Ashley Aluko is one of those educators who draws you in. Talking with her, you cannot help but wish she was your teacher. She’s smart, funny, and definitely not afraid to challenge you or push an idea further in order to deepen your reflection and understanding. We are proud that she is joining the Re-Imagining Migration team as a Teacher-in-Residence. Executive Director Adam Strom spoke to her about teaching in a time of COVID, what brought her to Re-Imagining Migration, and Re-Imagining Migration’s role in a time in which polarization, fear of demographic change, and racial equity are in the headlines daily.
Adam S. Thanks for taking the time for an interview. What’s it been like for you as a teacher this year? How has the pandemic changed your job?
Ashley: Adam talking with you is always a pleasure. The pandemic has really caused me to examine what it really means to educate someone and the role of proximity and human connection in the process. Ending the year remotely and beginning a new one remotely showed me just how much relationships play in the process of learning.
Adam S. How do you know if you are having an impact when you teach online? What do you look for?
Ashley: Cameras for one. Students can visibly check out in a way not possible in the classroom. An impact means students are working as hard to show they are present as I am working to ensure they can understand the content. When we are both working to be present I know i’ve made an impact. When they are asking questions and possibly going off the path for a second to indulge genuine curiosity than I’ve stuck the landing.
Adam S. What brought you to Re-Imagining Migration? What is it about our work that resonates with you as a human and as an educator?
Ashley: OH GOSH so many things. I am the child of two immigrants who are older than their countries. Their experiences with colonization and movement were etched into every decision they made including how they raised me. Teaching a zip code away from where I grew up and literally around the corner of the birthplace of hip hop (another product of immigration), it is near and dear to my heart both personally and professionally. The work of Re-imagining Migration is present every day in my classroom as 90% of my students are first or second-generation if not immigrants themselves.
Adam S. COVID seems to exacerbate inequity in the U.S. From healthcare and economics to immigration policy. This has been coupled with urgent demands for racial justice that have been building but seem to have climaxed in response to the murder of George Floyd and lack of accountability for the shooting of Breonna Taylor. With all of this swirling in the air, and to paraphrase Beverly Daniel Tatum, polluting the air we are all trying to breathe, what do you see as Re-Imagining Migration’s role?
Ashley: The quote in the front of my classroom for the past couple of years comes from James W. Lowen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me and it says there is a reciprocal relationship between truth about the past and justice in the present. I think the role of Re-Imagining Migration is to draw that bridge between past and present. While 2020 has often felt like a disruption of previous years it can also be seen as a culmination of inaction in previous years and the work of Re-imagining migration can help bridge the gap and build a foundation for solution building.
Adam S: As you look forward, what should we be doing to help educators in this precarious time. By we I mean, both re-Imagining Migration and the collective we of society.
Ashley: Education feels like it is going through a midlife crisis as we reckon both the shifts in technology and ideologies of education. There seems to be a historiography of education that can be clearly seen in people’s attempts to either change with or fight against the present moment. Both Re-imagining Migration and as a society, we should be making space for both grief and celebration. There are elements of teaching that will never be the same after a year like this and as those parts surface, some will be celebrating while others will be grieving and we need to give space to both. Giving space to both will be the only way we chart hopefully a more equitable and sustainable path forward for all educators because all educators need to be on board if any change is going to be permanent.
Adam: Ashley, we are so excited to work and learn with you. Thanks for all you do.