Scholar, author Adrienne Dixson visits ASU for residency on collaboration, systemic change

Adrienne Dixon, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky and the executive director of the Education and Civil Rights Initiative, is passionate about research — particularly research focusing on how race, class and gender intersect and impact educational equity in urban schooling contexts.

To amplify her work, Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre joined the School of Social Transformation and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in welcoming Dixson to ASU for a four-day residency, titled “A Collaborative Venture in Seizing Systemic Change.”

The series of lectures and one-on-one research meetings was co-sponsored by the Music Learning and Teaching area in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, the Center for Research Advancing Racial Equity, Justice and Sociotechnical Innovation Centered in Engineering (RARE JUSTICE) in the Fulton Schools, and the School of Social Transformation.

In addition to the lectures that were open to all ASU faculty, staff and students, Dixson engaged with faculty, graduate students and administrative personnel in each of the three schools.

“Given Dixson’s expertise in examining how race and racism impact educational equity, including policy, and her knowledge about music learning and the arts coupled with her own experiences of college music programs, I thought her visit would be impactful,” said Joyce McCall, assistant professor of music learning and teaching.

McCall said she and colleagues in the School of Social Transformation, including Ersula Ore and Mako Ward, and in the Polytechnic School of the Fulton Schools, including Brooke Coley, engaged in several conversations and collaborations around their shared interests in identifying actionable ways forward to realizing systemic change at ASU.

“We thought it would be a great way to join forces and resources in securing Dr. Dixson’s visit to assist us in constructing a path forward,” McCall said. 

McCall said she had read a great amount of Dixson’s work when she was a doctoral student in music education at ASU and met Dixson when she was a first-year assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

That work includes co-editing one of the first book-length texts on critical race theory, CRT, in education, “Critical Race Theory in Education: All God’s Children Got a Song” (1st and 2nd editions), and the “Handbook of Critical Race Theory and Education” (1st and 2nd editions). Dixson is also an American Educational Research Association Fellow, and her research has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Dixson said when CRT was originally introduced in education in the early 1990s, there was considerable resistance. Then from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, she said there was a lot of interest. Now there is more rejection of CRT by people outside academia, Dixson said, but within academia scholars who once rejected or were extremely critical of CRT are publishing books and articles on it.

“Within our research on education and university-based teaching in education, critical race theory helps us think more carefully about how our policies and practices create barriers that prevent equitable participation and success in the educational enterprise,” Dixson said. “CRT is a theoretical framework, like feminist theory or other theories on how to make sense of the world.”

She feels teachers should continue to teach objective facts about CRT, such as the Trail of Tears dispossession of sovereign lands and the enslavement of peoples.

“I hope that folks left (our sessions) with an urgency to commit to working in coalition and organizing across constituencies to protect our freedom to talk, think, read and act on behalf of equity,” Dixson said. “I hope that folks who are committed to this work feel affirmed and rejuvenated.”

“I hope that attendees gained a deep understanding of the work that lies ahead for us, and that of critical race theory — what it is and is not,” McCall said. “I hope that attendees walked away better informed and inspired, and that folks will move with a sense of urgency to improve our spaces, wherever they may be.”

Lynne MacDonald