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Sunday, November 27, 2022

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Estella Chizhik (left) and Sesen Negash. (Photo illustration by Manny Uribe) Estella Chizhik (left) and Sesen Negash. (Photo illustration by Manny Uribe)

New Center Aims to Advance Research into Black Education, Wellness

The idea for a hub for scholarship, service and professional development arose from the death of George Floyd.
By Michael Klitzing

“There are a lot of issues to deal with, but we feel like we have that experience and the training to help communities.”

In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd last spring, a group of Black faculty in the San Diego State University College of Education met virtually to share their grief, vent their frustration — and strategize what to do about it.

“I was attending UCLA during the beating of Rodney King, so I've seen cycles of this,” said Estella Chizhik, professor of teacher education, referring to the Black motorist whose brutal beating by police in 1991 sparked worldwide outrage when the officers were acquitted on charges of using excessive force.

“I just wanted it to stop somehow. It seemed like there needed to be some very intentional thinking behind these issues related to bias, police violence and the Black experience.”

Amid a summer defined by Black Lives Matter, a plan took shape. And a new academic center was born.

Faculty including Chizhik; Sesen Negash, associate professor of counseling and school psychology; Nola Butler-Byrd, associate professor in counseling and school psychology; Frank Harris III, professor in postsecondary education; and Tonika Green, professor in counseling and school psychology, developed multiple proposals related to combating anti-Blackness to present to College of Education Dean Y. Barry Chung. The centerpiece was the Center for Achieving Black Wellness and Anti-Racist Education (CABWARE).

“When the Black Advisory Council proposed the idea to me, I couldn't think of an initiative more timely and important than this,” Chung said. “They called for more than just mere statements, but actions. I was totally on board with supporting this initiative, under the leadership of our Black faculty, and investing our resources and actions to achieving social justice and anti-racism. I believe this is central to the work of our college.”

CABWARE received approval in January from the SDSU Academic Deans Council to become an official center within the College of Education. Chizhik and Negash will serve as its first co-directors.

Connecting scholarship, informing practice

CABWARE will serve as a hub for scholarship, service and professional development that addresses and disrupts anti-Blackness and racism among educators and wellness providers. It will promote community and mentorship among scholars, students and staff interested in Black issues and elevate related research.

“For us, it was important to work within our wheelhouse and the areas that we know — education and wellness,” Negash said. “We are really excited because we feel like we can be specific within those areas. There are a lot of issues to deal with, but we feel like we have that experience and the training to help communities.”

Negash, who directs SDSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program, pointed to Black wellness disparities in psychotherapy as an example of the structures they will seek to dismantle. She said Eurocentrism and colonialized attitudes within the field often result in a lack of understanding of phenomena such as racial trauma and racial battle fatigue. This, in turn, seeps into the way practitioners are trained, leaving generations of therapists unprepared to support Black individuals.

Chizhik, with more than 20 years of experience at SDSU training future teachers, added anti-Blackness in education is often perpetuated through a lack of academic rigor and expectations for Black students, as well as punitive experiences such as expulsions, which research shows are imposed on Black youth at a significantly higher rate than white youth.

“I think there's an overlap clearly in how education and wellness work together to really support Black students,” Chizhik said. “We're talking about how trauma can influence education and how awareness of that by educators can really help better support the students.”

CABWARE will also focus on biases faced by Black university students and faculty at predominantly white institutions, and their impact on wellness.

The idea is to tie it all together — to connect research relating to the Black experience that might otherwise be happening in silos, and to amplify that research both within academia and out to the community of educators and practitioners.

Direct access

“We want to help faculty disseminate their research in a way that gives direct access to those in the classroom and in the therapy room,” Negash said. “It's about bridging that gap between service and research in a more meaningful, intentional way.”

CABWARE also aims to bring students to the table, through opportunities to serve on its advisory board as well as mentorship and advancement activities for graduate students conducting related scholarship.

“I think it was important for us not to be exclusive of the voices of the future,” Negash said. “There are a lot of perspectives that we, as co-directors and the folks that put this proposal together, don't necessarily have. I, for one, have really learned a lot from my students about issues of social justice through their own experiences.”

Added Chizhik: “People have come together and thought a lot about this — what it would be and what it should do. We're trying to make sure that this stays a group effort.”