Ekpe Writes About Power of Educators for Social Justice
As a former K-12 educator and current Higher Educational Leadership Doctoral student, Leslie Ekpe has seen firsthand the power educators possess to make progress towards social justice. She wrote two articles this summer about what it means to be a social justice educator and the responsibilities of postsecondary institutions while Black people face ongoing racial injustice and a global health crisis.
Ekpe earned her MBA and planned to attend law school until she felt called by her faith to become an educator. She quickly learned she loved being in the classroom and went on to teach ninth grade professional communications. She realized that her classroom gave students a safe space to have difficult conversations and disagree with their peers, especially in the time of pervasive social media.
“When I was a K-12 educator, I loved it when students opposed each other,” she said. “To me, this was a moment in which I could teach students the true essence of dialogue. It was an opportunity for me to teach on the core of what social justice truly means. Because the world teaches us to hate people who don’t think like you, I used opportunities like this to educate the true ethos behind humanity and open-mindedness.”
Though teachers bring their bias into the classroom, Ekpe said it’s essential to highlight social justice even if it’s not comfortable or natural. When she heard about Minneapolis police killing George Floyd and ensuing protests, she thought back on opportunities she might have missed to share knowledge and make a tense situation more valuable in her classroom. She thought about her white colleagues who might have struggled with speaking up and leading difficult conversations that result in change.
“Ultimately, social justice will not be taught in one lesson,” Ekpe wrote in her article for Teaching Channel. “It is a concept that is embedded throughout pedagogical practices and the action of educators. IT’S ON US.”
Ekpe wrote an opinion piece in July on the responsibility of higher education institutions, warning against pacifying statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement without real action behind them.
“I fear that in the upcoming days, higher education institutions will no longer lead society,” she stated. “It is our active duty to create opportunities for our communities to grow. We can start within postsecondary institutions to ensure that we are fully equipping educators with all the necessary tools, experiences and knowledge they need to be able to practice equitable engagement in their teaching.”
She serves as a Graduate Assistant for TCU’s Office of Diversity Equity & Inclusion, organizing trainings, events, and initiatives to make sure that TCU is truly practicing inclusivity. She said she wants to learn from the committed staff in the office and ensure TCU isn’t the same university as it was yesterday. Ekpe is also an Albert Schweitzer Fellow in the second year of her doctoral program. She plans to write her dissertation on the countless racial disparities students of color face when taking college entrance exams and the barriers in which admission practices keep these students out of postsecondary institutions. She hopes to be a professor and affect change in the classroom and beyond.
“For professors, educators and administrators – I think we forget how much influence we have to influence individuals’ thinking and mindsets,” she said. “That is scary and amazing at the same time.”