Liberation in Higher Education

A White Researcher’s Journey Through the Shadows

by Sarah Militz-Frielink (Author)
©2019 Monographs XIV, 148 Pages


Liberation in Higher Education introduces and expands on the notion of Endarkened Feminist Epistemology (EFE) based on a qualitative case study of Cynthia B. Dillard and her students as well as the white researcher and author, Sarah Militz-Frielink, as she became transformed through her research in higher education. Dillard, who created EFE as a teaching and research paradigm in 2000, grounded it in several frameworks: Black feminist thought, standpoint theory, the tenets of African American spirituality, and the work of Parker J. Palmer on non-religious spirituality in education. The book delves into EFE’s origins and students’ meaning-making experiences with EFE—including related themes such as healing, identity development, cultural histories, spirituality, and the evolution of the phenomenon over time. This book also includes a chapter in which Militz-Frielink applies EFE as a methodology to herself, which is one of the recommended practices of EFE as a research tool. Liberation in Higher Education concludes with implications and recommendations for practitioners, particularly white practitioners in higher education who work with African American students in predominantly white institutions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Scholarly Inspiration
  • Motivation and Social Location of the Researcher
  • Cynthia B. Dillard and Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Guiding Questions
  • Preview of Findings
  • 1. Endarkening Spirituality in Education: Theoretical Conceptualizations and African American Discourse
  • Non-Religious Spirituality in Education: Addressing the Curriulum
  • The Wisdom of Black Feminist Writers on Spirituality in Education
  • African American Discourse and Curriculum on Spirituality in Education
  • A. Wade Boykin
  • bell hooks
  • Brenda Atlas
  • Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Contemporary Example of EFE in the Classroom? Tucson Unified School District
  • Endarkened Feminist Epistemology: Limitations
  • 2. Cynthia B. Dillard, Endarkened Feminist Epistemology, and Research Design
  • Guiding Questions for This Study
  • A Note on the Methods and Data Analysis
  • Selection of Participants
  • Cynthia B. Dillard
  • Individual Student Analysis
  • Student Data Analysis: Indexing Across the Narratives
  • Student Dialogue Questions
  • Meaning-Making Themes Used to Index Across the Narratives for the Students
  • Students’ Collective Group Analysis
  • Life Notes
  • Threats to Validity
  • Limitations
  • Ethical Considerations
  • 3. Endarkened Feminist Epistemology: From Theory to Practice
  • Organization of the Chapter
  • Dillard’s Brief Biography and Background
  • Qualitative Interviews with Dillard
  • Origins of EFE
  • Development of EFE
  • Writing Dangerously in the Academy
  • Practice
  • Teaching
  • Dillard as Pedagogue: Participant Observations
  • November 20: Learning by Watching and Listening
  • December 7: Getting Ready for Ghana, Learning about American Privilege
  • Dillard’s Station Teaching: Kente, Beads, Storytelling
  • EFE in the Classroom
  • Dillard: Summation of Case Study
  • 4. Endarkened Feminist Epistemology: Voices from Ghana
  • Researcher #1
  • Connecting Research to Past Histories
  • Personal Identities Connected to Community
  • Research as a Pursuit Both Intellectual and Spiritual/Purposeful
  • Healing
  • Researcher #1 and Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Researcher #2
  • Connecting Research to Past Histories
  • Personal Identities Connected to Community
  • Research as a Pursuit both Intellectual and Spiritual/Purposeful
  • Healing
  • Researcher #2 and Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Researcher #3
  • Connecting Research to Past Histories
  • Personal Identities as Connected to Community
  • Research as a Pursuit Both Intellectual and Spiritual/Purposeful
  • Experiential Knowledge
  • Healing
  • Researcher #3 and Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Summary of Individual Student Analysis
  • Researcher #1
  • Researcher #2
  • Researcher #3
  • Students’ Collective Group Analysis
  • Connecting Research to Past Histories
  • Personal Identities as Connected to the Community
  • Research as a Pursuit Both Intellectual and Spiritual/Purposeful
  • Healing
  • Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Contradictions, Paradoxes and Possibilities: Endarkened Feminist Epistemology
  • Contradictions in the Researcher: EFE
  • Contradictions in Dillard: Researcher #2 Story
  • 5. The Power of Cultural Memory Work Across Others and Ourselves
  • Life Notes of a White Researcher
  • Lessons Learned in Middle School
  • Lessons Learned from Corporate-Run Schools
  • What I Wish We White People Could Learn
  • 6. EFE: Implications and Recommendations for Higher Education
  • Guiding Question #1
  • Implications
  • Recommendations for Higher Education
  • Guiding Question #2
  • Implications
  • Recommendations for Higher Education
  • Guiding Question #3
  • Implications
  • Recommendations for Higher Education
  • Conclusion and Recommendations for White Practitioners
  • Series index

