In each issue Redbird Impact highlights an Illinois State faculty or staff member who exemplifies the University’s core value of civic engagement. The fall 2021 Campus Hero is Dr. Becky Beucher, an assistant professor of secondary literacy education in the College of Education.
Beucher, who arrived at the University in 2016, has been the lead faculty liaison and curriculum developer for the National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) since early 2020. In this role, she develops curriculum, meets with community-based liaisons, and establishes professional development for Chicago Public Schools teachers and partner educators.
Beucher received the University’s Service Initiative Award in 2020 and has served on the Center for Civic Engagement’s Advisory Board, in addition to the Bone Scholarship Committee.Appears In
Beucher has long advocated for incorporating equity, diversity, and inclusion into the classroom. She was introduced to courses in high school and later in college that provided a framework for understanding racial, economic, and social injustices and how policies and politics shape people’s lives. She realized education could play a role in perpetuating injustice, so she sought to make change within.
She is committed to preparing culturally responsive educators. Knowing that work can be uncomfortable as people are invited to confront their own experiences with privilege and oppression, Beucher believes it is imperative to be in the right mindset. She researches the impact of mindfulness and yoga within the context of education. She has practiced yoga for over a decade and has taught it for three years. During the pandemic, she offered a mindfulness class to her colleagues who felt disrupted and stressed about the shift to online teaching.
The following Q&A with Beucher was conducted in May.
What vision did you have when you became lead faculty liaison and curriculum developer for the NCUE?
Prior to my time at ISU, there were grant resources readily available to keep NCUE funded for nearly two decades. However, urban education grants have been virtually nonexistent within the past five years, and now are only beginning to emerge again. And so, my primary vision for this position was to support Executive Director Dr. Maria Zamudio’s vision to secure opportunities to enable NCUE to survive locally and develop a national and expansive presence.
Through NCUE, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to develop my research, my scholarship, and my teaching. Redesigning courses with the support of NCUE has, for example, given me opportunities to develop curriculum around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in Peoria with District 150 educators, local BLM community organizers, business owners, law enforcement, politicians, educators, librarians, and students. It’s been a really amazing experience for my students and for the high school students we have collaborated with over the years because we are having deep conversations around topics that polarize our larger communities, yet are imperative to forwarding justice in this country and around the world.
NCUE partnerships have enabled me to design classes that afford my students opportunities aligned with ISU’s strategic plan specifically related to diversity, inclusion, collaboration, civic engagement, and integrity. And I also get the students to think with anti-racist, community-engaged, and culturally responsive pedagogy and to design curriculum that is centered in what the students and school community value. My intention in this role has been to support NCUE’s momentum and expansion.
You have taught Diversity and Inclusion classes at Illinois State, and have published a number of works on preparing culturally responsive educators. What led you to pursuing that kind of work?
I grew up in the segregated suburbs of Chicago and Milwaukee in predominantly white, middle-class, Christian communities. And in these communities, I was a witness to racism, homophobia, and I experienced sexism myself as a cisgender female, and I learned to value service. I didn’t have the language at that time growing up to name what I was seeing and what I was experiencing. But I felt the discomfort in my body, both as a witness, and as a recipient of injustice. So, my work as an intersectional anti-racist educator has always been, simultaneously personal as much as it is political.
It was during my senior year in college that I started to realize how education played a role in perpetuating social injustices and specifically the policing of Black and Indigenous and people of colors’ bodies. While the school-to-prison pipeline was not at that time a part of my vocabulary, my education had illuminated the role that schools had historically played in perpetuating systemic racism. Later, I learned more about other forms of discrimination—sexism, homophobia, ableism. My education offered context for my experiences.
In terms of thinking about what this all means for me as an educator, I think about the stumblings I have had through deconstructing my own internalized homophobia and racist beliefs, and about the people who graciously supported my emergent critical consciousness. I did not just wake up to intersecting systemic injustices; it took me a while, and I am still learning how to be an advocate. I had a lot of ignorance that I needed to work through. And I’ve had a lot of people throughout my life who’ve had an incredible amount of grace, to love me through my stumblings and through my ignorance, and who pointed me towards resources that have supported my growth and development.
For me, this work is not about shaming; it is about waking up to how you have been positioned in the world and making conscious choices about how to be better to yourself and to all others on this planet, past, present, and future. I’m fully committed to show that same grace, coupled with compassion and accountability, to my students.
How important is it for future educators to reflect social justice in a diverse community into their teachings, especially as the nation’s population increasingly becomes more non-white?
Regardless of population changes, regardless of the racial and ethnic makeup of your students, all educators have a responsibility to honor and humanize their students, themselves, and their colleagues. In the absence of granting folx within one’s learning community the respect for one’s humanity, I don’t know how we can expect to cultivate equitable learning contexts. Specifically with regard to teaching minoritized students, embedding social justice, decolonial, and anti-racist frameworks into one’s curriculum humanizes students whose bodies are constantly under attack in and outside of school buildings. And it enables students to see that witnessing or experiencing suffering caused by oppressive practices, or unconscious complacency in perpetuating oppression, isn’t something to sit in shame around but rather, we all need to feel alive and activated to affect change.
To expect the people whose bodies are suffering from the burden of racial injustice to be the only ones who engage that fight is in itself an injustice. Racism as micro- and macro-aggressions are threats that induce trauma; the perpetual violence BIPOC folx endure is exhausting.
This is why I believe that social justice pedagogy is imperative for white teachers and for teachers who are teaching at predominantly white schools and institutions to participate in. It has got to be a collective responsibility to disrupt these systems that are perpetuating harm against our Black, Brown, and Indigenous students and colleagues.
How important is it for teaching candidates to build personal connections both in and out of the classroom?
I believe that dehumanization, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination happen when people fail to form empathetic connections, when people fail to see themselves in others, and instead live in fear grounded in beliefs that name differences as threats. Personal connections enable us to see through the lies that we’ve been told about one another that have been used to keep us segregated and fearful of each other. Through these relationships, and course redesign activities, my students come to recognize that they have bias, and they then work to deconstruct these biases, not from a place of shame, but rather from a place of curiosity and a recognition that racism and white supremacy are in the cultural air that we breathe, and are embedded in the systems and structures that we were raised in, that we work and learn in.
Thinking alongside the youth requires a lot of identity work. I teach my students to be mindful about how they come into conversation with students. That’s where I think that that critical consciousness is imperative because we start to get to know ourselves and how we are conditioned beings but that we also have agency to shift how we relate to one another and ultimately advocate on each other’s behalf.
A lot of the students at the schools that we collaborate with are pretty active in working to affect change against the injustices that they’re experiencing locally, which I think is a really cool thing that’s emerging with this generation of young people. This work is about introducing my college students to the conversations that young people are involved in—oftentimes outside of school—and then we think together about how as teachers, they can design instructional materials and select course content that takes up youth’s interests, values, and voices in impactful ways.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
This works takes a village, and I’m one of many. The National Center for Urban Education embodies the anti-racist, culturally responsive, civically engaged democratic principles that are core to ISU’s values. I really appreciate being a part of a university, college, and department that values this work. And it’s my hope that I’ll have the opportunity to continue to support NCUE in affecting lasting change at our local, state, national, and perhaps even expanding to international communities in the decades to come.
I’m just trying to help out as much as I can to provide spaces where we can have dialogues, so we can think about how we can best serve our students and make sure we are doing it in an equitable way.