Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power

White Faculty’s Commitment to Racial Consciousness in STEM Classrooms

by Nicole M. Joseph (Volume editor) Chayla Haynes (Volume editor) Floyd Cobb (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XIV, 292 Pages


Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power: White Faculty’s Commitment to Racial Consciousness in STEM Classrooms is a collection of narratives that will transform the teaching of any faculty member who teaches in the STEM system. The book links issues of inclusion to teacher excellence at all grade levels by illuminating the critical influence that racial consciousness has on the behaviors of White faculty in the classroom. It functions as an analytical tool, scaffolding exemplary examples to inspire readers to engage in the complex and difficult work of assessing their own racial consciousness and teacher effectiveness. White pre-service teachers in STEM education rarely see the importance of the link between race and the teaching and learning of mathematics, in part because the White faculty who are teaching these subjects rarely engage in the study of racial projects in STEM. From this perspective, the authors of this book contend that the classroom is a racialized environment that, if not addressed, can reproduce racial structures and hierarchies in cyclical ways.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction Transforming the STEM System: Teaching that Disrupts White Institutional Space
  • Section 1. Racial Realism: Exploring How Whiteness Shapes Our Lives
  • 1. Learning to Work While White to Challenge Racism in Higher Education
  • 2. When Nothing’s Lost: The Impact of Racial Segregation on White Teachers and Students
  • 3. Getting Real: Surfacing and Challenging Persistent Oppressive Behaviors of School and District Leaders
  • 4. Privilege in Mathematics Education: Some Reflections on Whiteness
  • 5. Learning and Teaching About Race, Privilege, and Disprivilege
  • Section 2. Problematizing Racial Consciousness in the STEM System
  • 6. Seeing the World With a New Set of Eyes: (Re)Examining Our Identities as White Mathematics Education Researchers of Equity and Social Justice
  • 7. Interrogating Whiteness: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Science Education
  • 8. Teacher Educators and Pre-Service Teachers Working Through the Complexities of Whiteness and Race in Mathematics and Science
  • 9. Challenging Patterns to Change My World: Using My Personal Evolution of Critical Race Consciousness in Mathematics Teacher Education
  • 10. Reconceptualizing “Activism”: Developing a Socially Conscious Practice With Prospective White Mathematics Teachers
  • Section 3. And We Are Still Not Saved: Charting a Path Forward for Racial Equity in STEM
  • 11. Response to “Teacher Educators and Pre-Service Teachers Working Through the Complexities of Whiteness and Race in Mathematics and Science”
  • 12. Mathematics Teacher Education as a Racialized Experience: One Black Scholar’s Response to a White Teacher Educator’s Critical Consciousness Evolution and Social Justice Practice
  • 13. Moving From the Outside In, or What White Colleagues Need to Do to Get It Right With Their White Students
  • 14. For Whom Do We Do Equity and Social Justice Work? Recasting the Discourse About the Other to Effect Transformative Change
  • 15. Nesting in Nepantla: The Importance of Maintaining Tensions in Our Work
  • Conclusion Racial Consciousness among STEM Faculty: Addressing the Tensions and the Difficult Work that Remains
  • Editors
  • Contributors
  • Series index

| XI →


This is a timely book. As I write these words, the United States is yet again is in the midst of grappling with its complex racial reality. For example, political pundits and ordinary citizens of all persuasions are offering up explanations for, and commentary about, the continued devaluation of Black life, as exemplified in a string of police shootings involving unarmed Black men and women. In societal discourses around these recent incidents, it has become increasingly clear to me that there is a high threshold for Black pain, especially among many Whites. Social science surveys show that Black and White citizens remain split in their views on racial matters. Even in the face of video evidence to the contrary, many White Americans continue to believe that racial conditions in the United States have improved to the point that race and racism no longer matter. In contrast, many Black Americans point to contemporary events and link them to a historical trajectory of state violence and dehumanization. Moving beyond the “Black–White” binary, the history of state violence and dehumanization has extended to other “non-White” social groups and “races.” As a result, Whiteness and White supremacy continue to structure U.S. society.

