'On Juneteenth:' An IES Abroad Staff Discussion

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At IES Abroad, we’re global educators, and that means that we are continuously educating ourselves, in addition to our students. After all, what kind of educators would we be if we weren’t committed to redefining our own worldview? 

Today our Diversity Committee held a Zoom discussion, facilitated by our own Gretchen Cook-Anderson, Associate Vice President, Assistant to the President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Antiracism, and Director of Diversity Recruitment and Advising. This forum was open to all staff members to discuss Annette Gordon-Reed’s new book, On Juneteenth. IES Abroad sent copies of the book to each U.S. staff member so they could read and reflect on the origins of this holiday in advance of the meeting. Below are some highlights from that conversation.

“The history of Juneteenth, which includes the many years before the events in Galveston and afterward, shows that Texas, more than any state in the Union, has always embodied nearly every major aspect of the story of the United States of America.”
Annette Gordon-Reed, "On Juneteenth"

In her preface, Gordon-Reed acknowledges how Texas has played a substantial role in U.S. history. In our discussion, multiple people brought up the fact that Texas is one of the largest producers of textbooks in the U.S., and how that affects curriculum in Texas and beyond

Curriculum, naturally, was a topic that we returned to in many ways over the hour-long discussion. Many expressed their frustration and disappointment in the limited ways that the Black American experience is incorporated into schoolwork at any age, from elementary school through college and graduate school. We also thought about the importance of storytelling, and the power that language has not only to empower, but also oppress, depending on who is controlling the narrative. A question that we challenged ourselves to think about was how do we, as educators, ensure that our curriculum remains inclusive, honest, and critical? It certainly wasn't one that was going to be answered in an hour, but it renewed our sense of committment to ensuring a more inclusive learning environment moving forward.

A quote from On Juneteenth which Gretchen read aloud at the close of the discussion really resonated with the group: "Looking at the past, not the way we want it to be, but the way it is, is the only hope we have in improving ourselves."

We’re an international staff, and all of our education and personal histories are so different. Coming together to discuss a topic like Juneteenth in an open and productive way not only furthers our own growth as an organization, but makes each of us a more empathetic and critical-thinking member of our respective communities. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and we hope this tide remains high at IES Abroad.

Read more about the IES Abroad Diversity Commitment, and explore our Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality student resources.

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