Antiracist Activism for Teachers and Students/White Activists/Western Massachusetts

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Profiles of Anti-Racist Activists in Western Massachusetts[edit | edit source]

Rev. Andrea Ayvazian[edit | edit source]

A white antiracist activist, ordained minister and educator living in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian has been a social justice activist since the 1970’s and, more specifically, an antiracist activist and educator since the mid-1980’s. In print and in public she often refers to herself an ally for people marginalized by systematic oppression (Ayvazian, neym cite and publication). Currently, she is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church in Haydenville, Massachusetts (add cite from cooley-dicksinson at zoom).

From 1969-1973 she attended Oberlin College (Ohlson) where her social justice activism began when she participated in demonstrations and projects involving gender issues and civil rights. Her focus on antiracism work took hold in when 1985 she became a consultant with the Equity Institute and together with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum traveled to 33 states nationwide co-leading antiracism workshops and seminars across the (WP conference URL). Rev. Ayvazian and Dr. Tatum also founded Communitas, Inc., an antiracism education and training program whose mission was to dismantle racism. ( Which Rev. Ayvazian coordinated for eight years and delivered over 100 anti-racism seminars, workshops, and consultations nationwide (Zoominfo). Her consulting work expanded into formal teaching about racism at the college level with graduate level courses at the Smith College School for Social Work and undergraduate psychology courses at Mount Holyoke College. (Zoominfo).

Even though Andrea had a Ph.D. from Yale, she pursed and completed a Masters of Divinity and became an ordained minister. In 1998 Rev. Ayvazian was appointed as the Dean of Religious Life (Zoominfo) at Mount Holyoke College, a position she held for the next six years. During that time, she established new programs and projects that brought inequalities, especially those involving bringing racism into focus. Among others, she led the conversion of the traditional chapel to an interfaith sanctuary, established an Afrocentric Worship Service and helped to launch the Service and Leadership Odyssey Program with the goal “to connect deeply with one another to discuss our diversity and our unity as a group” (College Street Journal). The leadership program brought together a diverse group of students, faculty and staff to work on leadership and complete community service projects both locally and in the South in low-income and communities of color(College Street Journal).

In her current position as pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church Rev. Ayvazian has continued her antiracist activist work through involvement with and leadership of various social justice projects within the western Massachusetts community as well as with national efforts that advance social change and highlight the role that privilege plays in maintaining social inequalitites (see cooley-dickson, zoom, Rev. Ayvazian also practices her activism in her every day life. She and her long-time partner, Michael Klare, have made the decision to postpone their marriage until gay and lesbian couples can share the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples (Ohlson, 2001). They have also made a conscious effort to expose their child to professionals of color throughout his lifetime. Rev. Ayvazian has dedicated her time and energy to educating the faculty, administration and parents in the public schools which her son attended on issues concerning racism and inequality. Thus, on a personal and professional level Rev. Ayvazian continues to challenge systems of oppression wherever she encounters them (cite zoom info).

References[edit | edit source]

Diane Beers[edit | edit source]

A white antiracist activist whose work combines issues of race, gender, sexuality, and the environment.

Diane Beers is an associate professor of history at Holyoke Community College, lives in Orange, Massachusetts, and is a member of the NAACP. She grew up in a working class area of southern Pennsylvania, received a BA from Hood College, and a Ph.D. in African American history at Temple University. During her undergraduate years she became involved in social justice movements such as the anti-apartheid movement and was greatly influenced by her professor, historian Dr. Gerald McKnight to pursue doctoral work in African American history.

While at Temple, she enrolled in courses with Dr. Kenneth Kusmer a white social historian nationally known for his research and writing on race. And she was mentored by Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas, a nationally known African American historian and scholar at Temple. Diane’s participation with a historical project involving the Philadelphia response to the National Anti-Lynching Movement with Dr. Collier-Thomas solidified Diane's determination to teach social justice issues.

Since 1999 Diane has taught in the history department at Holyoke Community College. Her courses span social history, environmental history and African American history. She firmly believes that education is a key component in fighting all forms of oppression. In addition to her teaching, Diane is a member of the Task Force on Free Speech and Civil Discourse (add website here) and has given anti-racist presentations to the Holyoke community on the topics of: The History of Affirmative Action, Holyoke Community College Forum 2005; and The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education-50th Anniversary Celebration, Holyoke Community College Forum 2004. Diane is currently a member of the NAACP.

Diane’s current writing focuses on a history of the animal protection movement. Her book For the Prevention of Cruelty: The history and legacy of animal rights activism in the U.S. ISBN 0804010870. Although some activists do not see the connections between her antiracism and animal rights, Diane has pointed out during interviews that it is important for people to have an “awareness of the linkages between different forms of oppression” and she sees these linkages as central to her activism.

References[edit | edit source]

Sandy Lemlin-Fitzpatrick[edit | edit source]

A white antiracist educator and activist living in Belchertown, Massachusetts.