I would argue that contemporary events like those referenced above and the history of racialization in the United States envelop STEM education. STEM education is not above the fray of racial reality and politics. It has always been imbued with racial contestation, racial hierarchy, and racial ideology. There are strong arguments that can be made to support the following: (a) STEM education, as a social project, has always been connected to larger racial projects in society; (b) as domains of social practice, most, if not all, STEM disciplines can be characterized as instantiations of White institutional space and (c) equity-oriented reforms within these disciplines have typically been rooted in appeals to White rationality, White sensitivities, and White benevolence. ← XI | XII →

So, in the context of the above, I take great interest in this book. I am particularly interested in the White racial consciousness that is the focus of most chapters. From their first-person perspectives, what does it mean for White STEM faculties to be racially conscious? What is the content of that racial consciousness? How have they and how do White STEM faculties act on that consciousness? Where does the White gaze focus in discussions of race, racism, and Whiteness? Although these questions are answered via the authors in this text, White STEM faculties have long exhibited various forms of racial consciousness. Those levels of consciousness are not disconnected from the long-standing disparities in outcomes and experiences within the various domains. I trust that the White scholars who openly discuss Whiteness in this text are trying not to re-inscribe Whiteness with other layers of privilege but instead to complicate it. One aspect of this complexity is to think deeply about the evolution of White racial consciousness and how it can move from an ideology of White supremacy to one of decolonization, the latter being a framework that can be used to annihilate the former.

I invite readers to share my interests but also to raise their own critical questions about Whiteness in STEM.

Danny B. Martin

| XIII →


Our interest in the connections between racial consciousness, whiteness, power, and teaching excellence, with a particular focus on STEM, originates from our individual scholarship and commitment to transformative teaching and inclusive excellence in higher education. We each have had higher education experiences as both student and instructor that have informed our overall research agendas and teaching priorities. This collection of faculty narratives is aligned with our current and future scholarship. We thank Kara Viesca for the car conversation that turned into a meeting with the Social Justice Across Contexts in Education series editor, sj Miller, which then turned into a tangible project.

Faculty in this book are all excellent instructors working toward the goal of increasing equitable outcomes for all students. Passionate in their commitment and generous in their willingness to share, the White faculty and faculty of color embody what is best about interrogation—reflective and reflexive practices—that can lead to exposure of how racial consciousness helps identify persistent patterns of racism that are inherent in classroom teaching, particularly in higher education and in STEM. The tripartite format of our book makes it a unique and scholarly endeavor because our contributors engaged their inner selves and had the courage to illuminate both their problems and possibilities of teaching for social justice.

We credit our colleagues who gave input and shared our call with their networks. We also credit our families, who gave us the time and space to create a product that took lots of time and effort. Our families, while not academics, believe in pursuits of democracy and social justice. In the end, ← XIII | XIV → scholarship, like democracy itself, is a collective enterprise. This book is the better for all those who have worked to expose the link between racial consciousness and teaching excellence.

—Nicole, Chayla, and Floyd

| 1 →


Transforming the STEM System: Teaching that Disrupts White Institutional Space



Figure I.1. Defaced page in the book Black Mathematicians and Their Works.

Last spring, a colleague who is an African American faculty member in STEM came to my office to show me something he found in a book that he had checked out from our institution’s library. Quite disappointing to us both, its sentiments reflect widely held assumptions that are rooted in a belief that mathematics, like other STEM disciplines, is a White institutional space. In this book, Black Mathematicians ← 1 | 2 → and Their Works (Newell, Gipson, Rich, & Stubblefield, 1980), are the contributions and photos of Black female and male faculty who hold a doctorate in pure mathematics (or STEM). Eleven of the photos had been defaced with comments like the one shown here, which reads “1/2 white” (see Figure I.1). It is as if the writer wanted us to know that for a Black person to hold a PhD in engineering, he or she must be at least “half White,” because achievements like these not only don’t belong to Blacks, but are also not typical of them. I looked at my colleague in despair and said, “This is one reason why our book is needed.”

