and workshops.

Overall, we advocate for a more inclusive and diverse approach to writing and scholarship. Using writing as a form of protest, we attempt to create space for Black and Indigenous voices and honour localized and community knowledges.  

Why is an autoethnographic approach the appropriate one to address this topic?

The methodology used in our work aligns with hood feminisms and decolonial praxis as we honour our lived experiences and start from our own positionalities as entry points into collective theorizing about Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities.  

Our presentation will offer a reflection of our experiences—one of us a professor and one a doctoral student—as we move in, out, and between the spaces of the hood and the ivory tower. Our journeys' in academia are rooted in community engagement, and this shared commitment brought us together in various spaces and initiatives in our work at the University of Toronto.

Our academic work is not separate from our community work, although the nature of academia has not necessarily fostered, embraced, or supported those connections. For example, Kayla’s work on food security and housing advocacy and Jennifer’s work on racialized, sexualized, and gender-based violences inform our scholarship and affirm the issues that are important to our communities.

How can you each help continue to bring the hood into the ivory tower?

Our work seeks to identify the tensions of ‘hood-in-g the ivory tower’ by weaving in personal narratives to reflect what it means to engage in academic spaces from the hood. This requires a commitment to ethical research practices that prioritize community desires and center participant well-being. Hood-in-g the ivory tower involves a commitment to embrace the togetherness and acts of care documented throughout our work, to foster spaces and carve out opportunities to bring forward hood politics (safety from racialized, sexualized, and gender-based violences, safe housing, food security, and equitable education) into a pedagogy of solidarity that simultaneously embraces radical love and fosters Black and Indigenous futurities.

We recognize that our work is ongoing and must be rooted in ethical relationality with our communities. As we continue to bring the hood into the ivory tower, we must consider carving out welcoming, inclusive, and accessible spaces. Reciprocity must also be at the heart of our commitments and part of this is knowledge mobilization and being present in community. For this reason, we our intentional about the many sites we share our work. We are also intentional about relationship building, deep listening and working alongside our communities.

How would this presentation help affirm and strengthen your research, if at all?

As we noted above, a significant commitment of our work is engaging in ethical relationality and centering community voices. For this reason, we are intentional about knowledge mobilization and our desire to reach the wider Black and Indigenous academic communities that have always shaped and inspired our scholarship. By sharing our work at the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas SIG and with Division G: Social Context of Education, our hope is to contribute to ongoing conversations about Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities. The SIGs and Divisions of AERA help us affirm and strengthen our research as we network and build connections across institutions, particularly those that engage in community-based, and anti-colonial research.

What does it mean to present these findings at AERA?

AERA has been one site where we gather, connect, and learn alongside educational scholars who support our commitments to education for social justice. This year’s theme “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth,” is deeply fitting for our work that urges a reimagining of post-secondary education as our research centres feminist solidarities between Black and Indigenous communities to reimagine curriculum and pedagogy.

We are especially delighted to share our findings at the 2023 AERA conference because it brings this research full circle to one of the sites that inspired our vision of “Hood-in-g the Ivory Tower”. This year’s conference will take place in Chicago, the place where Mikki Kendall’s (2020) Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot was written.  Our work toward the ‘pursuit of truth’ is profoundly shaped by Kendall’s book as an offering of crucial insights into Black and Indigenous feminist solidarities. Inspired by Kendall, we highlight the unique experiences that inspire many Black, Indigenous, and Afro-Indigenous women on their journeys to university and we are committed to ensuring the “implications and outcomes” of our shared scholarship is beneficial to our communities and offers an intellectual bridge for mapping pathways from the hood to the ivory tower.

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