How I got here
I believe education is a collective endeavor. My mum pursued higher education while I was a child and teenager, graduating with a first class honors in Psychology and Computer Science. She took me to her University library while she attended classes. Her dedication to her studies was really inspiring to me. My mum proofreads all my research (all errors are mine) and she is my most important colleague.
My dad is a master craftsman and a Baha'i, a religion that emphasizes education, anti-racism and global consciousness. He surrounded my brother and me with a diverse, purposeful and progressive community. He encourages us a lot. My dad never did an undergraduate degree but he completed a doctorate in sustainable furniture design in 2007 (my mum edited his thesis!). My brother is also a craftsman and my sister-in-law is an artist and author.
I did my undergraduate studies in Politics and International Studies at Warwick University in the UK in the late 1990s. Even with my mum's shining example, I felt completely out of my depth. But I had some brilliant teachers including Professor Tim Sinclair, who allowed me to write a paper on feminism and International Relations. Professor Shirin Rai introduced me to Gender and Development Studies and Black Feminist thought. These scholars changed my thinking and my understanding of what is possible.
With Professor Sinclair's help, I was able to pursue doctoral studies in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Minnesota. There I was lucky to be a student of Professor Bud Duvall and many other incredible teachers and mentors. I was a teaching assistant for August Nimtz for many years, which had a profound impact on my understanding of education (and so much more).
At Minnesota I eventually taught my own classes on global politics and human rights. I was also part of the Preparing Future Faculty program. Concurrently, I was a founding member of the Equal Access Coalition, a large group of students, workers, educators and community members working to expand access to higher education in the Twin Cities and beyond in the mid 2000s. I was a MacArthur scholar in the wonderful Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change. I say all this to emphasize the incredible opportunities, mentoring and community I received throughout my studies.
I was really inspired by the General College (GC) at the University of Minnesota, which served working class and first generation college students. 48 percent of students at GC were students of color (the university undergraduate population was only 13 percent students of color). I was able to spend time in GC as a rank and file union organizer for GRADTRAC/UE. In Appleby Hall, I saw educators supporting students and courses that helped working class students connect their lives to their studies. The teachers and advisors at GC told me about "meeting students where they are at." These were things I felt were sorely missing in Political Science and in my own education. Despite intense community mobilization and protests, GC was shut down by University administrators who cared more about rankings than about education. Isaac Kamola and Eli Meyerhoff discuss some of this history in their 2009 article "Creating Commons" and Eli writes about it in his brilliant book Beyond Education: Radical Studying for a Better World (2019).
In 2009, I took a job at a small liberal arts college in Oregon to hone my skills as an educator and to support students throughout their studies. But I didn't know much about Oregon or small liberal arts colleges. When I think back on this big transition, I realize how many students and staff members took the time to show me how to be a better teacher. With their permission, I'll try to write more about that in this space in the future.
I believe education is a human right. As I see many students and graduates drowning in debt, it's not lost on me that I was able to attend University in the UK at no cost in the 1990s (the UK government introduced tuition fees in 1998 and now students in England and Wales graduate with an average debt of $55,000). Then, thanks to Professor Sinclair's mentoring, I was able to go to the USA, where I was enrolled in a fully funded PhD program at a public land-grant institution. In short, I benefitted from policies that treat education as a public good and allow ordinary people access to higher education. I continue to work for free, accessible and meaningful higher education for all.
Image: Protestors at a rally for the General College at the University of Minnesota in 2005. Source.