Annual Barbara Biber Convocation Features Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz

On Thursday, September 2, Bank Street Graduate School of Education welcomed a new group of graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni at the annual Barbara Biber Convocation. The event, which is a centerpiece of orientation for incoming students and celebrates the start of the school year, provides an opportunity for the College community to engage with seminal thinkers on leading issues in education.

This year’s convocation, which was hosted live online, featured Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, an award-winning associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who works with K-12 and higher education school communities to increase their racial literacy knowledge and move toward more equitable school experiences for their Black and Latinx students.

In her inspiring presentation, “Leading With Critical Love and Radical Honesty: Towards a World in Education Worth Imagining,” Sealey-Ruiz began with a moment of silence for the Indigenous First Nations tribes who had inhabited the land where both Columbia University and Bank Street College now reside. She then framed recent events—the flash flooding of the night before that took lives, the evacuation from Afghanistan, the storming of the Capitol on January 6, the Black Lives Matter movement, and how deeply the pandemic has affected Black and Latino communities—as a way to show that our history is a constantly changing source of inspiration.

Sealey-Ruiz said, “With change comes opportunity and the ability to listen more deeply—to children, to communities perhaps that we have marginalized and ignored. To understand some of their fears as well as we understand our own. To listen deeply to how the times that we’re navigating produce this deep anxiety and this feeling of uncertainty. As future teachers, this is what you have to hold space for, not just for yourselves and your colleagues, but also for the children that you will teach.”

Sealey-Ruiz asked the audience to look not only for where these ideas live within you, but also to “recognize the humanity that is in all of us and how we have to get past this fear of division.”

“We have to have a radical honesty about the way that we engage in racism and sexism and homophobia, antisemitism, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia. And if not now, when are we going to finally come together and try to make this world be what it can be? We have been at this in this country for 400 years. Because of racism being so pervasive in our society, our practices, and our policies, we may not always rise to the humanity of all students.”

To create learning environments that maximize each child’s potential through racial literacy and equity-focused teaching, Sealey-Ruiz pointed to the necessity of exploring the archeology of the self as a means to “excavate” the beliefs and biases that shape how educators engage in their work and with the world.

“Who are you in all of this? Critical love is the foundational piece, a profound and ethical commitment to caring for the communities that we work in and that we serve. It is also the type of love that is meant to liberate. It’s not the touchy-feely love necessarily, but it is a love of liberation—specifically for teachers to liberate themselves while they liberate their students from the deficit narratives that have been written about them.”

Sealey-Ruiz also acknowledged the challenges of self-excavation, particularly the courage it takes to “be willing to fracture our ideas” during such deep work.

Just like she began her talk with a First Nations land acknowledgment, Sealey-Ruiz ended by asking the audience to think about their own ancestors.

“What was sacrificed for you to be here in this moment—as faculty, as a graduate student, as someone who does this work in the world? And what are you doing with that sacrifice to make the world be a better place? How are you using the struggle of your ancestors? And what kind of ancestor will you become? What will be your legacy?”

Following the presentation, attendees participated in a question-and-answer session with Sealey-Ruiz facilitated by Pamela Jones, Supervised Fieldwork Advisor & Course Instructor, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, who said, “Her work on the archaeology of the self has been a game changer for me and countless educators, and if you’ve not yet experienced the archaeology of the self-intensives that she facilities, do not walk to sign up the next time you see that they are being offered.”

The Barbara Biber Convocation recognizes the contributions of Barbara Biber to Bank Street and the wider educational community. Dr. Biber was a central figure shaping the institution that evolved from the Bureau of Educational Experiments to become Bank Street College. A keen observer of children and classrooms who immersed herself in the phenomena of children’s’ and teachers’ lives, her writings achieved a rare depth of insight and conceptual elegance. As a researcher and scholar, she continuously reexamined and refined her thinking. This lecture memorializes her progressive legacy.