ASPIRE Speaker Series — Dr. Royel Johnson

Women Employed
3 min readJul 27, 2023

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After a June hiatus, the ASPIRE Racial Equity and Inclusion Speaker Series continued in July with a workshop led by Dr. Royel Johnson, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Southern California and the Director of Student Engagement at the USC Race and Equity Center and faculty in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Dr. Johnson’s presentation on Why We Need Racial Literacy in Higher Education engaged participants on the importance of being racially literate to prepare individuals for effectively addressing racial moments on campus or in the classroom.

Dr. Johnson set the tone for the workshop and following conversations by asking participants how comfortable they were with initiating conversations about race and what helped or hindered them in those moments. Dr. Johnson held meaningful space by being comfortable in moments of silence, allowing participants a moment to reflect then answer, which encouraged vulnerable introspection and thoughtful engagement.

The workshop defined racial literacy as the knowledge and skills needed to talk thoughtfully and accurately about race and racism so that one can recognize racial moments and respond to and counter them. The workshop also ended with a discussion on being prepared with tactics, such as the R.A.V.E.N. approach, to facilitate conversation and respond to microaggressions when they arise.

Participants reflected on ways they could incorporate their learnings into their roles. Their ideas included: creating a clearer syllabus policy on racism; developing inclusive classroom practices on how aggressions and microaggressions would be handled; making a glossary list of what language will be used in their department, and implementing it in a new faculty orientation; and using the learnings to model behaviors expected of other colleagues. One participant shared that the workshop was “an incredible session and I could not write down everything fast enough! So much good information!”

Dr. Johnson is a nationally recognized expert on issues of educational access, racial equity, and student success. His work has an unapologetic focus on Black and institutionally marginalized populations like those impacted by criminal punishment, child welfare, and inequitable educational systems. He has published over 60 academic publications, including two books: Racial Equity on College Campuses: Connecting Research and Practice and Enacting Student Success: Critical and Alternative Perspectives for Practice. His work has received funding from organizations such as the Spencer Foundation, Institute of Education Sciences, American Education Research Association, and Department of Health and Human Services. He has received recognition for his work, including the 2020 Distinguished Young Alumni Award from the University of Illinois, the 2020 Emerging Scholar Award from ACPA, and the 2022 AERA Division G Early Career Award. Learn more about Dr. Johnson’s work here!

The creation of the Accelerating Student Progress and Increasing Racial Equity (ASPIRE) project was in response to the Developmental Education Reform Act (DERA) which aims to address inequities in college completion among students of color and first-generation students. Passed in March 2021, the act requires public colleges in Illinois to reform their developmental education (dev ed) programs — the introductory math and English classes students may need to improve their skills, before they can take a college-level math or English class — so that students can enter a credit-bearing, college-level math or English course by their second semester.

To read our refresher on the ASPIRE Project, click here.

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