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My thanks and gratitude go to my family, especially my parents, my brother, and my children Gabriel, Grace, and Hannah, for their love and patience during the hours I spent traveling and writing to finish this research. I would like to thank my dissertation committee—Dr. Danny B. Martin, Dr. Alfred W. Tatum, Dr. David Stovall, Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, and Dr. Conra Gist—for their unconditional support and scholarly advice. Words cannot express how grateful I am to have the privilege of learning from such great minds who came together for the sake of this project. I would especially like to express gratitude to the chair of this committee, Dr. Danny B. Martin for having the fortitude and patience to work with me under difficult circumstances (i.e., when my previous advisor—UIC’s beloved William H. Watkins—passed away unexpectedly in 2014). We were all grieving and Dr. Martin courageously took on a tremendous amount of responsibilities at UIC. Despite the heavy workload, Dr. Martin continuously put his students first and gave meaningful feedback on our theses and dissertations in a timely matter, which inspired us to continue our inquiries with a sense of purpose. For that I am eternally grateful—to have known a professor ← xi | xii → and chair of a department who invested so much time and energy in his graduate students. It is rare to meet a professor like that in the academy today as so many are tied up in politics or their own inquiries. It is more rare to have one as chair of one’s dissertation committee; I am beyond blessed. Special thanks to my precious mentor Dr. La Vonne I. Neal, who introduced me to Dillard and helped me to stay on the path for love and justice.

| xiii →


AERA American Educational Research Association

ASALH Association for the Study of African American Life and History

EFE Endarkened Feminist Epistemology

NCC National Curriculum Council

UGA University of Georgia, Athens

| 1 →


The art of teaching embodies a spiritual essence that is frequently suppressed, erased, or replaced by an increasingly mechanistic model of teaching (Counts, 1932/1969; Dewey, 1929/1999; Gardner, 2000; hooks, 2003; Mayes, 2005). The word spiritual comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning “breath,” and the Greek word penuma, meaning “air” or “wind.” The etymological roots reflect the “breath of life” concept of the soul. At the most fundamental level, this concept distinguishes the animate from the inanimate, and the transcendent from the immanent. When disentangled from its longstanding religious connotations, the concept of spirituality can be framed in relation to teaching as a precondition for educating the whole person (Dewey, 1929, p. 9).

The idea of spirituality—especially the non-religious kind—in schools is not a new concept to the sphere of education (Dewey, 1929/1999; Hill, 1989; hooks, 1994; Lewis, 2000; Mayes, 2005; Palmer, 1983; Tisdell, 2006; White, 1996). For example, in 1993 the National Curriculum Council (NCC) published a document on spiritual and moral development which emphasizes the applicability of the word “spiritual” to all pupils within the domain of public education in the United Kingdom. The thrust of this document is to legitimize the non-religious spiritual aims of education: ← 1 | 2 →

Despite the NCC’s support for the implementation of non-religious spirituality in schools, the word spiritual still faces much opposition in the United States. Much of this opposition derives from a concern with not wanting to abridge the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In addition, the typical U.S. classroom in the era of neoliberalism is increasingly dominated by techno-globalism, standardized testing, corporate agendas, and school reforms designed to eliminate the humanities from the curriculum (Asher, 2010; Nussbaum, 2010; Watkins, 2011), all of which tend to push aside non-religious spiritual practices as well as social justice-based curriculum in schools.

Given this restrictive context, there is a need to critically examine the use of non-religious spiritual practices and the relationship to social justice pedagogy within the educational realm. The majority of research studies on this topic have focused on non-religious spirituality in P-12 settings (Kessler, 1998/1999; Mata, 2011; Militz-Frielink, 2009; Weaver II & Cotrell, 1992). At this time, there is a paucity of literature available on non-religious spirituality in the higher education setting. To be specific, there is only one salient study which examined the relationship between social justice pedagogy and non-religious spirituality in the higher education classroom (Shahjahan, 2009). This study was conducted by spiritually-minded activist and scholar Riyad Ahmed Shahjahan (2009), who conducted a case study on the teaching of Hoi—a female East Asian scholar—during his quest to find a connection between social justice pedagogy and spirituality. Hoi conveys her spiritual epistemology as a vehicle which guides her “students through an intellectual exercise to an embodied learning experience” (Shahjahan, 2009, p. 128). ← 2 | 3 →

According to Hoi, “definitions, discussions, around stereotypes and critical scholarship in general privilege are only one way of knowing with the conceptual mind … Actual experience leaves a stronger impression as it becomes really experimental with the body” (Shahjahan, 2009, p. 128). Hoi uses her spiritual epistemology to remedy conflicts that arise both inside and outside the classroom as students relate to others in terms of us/them binaries (Shahjahan, 2009, p. 128). Moreover, Hoi has contributed insights into the practice of spiritual pedagogy in the higher education classroom.

A meditative tasting exercise with raisins serves as an embodied experience which helps Hoi’s students digest critical theory and theorize the self in relation to the other (Shahjahan, 2009. P. 128). Hoi instructs students to hold a raisin, be fully present, and observe the sensation in their hands. Then she instructs the students to place the raisin in their mouth and slowly experience it. She cues her students to notice the sensations that arise as the raisin slowly dissolves. Then they repeat the same activity with a second raisin. Hoi asks students to examine their assumptions about the different raisins as a metaphor for how they understand the self/other relationship. She tries to convey the following lesson:


XIV, 148
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XIV, 148 pp.

Biographical notes

Sarah Militz-Frielink (Author)

Sarah Militz-Frielink earned her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently teaches at Northern Illinois University. Her co-authored book Borders, Bras, and Battles earned an honorable mention for the 2016 Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award. In addition to several journal articles, she published a National Learning Series titled African Americans in Times of War: Triumphs in Tragedy.


Title: Liberation in Higher Education
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