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The Harvard Graduate School of Education held its 21st annual Alumni of Color Conference on Friday and Saturday, marking the first fully in-person iteration of the conference since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Student co-chairs Justis F. Lopez and Sari Saint-Hilaire organized the conference, titled “A Journey Towards Healing: Authenticity & Activism in Education,” alongside HGSE lecturer Christina Shiao-Mei Villarreal. Last year, HGSE invited members of its 2021 graduating class and other Harvard affiliates to attend the conference in-person while all other participants joined virtually.
“As a long-standing member of the HGSE community for over two decades, I know just how important these convenings are to all who attend, and even all those who will see the pictures and know that they belong here,” HGSE Dean Bridget T. Long said during the conference’s opening remarks.
This year’s conference included a faculty panel featuring Villarreal, senior lecturer Karen L. Mapp, Associate Dean Maritza S. Hernandez, and associate professor Bianca J. Baldridge, as well as a keynote address by Jamila J. Lyiscott, a professor of social justice education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Lyiscott’s remarks emphasized maintaining optimism while fighting for social justice.
“When we’re socialized into institutions that demand our erasure in order for us to survive there, we inherit a script about our value and the value of our communities,” Lyiscott said. “We’ve got to think about what it means for us to engage in some powerful waymaking and rescripting.”
During the faculty panel, Villareal said she looks to her students — past and present — for inspiration during difficult times.
“I’m not accountable to this institution. Yes, I know I work here, and I don’t want to get fired,” Villarreal said. “But I’ve always accepted that that is a potential. Otherwise, I’m here for the job, and not for my community. I’m accountable to the young people in our communities and our classrooms — period, the end. And that is something that has sustained me even in the hardest moments.”
The conference also included five breakout sessions, where attendees could choose between an array of workshops on specific topics, including diversity in STEAM education and ways to advocate for undocumented students in higher education.
The conference was formally dedicated to Turner J. Cooper, who graduated from HGSE with a master’s degree in learning and teaching in 2022. Cooper died on Dec. 14, 2022.
At the conference, three of Cooper’s peers at HGSE unveiled a commemorative portrait of him.
“Turner was an experience, he was a light, he was pure joy. He was an intellect, a friend, a creative, a teacher, and a convener, and so much more. We’re here today for Turner, and we wanted to bring him with us to this AOCC,” 2021 HGSE alumna Cierra Cooper said as the portrait was unveiled.
The conference concluded with the presentation of five awards. Two awards — the Alumni Achievement Award and the inaugural AOCC Turner Cooper Award for Commitment to People-First Practice in Education — were presented to Cooper.
The Tina Hansar Award for Educational Equity, presented annually to an HGSE staff member, was awarded to security officer Dinesh Thapa. Current HGSE master’s student Alexia Leclercq was awarded the Kolajo Paul Afolabi Award for Commitment to Educational Justice, and the Faculty Award for Education Equity was presented to lecturer Aaliyah S. El-Amin.
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