How can education respond productively/positively to students’ racial-ethnic experiences? As we know from Danish and international research, students’ racial-ethnic experiences (feelings, moods and practices that occur due to one’s ethnic and racial positioning) and educators’ ways of dealing with them are pertinent factors in educational institutions and critical diversity pedagogies. We also know that diversity work which creates inclusive environments that are accepting of differences and provide equal opportunities has a profound effect on learning outcomes, motivation and well-being among students, in particular minority students. Since racial-ethnic experiences play such a decisive role, there is an urgent need to develop racially literate pedagogies that address these experiences in constructive ways.
Rather than criticizing people’s takes on race, the project sets out with hope and identifies promising practices of diversity work as mood work and in order to develop a pedagogically applicable concept of racially literate diversity work. The design includes a number of elements to ensure the project’s relevance to educational practice: We include both students’ and educators’ perspectives; develop cases that can be tested by educators and bridge research and practice by qualifying our analyses using case-based learning laboratories. Not only does this qualify the final outcome, findings are implemented when the educators participating in the lab and at the interactive closing seminar get the possibility to systematically and collectively reflect on how to respond positively to students’ racial-ethnic experiences.
The aim of this project is to produce and disseminate knowledge concerning racially literate diversity work by exploring the practices that take place in Danish schools. Based on the hypothesis that diversity work is also ‘mood work’, the project focuses on the collective atmospheres and individual feelings, that channel and circumscribe the processes through which racial-ethnic experiences become invested. These moods emerge for instance, when students encounter and negotiate racially charged humour as funny or offensive; when white teachers or majority students are confused and hurt by being called racist by other students; when being a minority student ‘feels like being a problem’ (Du Bois, 1903/2019); or when minority students’ experiences of racial and ethnic exclusion are met with scepticism.
The objective is to investigate students’ affectively imprinted racial-ethnic experiences and explore how educators attend to and approach collective moods and feelings among students associated with these experiences. Often in a Danish institutional context of education, ethnic-racial relations is a sensitive issue that tends to be ignored: the ‘elephant in the room’ (Hvenegård-Lassen & Staunæs, 2019). Consequently, diversity work addressing issues of racial-ethnic experiences is not a widespread official practice in Danish schools. This does not, however, negate the necessity of addressing racial experiences if every student’s potentials are to be realised; nor does it mean that educators do not attend to the in- and exclusions that occur in these affective flows. Nevertheless, we need more research-based knowledge to understand how education can respond productively to students’ racial-ethnic experiences. Therefore, this project asks: 1) How do students in Danish schools experience racial-ethnic exclusions? 2) In what ways do teachers and school leaders constructively sense, engage with and respond to students’ racial-ethnic experiences? 3) How could knowledge concerning students’ racial-ethnic experiences be productively incorporated in the development of antiracist education and contribute to racial literate diversity work? The project focuses on the struggles in everyday diversity work, teasing out a practice-based foundation for sustainable and equality-based educational practice. We trace and learn about promising practices through ethnographies at two schools and a case-based learning laboratory involving 12 leadership teams.
The outcome is a conceptualization of racially literate diversity work as mood work. This will help educators tackle questions of racial experiences as an issue to be addressed by the leadership and organization as a whole rather than only a task for individual teachers; support educators’ work to promote well-being and equality among students; and help close the achievement gap between racial-ethnic minority and majority students.