Introduction: Ariane White began working in education in 2003 as a high school teacher before earning her M.Ed. degree with the Institute for Humane Education in 2010. She earned her doctoral degree in education from Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in 2019. LMU has recently launched a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center, which Ariane is directing. I was excited to interview Ariane for our blog to learn more about her work and goals and how she is striving to meet the needs of our time regarding racial justice.
Zoe Weil: You’ve been a high school teacher. Now you are an educational leader directing a center housed in your university’s office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion dedicated to racial justice. From your experiences, what needs to change in education to help bring about a racially just society?
Ariane: Thank you for this question, Zoe. As you have said many times, the educational system is the root system from which all our other institutions and societal systems arise, so we have a tremendous opportunity in the educational field to catalyze change that will have ripple effects across the planet. Most notably, I believe we need to reclaim educational spaces from the interests that drive standardization and instead center the needs of each child, creating the conditions where children are deeply listened to and where they are supported in learning to advocate for themselves and for the resources that will support them in thriving. Too many educational spaces – especially those in low income communities where mostly Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) students live – have become spaces where compliance and conformity is equated with being a good student, and where those who are obedient are granted scarce privileges and opportunities to “rise above” in ways that continually ignore the conditions in communities that prevent all young people from thriving.
Many schools increasingly rely upon surveillance measures – both online and in the form of school police – that undermine students’ sense of connection to school, violate their privacy, and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead of investing in surveillance and testing, schools need to invest in connecting with a robust network of resources, supports, and genuine opportunities for students so that they can truly envision for themselves how they might be able to be full participants in a democratic society. They cannot do that when society’s low expectations of them – often rooted in conscious or unconscious racism – become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our young people deserve schools that believe in them and that support them in cultivating their genuine curiosity about the world, that affirm their cultural practices, and that prepare them to connect with others who may be different from them. This is a very different project than the relentless remediation and one-size-fits-nobody models that have prevailed in too many of our public schools. Our students deserve better.
Zoe: What are your goals for the TRHT Campus Center at LMU?
Ariane: This center, as part of a national network of centers by the same name, has the opportunity to put into practice the TRHT framework that invites healing and community-building practices to serve as a foundation for changes to the primary systems, including education, law, and economics, that govern so much of our daily lives. This center at LMU is specifically dedicated to building the capacity among constituents, including faculty, staff, and students, to engage in community-building practices and to become prepared to engage in difficult conversations about racism and other forms of oppression. Through this capacity building, we hope the culture and climate of the campus will shift, and we will become a place where everyone feels like they belong, and where nobody is left out, excluded, or marginalized. We also aim to strengthen our relationships with community partners and to foster this same sense of belonging and inclusion in the city of Los Angeles, where we are situated. As a result of these partnerships, an LMU education will become accessible to a broader cross-section of students, and the campus community will be prepared to engage in pedagogies and practices that catalyze the success of all students, especially those from historically marginalized communities.
Zoe: What positive changes are you seeing regarding the advancement of racial justice in the U.S., and can you envision a time in the future when we will have finally achieved racial equity in the United States?
Ariane: Absolutely! I dream of this future all the time. In fact, cultivating our collective imagination in service of envisioning the world we want to live in is an essential skill for all of us to develop!
In working toward racial justice, it is necessary to uplift the changes that are happening around the country related to our collective understanding of public safety. We are starting to face the reality that the prison system not only does not keep us safe, it makes us less safe than we would otherwise be, given the terrible impact on communities that are over-policed and underserved in terms of other resources when their loved ones are incarcerated. In just the Los Angeles area alone, we have seen tremendously positive changes and progress in the direction of racial justice as it relates to scaling back the prison system and reallocating funds to a broad network of support services that will support our communities in thriving.
The work of the JusticeLA coalition, in particular, has been incredibly inspiring. They worked to prevent the expansion of the county jails and have undertaken the monumental task of outlining a “care first” plan to address mental health and substance abuse issues, instead of continuing to rely on incarceration. The thousands of people mobilized in these efforts are laying the foundation for a world where racism has been obliterated, where everyone’s basic needs have been met, and where the conditions in communities are such that everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
Zoe: Teachers, school administrators, and school board members are sometimes facing hostility and even death threats because of their views both on pandemic-related issues as well as their approaches to education about racial injustices. What would you say to such educators and education leaders? What’s the solutionary approach that’s missing from the polarized narrative in our country?
Ariane: I believe in the solutionary superpower of listening deeply to each other. We seem to be living in a moment of profound cultural imbalance, where each person feels the need to shout their views and opinions from the rooftops, drowning out the possibility of ever hearing what truly matters to other people who see things differently. I believe that it is possible, with enough practice, preparation, and self-reflection, to create spaces where real listening can happen and where we can connect beneath the rhetoric and the headlines of the day to understand each other’s deeper needs.
Educators have a tremendous opportunity to engage this potential with each of their students in the classroom by creating spaces for engaging in practices that promote self-reflection and empathetic dialogue rather than debate. I draw inspiration for this work from the traditions of restorative justice that are fundamentally about creating inclusive, pluralistic communities. Where schools often fail to realize the potential for restorative justice practices in schools, it is because they are using it as a tool rather than embracing the deeper principles of connection, building relationships, and believing that nobody is disposable.
On a national scale, I am inspired by the work of the United Vision Project that has operationalized deep listening to try to reach out to people across political divides, to identify pressing needs, and to forge connection and understanding wherever possible. This innovative campaign utilizes a unique text-banking strategy in Phase 1 to connect with people in areas where there is a lot of political polarization and white nationalist activity. The project is building toward crafting narratives that can help us see a way forward where all of our needs can be met and where policies can actually be crafted to meet the needs of the vast majority of us. I encourage people to get involved if they’re interested in flexing these muscles of deep listening and non-judgmental responding to people who we might never otherwise have the opportunity to connect with.