—Personal narrative, N. Joseph, 2015

This volume illuminates the significant influence that racial consciousness has on the behaviors of White faculty in the classroom (Haynes, 2013) by demonstrating that teacher excellence is dependent upon the fostering of inclusion. Racial consciousness, in this regard, is “an in-depth understanding of the racialized nature of our world, requiring critical reflection on how assumptions, privilege, and biases about race contribute to one’s worldview” (Haynes, 2013, pp. 50–51). Because racial consciousness and the behaviors of White faculty in the classroom appear inextricably linked (see Haynes, 2013; Haynes, forthcoming), it is also presumed that White faculty with higher levels of racial consciousness employ behaviors in their classroom that promote more equitable educational outcomes for racially minoritized students (see Haynes, 2013; Haynes, forthcoming).

The term faculty behavior is used to isolate the two most compelling aspects of classroom dynamics: course design and instruction (Haynes, 2013). From this vantage point, faculty includes those who teach across the P-20, at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. Of those faculty, more than 80% are White (Feistritzer, 2011). However, growing racial diversity among students and gaps in achievement suggest that attempts to address this predicament must prioritize an examination of the classroom with an evaluation of responsibility, effectiveness, and preparation of faculty, who often feel ill equipped (Delpit, 1996; Gay, 2010) to support the needs of diverse students.

Although important to all strands of education, we focus on faculty who teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), including those who train pre-service teachers seeking licensure in that discipline. Further, we conceptualize that purists and educator faculty are part of a STEM system (see Figure I.2), playing a critical role in the realization of this industry’s overarching national goal of diversifying its labor force by increasing participation in STEM among racially minoritized students. But like many facets of higher education, the STEM system functions as White institutional space that positions Whiteness as normal, reproduces hegemony, and contributes to the differing of experiences among students based on race (Martin, 2008; McGee & Martin, 2011; Moore, 2008; Tate, 1994; Terry, 2010). ← 2 | 3 →

Figure I.2. STEM system conceptual framework. Graphically designed by N. Joseph, 2015, to explain the STEM system as a White institutional space.

Whiteness, as reflected in race discourse, is distinct from the socially constructed racial category “White.” As a phenomenon, Whiteness is the act of characterizing what is natural, real, or customary around the White experience (Leonardo, 2002). Whiteness (a) contributes to an unwillingness to acknowledge racism’s effects, (b) allows those in racial group superiority to deny their privilege, and (c) permits our country’s racist legacy to be minimized (Leonardo, 2002). Whereas it is widely known that Whites materially and psychologically (McIntosh, 1989) benefit the most from Whiteness, it is also important to acknowledge its hegemonic impact.

There is a system of dominance at work that we are not only socialized toward (Baber, 2015; Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Feagin, 2009), but that also justifies the outright exclusion of those who are presumably “not White” or Other (e.g., not American, not Christian, or not of European descent).

And although there have been significant efforts related to recruitment and early exposure to increase racial diversity in STEM disciplines (George, Neale, Van Horne, & Malcolm, 2001; Tsui, 2007), research has also indicated that more meaningful interventions are needed to help faculty recognize the ← 3 | 4 → persistent patterns of racism that are inherent in classroom teaching, such as racial microaggressions and the overall culture of STEM classrooms. For instance, racially minoritized students majoring in mathematics and engineering often report that classroom climate requires that they manage stereotype threat (McGee & Martin, 2011; Steele, 2010), which can negatively impact their identities and resilience (McGee, 2009). White pre-service teachers in mathematics and science can reinforce assumptions about race when teaching mathematics (Martin, 2009, 2012a, 2012b), in large part because their White faculty rarely expose them to racial STEM projects—an idea that racism, especially White supremacy (and colonialism), can structure the very nature of STEM education (Martin, 2010).

Convinced that teaching efforts can contribute to inequitable educational outcomes when faculty believe that the much-needed work that remains is external, belonging to someone else, instead of internal, belonging to them, this volume uses a critical race theory approach (Dixson & Rousseau, 2006; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) to explore how White faculty begin to teach what they themselves have not grappled with (Howard, 1999).

A consciousness-raising endeavor, we scaffold examples together aimed to inspire readers, particularly those who are White, to participate in the difficult work of assessing their own racial consciousness and evaluating its influence on their classroom teaching. Whites, as Freire (1970) argued, rarely “see” their privilege, and they are even less able to interrogate its power. Moreover, the culture-free, positivist epistemological stance of STEM might also explain why so few resources exist to assist White faculty in this effort.

