Part II: An Important Conversation—Future Teachers Share Their Perspectives on Justice
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: January 27, 2020
One of the first things Chezare Warren, Ph.D., asked the group of Portland State College of Education (COE) students was: “What is justice and when do we know we have achieved it?”

Student Ken Harris said justice happens “when a moral or ethical wrong has been made right.”

The students were gathered for a professional development session on diversity, equity, and inclusion this Wednesday afternoon. COE faculty members met on Tuesday for a training led by Warren, a nationally known researcher in the area of urban education and culturally responsive pedagogy.

Holding the professional development sessions is one way the COE is working to uphold the value of inclusion in the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan. Objectives in that plan include recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty. Objectives to achieve that include promoting equity and inclusion research that serves historically marginalized communities, refining recruitment practices, and critically examining pedagogy to focus on equity and inclusion.

COE Coordinator for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Andres Guzman said that there were four goals for these sessions, including “the role that white women play in establishing and maintaining school and therapeutic environments that cater to Eurocentric sensibilities and white racial preferences for learning and social interaction” and how white men reinforce that role. Guzman said the sessions were also intended to underscore how “white women candidates (in teaching and in counseling)” should “respond/interrupt appropriately and adequately to the needs of racially diverse students.”

At the student session, Warren spoke on social movements; how white people can be allies to people of color; and the meaning of the terms equity, equality, justice, and freedom.


Student Andy Green noted that his group talked about justice “as a constant state of aspiration toward equitable supports, equality of opportunity.”

Another member of Green’s group, Natalie Bergman, rounded out the thought, “We said we were not sure if we ever would achieve it because the world is continually evolving.” Bergman added that justice happens when everyone is comfortable with that change.

To further shine a light on the meanings of these terms, Warren pulled up a three-paneled illustration, each depicting three children of different heights peering over a fence to view a baseball game. In the equality panel, all children can stand on the same-size box to try to see over the fence, which leaves the smaller ones still unable to see. In the equity panel, all children can stand on boxes of varying heights, with the shorter children getter taller boxes, so they can see the game. In the justice panel, the youths are tearing down the fence.

“What might the fence represent?” Warren asked the students.

“A barrier,” called out student Dani Oates. Warren nodded.

“As educators, we’ve been good about saying: Equality is not enough; we need equity,” said Warren, who was a math teacher and school administrator for Chicago Public Schools for a decade. “But there are still some barriers there.”

Warren added that he’d seen a similar illustration that includes a fourth panel without the fence, and the panel’s called freedom. He told the future teachers to ask themselves a question: “What am I doing to tear down the fence and resist barriers to opportunity?”

The group then watched two videos from Vice News Tonight on HBO that contrasted the white nationalist and Black Lives Matter movements. Warren asked the students what made Black Lives Matter and the white nationalists social movements and what these groups want. One student suggested both groups want change.

“I feel like the alt right is against change,” Oates said.

Student Olivia Niver suggested that the alt right carries a false perception of the world contrasted against the real-life view of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“One group is enacting violence,” Warren said. “One group is trying to alleviate violence.”

He said that the students should be conscious of whether they are falling prey to the hate, fear, and hunger for power that breeds violence. Warren advised students to never dehumanize someone they disagree with, lest it lead to violence.

He told students to remember that systems of oppression grew of slavery and colonization, and while they are not systems that we, personally, created, we can change them. He asked the students what they can do to advocate for that change. Niver said she seeks diverse people to listen to. Warren said listening helps, and white people can also speak up in support of people of color and have the other white people in their lives do so as well.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been the black voice and how stressful that has been,” he said.

More About Chezare Warren

Chezare Warren is an accomplished author or co-editor of two books: White Women’s Work: Examining the Intersectionality of Teaching, Identity, and Race and Urban Preparation: Young Black Men Moving from Chicago’s South Side to Success in Higher Education.

Warren is one of two education scholars in the country to receive the 2019 National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine/Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. While earning his doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he was honored with the Abraham Lincoln Fellowship. Upon graduating, he began a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, during which he co-led the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study.


Photo 1: Chezare Warren, Ph.D., leads a professional development session on Wednesday for College of Education students in which he asks students what justice means to them and how they know it when they see it. Photo by Jillian Daley

Photo 2: Ken Harris (second from right) says justice happens “when a moral or ethical wrong has been made right.” Mike Bigelow, right, said he enjoyed the professional development session very much. Photo by Jillian Daley

Photo 3: Chezare Warren asks students to always keep this question in mind, “What am I doing to tear down the fence and resist barriers to opportunity?” Photo by Jillian Daley

For more on Chezare Warren’s teachings, check out Part I of the “An Important Discussion” series on the COE Blog or COE News sites.

To share stories with the College of Education, email Jillian Daley.