RCT requires us to be mindful of cultural context in our work. This is another departure from much of the human development literature, in which human development is typically considered without regard to social constructions of identity and systems of privilege and marginalization.
In the context of RCT, we cannot understand human growth and development, without understanding how social constructions of identity shape experience, how we are met in the world. This is true in therapeutic work, leadership, and of course, teaching.
For example, in teaching, I need to be careful not to generalize my own academic journey which happened in a middle-class predominantly-white context. I can only truly know my academic journey, what it took for me to succeed as the person I am, met in the world in the ways I am met, and in a particular time in US history. There are certain obstacles I just didn’t face because I am perceived as white. It’s not that I always initiate explicit discussion with students regarding this, but I need to be mindful of the way cultural context shapes each person’s academic journey and try to see each student through a lens that is more broad than my own experience.
I also need to be aware that these constructions of identity are always with us. For example, even if I bring my best intentions as a white person to my work with students, race is in the room. U.S. culture imposes a racial power structure and we’re all immersed in it every day. I can do my very best to be an anti-racist and I can hope to understand myself and the history and context of racism enough to be a good teacher to all. At the same time, the learning spaces I create are not impervious to the US culture of racism. Teaching through an RCT lens keeps me cognizant of cultural context and I believe this makes me a better teacher. And to be clear regarding identity, social constructions of identity, and the historical and cultural implications of all of this – I am still learning, and always will be. Understanding identities – my own and others’ and my related blindspots and gaps – this is a lifelong process.
*This text is adapted from a plenary session presented at the 2020 Lilly-Bethesda Virtual Designing Effective Teaching Conference