Antiracism and using universal design in education were the topics of featured speaker Andratesha Fritzgerald at Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Pan African Conference last Friday in her presentation, “Pain. Power. Honor. Does It Hurt Enough to Change? Antiracism and Universal Design”.
Universal design is a learning structure that was created to ensure all students are equally able to succeed, regardless of disability, race, class, or other marginalizations.
“We think about what the barriers are for the students we serve and then we design to eliminate or mitigate those barriers into the fabric of every core instructional offering,” Fitzgerald said when discussing universal design for learning.
Like a song chorus, the phrase “Does it hurt? Does it hurt enough to change?” was repeated by Fritzgerald throughout her presentation over Zoom.
Elija Lewis, a junior in the elementary education program at MSU, introduced Fritzgerald.
“Fritzgerald exhibits an audacious perseverance that calls organizations to evolve into inclusive, anti-racist safe zones for all learners,” said Lewis.
Fritzgerald is the author of “Antiracism and Universal Design in Learning” and has worked in the education field for over 20 years and currently holds the position of Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation for the East Cleveland City School Districts in Ohio.
Before going into education, Fritzgerald pursued a career in engineering and even landed an internship with NASA. She ended up pursuing a career in education after she signed up for a six week English course for 9-12 graders. “I found a sense of purpose that was just magnified in me,” Fritzgerald said, referring to her experience with the course.
Fitzgerald frequently put her ideas into action during her speech. At the very beginning, Fritzgerald encouraged the audience to talk with each other via the chat function on Zoom. She also frequently asked questions of the audience and encouraged them to answer via the chat function as well.
A powerful incident Fritzgerald discussed during her speech came from her first year of teaching. Mario Redding, a student in Fritzgerald’s 10R taught, wound up serving a 20 year prison sentence. The class 10R referenced the fact it was a 10 grade English class made up of students retaking the class.
“The students are not broken, the system is,” Fritzgerald said in regards to this incident. “I tried to control them [10R], but they did not need control. They needed opportunities to show what they knew.”
At the end, the audience was encouraged to ask questions. One question was, “How can we overcome a barrier or lack of support from administrators?”
To answer this, Fitzgerald said, “Your outcomes will be your best advocacy. It will be seeing students excel with you who don’t excel anywhere else and the question will be ‘how?’”
Write to Jeremy Redlien at Jeremy.Redlien@mnsu.edu