Sandy Lemlin-Fitzpatrick has been working to bring multicultural education and racial/prejudice awareness not only to her peers and family, but to her elementary aged students at the Crocker Farm School in Amherst Massachusetts where she has been teaching kindergarten and first-graders for 8 years.

Sandy Lemelin-Fitzpatrick has not always been an anti-racist activist. Sandy grew up in Chicopee, Massachusetts and was raised in a strict Catholic home where she was taught that everyone was created equal. But time and time again she did not see that everyone was treated equally. It was not until she was in graduate school pursing a Masters Degree in Social Work, however, that she realized she had many privileges associated with her white skin. And after completing a professional development course in antiracist multicultural education offered through the Amherst School, she knew she had to use her white privilege to challenge the racial inequities she saw. Thereafter she taught in ways that advanced the principles of multicultural education with her students and peers.

She started to adults about race when she took a position in Amherst as a member of the Becoming a Multicultural School System (BAMS) Committee, a group geared to observing the issues surrounding race and discussing options for addressing racism in the schools. Sandy was also a participant in Study Circles of Amherst through which a racially-diverse group of community members made plans for implementing changes that would challenge racism and minimize inequities. Through the work of BAMS and Study Circles, she helped to implement a requirement that all teaching staff enroll in antiracist professional development as a means for helping educators understand the role that racism plays in schools and for designing methods to minimize its effects.

Sandy also puts her antiracist beliefs into practice everyday in the classroom through her curriculum. She teaches children the fundamentals of inequality and prejudice by using examples that children as young as 5 years old can relate to. She believes that since young children are exposed to racism early in their lives, they should be exposed to antiracist practices as well. In the next phase of her life Sandy will be implementing antiracism in a different but related way. She has just completed a certification program for principals and will be starting as a principal at the Highland Elementary School in Westfield, Massachusetts in September where her administrative practice will be guided by her strong commitment to antiracism and social justice.

References[edit | edit source]

  • (BAMS)
  • (BAMS and professional development)
  • (crocker farm site)
  • (wesfield schools)
  • (study circles of Amherst)

Anita Magovern[edit | edit source]

A white anti-racist, religious leader and educator who lives in western Massachusetts.

As a young person Anita was aware of the economic disparities among peoples of the world and wanted to do something to improve the quality of lives people who lived in poverty. To that end she joined the Maryknoll Sisters whose focus is on cross cultural development work and bridging the gap between peoples.

As a Maryknoll Sister, Anita worked in Tanzania for twenty years first as a linguist in a language school in Musoma, Tanzania from 1969-1974. Then after studying the work of Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, she decided she wanted to help people assessed their own situations and use their own skills and talents to create solutions.

Thus, from 1975-1984 Anita did adult community education work in the rural villages setting up seminars with women’s groups, youth groups, and village or church leaders to assist them in assess the constraints and barriers which prevent them from moving forward both socially and economically. Among her particular projects was training other women as village health workers so that they could begin to teach others and address basic sanitation and health issues in the community which they ultimately did. She helped set up a loan fund, so that women and their husbands could borrow with no interest funds to develop money-making projects of their own and increase income for their families.

Back in the U.S. Anita lived in the low-income town of Newburg, New York educating young people to do community work. Among the projects she was involved in include: alternate housing for the poor, a child care project, distribution center, and work with the elderly. From 1995 to the present (2006), Anita has lived in the United States and continues work with communities of color and low income communities in ways that will improve the quality of their lives. As the Catholic Chaplain at Mount Holyoke College, Anita helped to create opportunities for young people to do community work through the C.A.U.S.E. Program. Among the 14 projects she helped to create are those involving home building in the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Mexico, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Anita believes that these projects begin to create the necessary links that “will evoke social awareness and change.”

References[edit | edit source]

C.A.U.S.E. ( Elliot House Staff. (

Patricia Ramsey[edit | edit source]

A white antiracist activist and educator in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Patricia Ramsey is a professor and scholar in early childhood development with a focus on social development and multicultural education for young children. She grew up during the period of the civil rights movement and witnessed Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech on television. Her parents were “good middle-class liberals who supported equal rights for all but they were not activists.” (Derman-Sparks and Ramsey, 2006, p. 9). Her family lived in an all-white suburb, and she attended schools that were not racially diverse. As a result, she did not have a grasp on the different experiences people of other races encounter in their daily lives.

After graduating from Middlebury with a degree in American Literature, Patricia participated in the VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program, an organization that places volunteers with “community- based agencies to help find long- term solutions to the problems caused by urban and rural poverty (Vista website).” In her eighteen months volunteering with VISTA, Patricia lived in a Mexican- American community in California, where she became active in helping to elect the first Mexican- American official to office. Patricia has also worked in Honduras and lived in Mexico, experiences which she feels “have made me acutely aware of my cultural and economic advantages and have forced me to examine my biases and assumptions” (p. 10).

In graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Patricia earned a doctorate in education and learned about the importance of multicultural education in the classroom which then became a focus of her work. As a faculty member in Psychology and Education at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts since1984 and through her leadership as director of the Gorse Child Study Center she has worked with undergraduates and colleagues in examining how children develop early attitudes about gender, race, and social class. She has also studied how teaching from a multicultural perspective affects children's early awareness and attitudes about groups of people that are unfamiliar to them. She believes that multicultural education can help to create a world in which “children can be whole, where they do not feel that they have to choose between conflicting identities and loyalties, and where they can reject cynicism for hope and joy” (2004. p. xvi).

In addition to writing about young children’s development and learning, she has consulted with many educational programs and written about how to structure professional development efforts for teachers that attend to multicultural aspects of teaching and learning. Because of her focus on multicultural curriculum for young children and antiracist multicultural staff development for faculty, the Gorse Child Study Center serves as a model for other educators wanting to design and implement schools and programs that are equitable and effective sites for learning. (p. xi-xii by Nieto in teaching and learning in a diverse world).

Patricia Ramsey is currently the chair of the Psychology and Education Department at Mount Holyoke College. She is also the mother of two adopted boys from Chile who have given her additional opportunities to uncover and examine her white middle class assumptions as she witnesses “the painful reality of the pressures and invalidation that children of color experience” ( p. 10) in schools today.

Patricia Ramsey realizes that she will never be “completely free of the assumptions that reflect the unearned privileges that come to her as a white person” (p. 10), but she continues to stand up for injustice and educate the next generation of educators so that our world will one day become a more just and equitable one.

Written Work: Ramsey, P.G. (1995). Changing social dynamics in early childhood classrooms. Child Development, 66, pp. 764–773. Ramsey, P.G., & Lasquade, C. (1996). Preschool children's entry Attempts. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 17, 135-150. Alvarado, C., Derman Sparks, L., Ramsey, P.G., (1999). In our own way: How anti-bias work shapes our lives. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press. Ramsey, R.G. & Williams, L. R. (2003). Multicultural education: A resource book. New York: Routledge. References: (mhc profile)

Ramsey, P.G. (2004). Teaching and learning in a diverse world, 3rd Edition. New York: Teachers College Press. Derman-Sparks. L. and Ramsey, P. G. (2006). What if all the children are white? Anti-bias multicultural education with young children and families. New York: Teachers College Press.

Russ Vernon-Jones[edit | edit source]

A white anti-racist activist and educator. Currently he is the principal of Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Russ Vernon-Jones believes that “racism is a major force in our society but so too is antiracism. Antiracism takes the efforts of many people (of all races) to end racism, and young people can be an important part of this long-term struggle.” (antiracism on line)These beliefs are inscribed in the antiracism website he created for students and adults. They also guide his practice as an educator working with a diverse population of students and parents in the Amherst school district.

Russ’s message about the importance of challenging social inequalities including those dealing with race are echoed in the mission statement and school improvement plans of the Fort River Elementary School. One of the central beliefs under girding the school’s missions is “We seek to learn about and become effective in eliminating practices, attitudes and behaviors by which people are mistreated, denied their full dignity or the realization of their full potential, including those based on gender, race, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, etc.”(mission) Similarly, a primary focus of the school’s improvement plan is that the teachers and staff “explore and develop approaches that result in every student developing a meaningful commitment to equity and justice for all peoples, and some of the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and perspectives needed to act on that commitment throughout their lives.” (school improvement). These beliefs about equality and justice permeate Russ’s decision-making in terms of curricular decisions, staffing, policies and procedures, and projects.

In addition to his leadership as a principal, Russ also advances the principles of antiracism outside of school through his coordination of the Antiracism Project. This organization is dedicated to ending racism and consists of students, parents, staff, and educators of the wider Amherst community. The organization has created a website which invites others to engage in learning, sharing and taking action against racism. Presently, the primary project of the organization is "Youth Helping To End Racism" which encourages young people to make a commitment to work towards eliminating racism, while also connecting with like-minded peers. The website offers information on understanding racism by providing shared experiences, perspectives, tips on how to listen and also examples of how anyone can be an anti-racist. In addition to the website, the organization also runs workshops and programs in schools for students, parents and educators.

Russ’s antiracist leadership and activitites, however, are not without controversy. In 1997, for example, he hosted at his school a breakfast event for African American parents and staff who had previously felt marginalized and whose concerns about racism were not being taken seriously by some members of the community. After the breakfast, some white community members who felt excluded by the “Blacks only” event openly critiqued Russ in the press (Avenoso, 1997), and one white parent withdrew her child from the school altogether. (Rockwell)

Russ’s believes that racism can be ended, but that it won’t happen quickly or easily. But he is in for the long-haul regardless of the critiques that come his way. For when it comes to confronting racism, being active is the only way to be. (mission) (school improvement plan) (website on the schools links page) Avenoso, K. (March 6, 1997). Blacks only event faulted by parents; Amherst school draws criticism. Boston Globe, Metro Region, Pg. B1.