This volume features a tripartite dialogue, as represented through narratives from seasoned White faculty, emerging White faculty in STEM, and faculty of color in STEM, each of whom is engaged in equity work. Narrative inquiry allowed the human experience to be fully deconstructed and our socialization to Whiteness to be problematized.

In Section 1, “Racial Realism: Exploring How Whiteness Shapes Our Lives,” we draw upon the wisdom of seasoned White scholars from interdisciplinary contexts, because there are so few available exemplars of White faculty in STEM. The section begins with Christine Sleeter, who contends that exposing Whites to how racism works should not be left to people of color. She examines salient life moments to reveal how Whiteness has shaped her life and work to encourage Whites to take responsibility for educating themselves about Whiteness, and for collaborating with colleagues of color to educate others. Robin DiAngelo grapples with what happens when Whites participate in racial segregation and “nothing is lost.” Her narrative aims to disrupt the status quo of White solidarity by underscoring how our practice ← 4 | 5 → should prompt those who deny racism’s real effects. Kristina Hesbol describes the implications of institutionalized racist behaviors that result from one’s inability to recognize the operation of Whiteness. By deconstructing her own experience with Whiteness, she seeks to prevent the promotion of stereotypical behavior among Whites, who may do so complicitly. Richard Kitchen explores how he challenges students to evaluate Whiteness through his classroom teaching, while also offering commentary about how White privilege is embedded in mathematics education. And finally, Fredrick Erickson illustrates how the pervasiveness of racism contributes to an intertwined awareness and unawareness about privilege among Whites that is best redressed through semiotic analysis.

Section 2, “Problematizing Racial Consciousness in the STEM System,” features “up-and-coming” White faculty who write about how being White has shaped their life experiences and thus influenced their teaching of pre-service mathematics or science teachers or other graduate students in STEM programs. Co-authors Crystal Kalinec-Craig and Emily Bonner call into question the focus in higher education on embracing inclusion and diversity and help us think about “Whiteness,” rather than diversity, as a construct that must be examined by White faculty in order to truly disrupt the commodification of STEM as White institutional space. Lisa Martin-Hansen uses the context of growing up in Iowa to narrate how she discovered her Whiteness and has continued to explore racism through her classroom and personal experiences. She discusses her identity, becoming aware of race in college, exploring race in her science classroom, coming to understand how race influences her students’ view of her, and finally how her colleagues and the higher education system have helped her be a voice for social change. Craig Willey and Paula Magee interrogate their pre-service teachers’ thinking on race issues. They describe how despite their attempts to explore racism, their pre-service teachers still do not really understand the problem at the end of their teaching program. Their pre-service teachers seem to have a strong understanding of racism in the past but do not understand how it still applies today. Additionally, their pre-service teachers know how to not be racist personally, but do not get the connection to their curriculum planning; thus, there appears to be an overarching idea that teaching to individual student needs and to different learning styles seem to trump or “fix” the race issue. Frances Harper uses her narrative to point out that because mathematics is a high-status subject and acts as a gatekeeper for advanced study toward STEM-related careers, it is important for mathematics educators to examine its racialized nature. Although the work of teaching mathematics from a social-justice perspective is difficult, Harper contends that the use of critical race theory is significant for reflecting ← 5 | 6 → on how one’s critical race consciousness has evolved. Moreover, she teaches her students about the importance of communication in a social-justice-conscious mathematics classroom. Finally, Kate Johnson discusses the ways in which she engages her students in thinking about their Whiteness as well as their participation in perpetuating racial stereotypes. In her opinion, this is important work because mathematics teachers often do not see themselves as agents of change. She encourages her students to participate in what she calls moment-to-moment activism. Johnson also argues that activism is important and necessary but will look different based on the situation. Oppression starts at the individual level and affects people at the individual level; so by acting at the individual level, as one does in moment-to-moment activism, people can have a direct and immediate influence on oppression.

Section 3, “And We Are Still Not Saved: Charting a Path Forward for Racial Equity in STEM,” features faculty of color who teach in the STEM system and have written responses to the Section 2 authors. Using his lived experiences as an African American K–12 central office administrator for STEM education in a suburban school district, Richard Charles responds to Willey and Magee, who reflect on their struggles to encourage their pre-service teachers to impact racism. Through his unique lens, Charles encourages Willey and Magee not to lose sight of the historical impact that colorblindness and meritocracy has had on the STEM fields in general and their pre-service teachers specifically. Charles offers guidance that could help reveal pre-service teachers’ racial identities, while encouraging both authors not to lose sight of the lengthy journey required to dismantle a structure that is so deeply rooted in society. Roni Ellington utilizes Harper’s chapter to unpack the evolution of her own “critical race consciousness” by highlighting how the STEM system views both scholars (herself and Harper) as mirror images of one another that carry unequal weight in credibility due to the differences in their racialized identities. Ellington accomplishes this in part by revealing her identity as a Black woman scholar of mathematics who was raised and continues to work in predominantly Black spaces, whose university bears the same acronym (MSU) as Harper’s. She offers advice to Harper specifically and to White scholars in general who are seeking to disrupt racism in predominantly White educational spaces by revealing the power and limitations that personal narratives can have on achieving their goals. Joi Spencer responds to Johnson by offering a critique of Johnson’s goal for more “activist” teachers. Spencer interprets the solution more broadly and argues for a redefinition of the identity of teachers altogether. Her response cautions White educators who seek to create more equitable spaces in STEM to view their work as beneficial for themselves instead of charity to “others.” ← 6 | 7 → In a similar vein, Alberto Rodriguez responds to Martin-Hansen’s chapter by invoking the words of hooks (1994) and encouraging us all to understand how working for the other can be perceived as patronizing and self-serving to those whom these educators are attempting to support. In his response, he advocates that White scholars who seek to achieve educational equity re-conceptualize the concept of working for to the Freirean concept of working with to achieve collaboration and ensure collective agency. Rochelle Gutiérrez closes Section 3 by first identifying the complexities of confronting Whiteness in mathematics education. She continues by responding to Kalinec-Craig and Bonner’s nuancing of the application of the Duboisian concept of double consciousness to White pre-service teachers. Gutiérrez contends that White pre-service teachers must learn how to simultaneously hold two ideals in their practice of this concept, both being “all about me” and “not all about me.”

Finally, this volume closes with a reflection from the editors on the challenges we all face, with recommendations for a path forward. We begin our discourse with a cautionary reminder that the “good intentions” (Milner, 2006) of many White faculty who engage in this work are simply not enough. The attainment of the goal of increased equitable outcomes for racialized students in STEM requires effort, conflict, and a persistent belief that this goal can be achieved in spite of the external pressures that seek to keep the current structure in place. To do so requires a clear understanding of the historical context that led to the construction of these disparities.

Therefore, we note that whether interrogations of Whiteness are engaged superficially or voided, the result for racial minoritized students remains the same. The necessity for such courageous conversations (Newell, Singleton, & Linton, 2005) to be had about racial consciousness and its impact on classroom teaching is essential if we are to achieve our goals of an expanded STEM pipeline for racialized minorities.


XIV, 292
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
White or Black school STEM Classrooms white or black White Faculty¿s Commitment
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XIV, 292 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Nicole M. Joseph (Volume editor) Chayla Haynes (Volume editor) Floyd Cobb (Volume editor)

Nicole M. Joseph is Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Denver. She received her doctorate from the University of Washington Seattle, where Dr. James A. Banks served as her dissertation chair. Dr. Joseph is a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient. Chayla Haynes is Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership at the University of Northern Colorado. Her most recent work is featured in The Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence, the National Association of Student Affairs Professionals Journal, and she is a co-editor of the forthardbackoming co-edited volume Race, Equity and Higher Education: The Global Relevance of Critical and Inclusive Pedagogies. Floyd Cobb is Adjunct Professor in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. His research focuses on the impact of access and opportunity on academic outcomes for STEM students. He uses critical race theory as an analytical lens to interpret the historical intersection of current educational challenges.


Title: Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power
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