Home > PUM Black History Salutes: Dr. Valerie Kinloch the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education

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VALERIE KINLOCH:  

University of Pittsburgh’s Renée and Richard Goldman

Dean of Education

 

On July 1, 2017, Dr. Valerie Kinloch became the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education.  In a welcoming statement, the University indicated that Dr. Kinloch joined the University “…after spending nine years in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University.  She most recently served as a professor of literacy studies and the associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, with research focusing on the literacy, language, culture, and community engagement of youth and adults, both inside and outside of schools.

… In addition to Harlem on Our Minds, Kinloch is the author of Crossing Boundaries—Teaching and Learning with Urban Youth (Teachers College Press, 2012), which was named a 2013 “Staff Pick” by the magazine Teaching Tolerance. In 2006, she published June Jordan: Her Life and Letters (Women Writers of Color), which examines the life of one of the most influential and prolific Black writers of the 20th century. Kinloch co-edited the books Service-Learning in Literacy Education: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning (Information Age Publishing, 2014) and Still Seeking an Attitude: Critical Reflections on the Work of June Jordan (Lexington Books, 2004), and edited Urban Literacies: Critical Perspectives on Language, Learning, and Community (Teachers College Press, 2011)

…Kinloch earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in honors English at Johnson C. Smith University in 1996. At Wayne State University, she earned a Master of Arts degree in English and African American literature in 1998 as well as a PhD degree in English and composition studies with a cognate in urban studies in 2000.”

 

JLD:    In Black Jacobins, C. L. R. James wrote essentially, “people make history but only that history their circumstances permit them to make.”  When you look back on your early childhood, what circumstances contributed to you making history as the first African American woman, over a period of more than 229 years, to serve as Dean of any School at the University of Pittsburgh?

VK:      That’s a great question, and important one! The reality that you highlight, that I am “the first African American woman, over a period of more than 229 years, to serve as Dean of any School at the University of Pittsburgh” is a scary one, right? That’s heavy and unfortunate. Why am I the first? What does that say about access and about the inclusion of more Black people, in this case, in predominantly white institutions of higher education? And, what does that reality indicate about the work we still have to do in order to ensure that justice and equity in education are materialized in ways that build on the existing strengths, knowledge, intellectual traditions, and leadership work of Black people in humanizing ways? I have a lot of questions about that reality and, with my questions, I hope to contribute to meaningful conversations and needed solutions to changing the landscape of higher education and how higher education becomes more inclusive and representative of racial, ethnic, linguistic, and gender identities.

To your question: When I reflect on my childhood, the first things that come to mind are: [1] the influences and interconnectedness of my family; [2] their/our often unspoken but very real struggles to live and survive as Black people in the segregated South; [3] their/our publicly unrecognized levels of resilience and resolve to live, to be conscious, and to be caring, hopeful people—even when that hope was guided down sometimes different paths; and [4] their/our determination to live life to its fullest potential, whatever that came to mean for each of us individually as well as collectively. The latter is especially true of my father, Mr. Louis Kinloch, Jr. He was born and raised in “the country,” or on the SC Cainhoy Peninsula before venturing into the city of Charleston to make a life for himself.

Although my father remains one of the smartest and most clever people I know, his K-12 education was interrupted; he did not graduate from middle school. However, he did serve in the U.S. Army, and after his years of service, he worked various jobs. He retired as a truck driver from the U.S. Naval Shipyard of South Carolina. Even leading up to his death in August 2016, he was adventurous, brave, and community-centric. His life, in my opinion, served as a kind of blueprint for living life to the fullest, even when life is not kind or fair, and when institutional structures work against people who are most deserving.

And, there is my mother, Mrs. Virginia Kinloch. Having direct roots in the small community of Eutawville, SC, she was born and raised on the eastside of Charleston, SC. My mother wanted to be an educator—a math teacher—but because of circumstance and lack of opportunity at the time, she became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). After nearly thirty years, she retired in the 1990s. Her resolve and commitment helped to fuel my desire to go into spaces where I was not supposed to be, allegedly, but where I entered. This, in many ways, led me into higher education and motivated me to think about the things that we never openly discussed (racism, not being afforded access into certain spaces, poverty, being a Black woman and being committed to surviving and survival, etc.).

So, when I look back on my early childhood, especially as I reflect on my mother and father, I am aware that the circumstances that contributed to me “making history as the first African American woman, over a period of more than 229 years, to serve as Dean of any School at the University of Pittsburgh” is a result of to whom I belong and from where I’ve lived. It is no accident that I am Dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. It is intentional, given my familial history and the path that has been paved for me as a result of other people’s sacrifices. Because I know this, I have no choice but to do the work and push for equity in education.
JLD
:    You are a first-generation college student who attended a Historically Black College, Johnson C. Smith.  How did your college beginnings impact your career, particularly in terms of your commitment to insuring that our students have access to higher education and are well supported?

VK:      Yes, I am a first-generation college student and I proudly attended Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), a Historically Black College/University in Charlotte, NC. Attending JCSU, having amazing and engaging professors, knowing the administrators and staff members, and establishing meaningful relationships with other students were significant for me. These things connected to the lessons I had received prior to my undergraduate years. More specifically, in addition to my K-12 educational experiences in primarily Black spaces in Charleston, SC, I must say that JCSU further prepared me for academic success, which involved working with people, caring about others and their humanity, and thinking deeply about the world in order to change it for the better.

JCSU also helped me to better understand the value of as well as the responsibility that comes with engaging in community spaces in humanizing and caring ways, which means that activism, advocacy, care, and love are important, fundamental components of engagement. I also learned early on in Charleston, SC, and it was strengthened during my time at JCSU, that we must never forget our Black cultural, historical, intellectual, and social traditions that have shaped who we are, that have made us strong people, and that have sustained us through the most trying times in this world. These are lessons that I learned from home, from JCSU, and from my experiences learning with and from other people in many different communities in the United States and across the world.

More specifically, to your question about how my “college beginnings” impacted my career insofar as my “commitment to ensuring that our students have access to higher education and are well supported:” I will say that my college beginnings at JCSU provided me with a solid foundation for wanting better and for pushing for better, i.e., better practices, pedagogies, and policies that support our students and their access to and success in higher education; better opportunities for our students to see themselves within the spaces of higher education before they even get to middle and high school; better opportunities for our students to know, and I mean, to really know, that they are a part of a larger network of people who they should never leave behind, including family and friends, because we need to know and believe that “I am because we are.” These are some of the things connected to lessons I learned from home and from my K-12 experiences that my JCSU college beginnings taught me. I carry these lessons with me every day.

JLD:    Your professional career has been devoted to, as you put it, “academic success, literacy achievement, and community engagement of students of color, with needed attention on Black/African American children, youth and adults…”  At this point, how do you balance that focus with attending to all of your decanal responsibilities?

VK:      The work I do is all interconnected. My decanal responsibilities are a result of my teaching, research, engagement, and leadership work. In other words, I do not think I would be Dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, if I did not have a real commitment to teaching, research, engagement, and leading. Some might question what “a real commitment” means and might even go as far as to ask, “Do we all have to have real commitments to these things to be effective Deans?” The way I live my life, the importance I place on being present, and how I see the parts (teaching, research, engagement, and leadership) as interconnected speak to my larger commitment to changing the world for the better and to always thinking about/working for equity and justice in the movement toward freedom.

Because I have always wanted to change the world—as a result of knowing what struggle is and seeing it in my own familial, community, and extended contexts—there is no question that my decanal responsibilities are not just about being a Dean in the traditional sense. My responsibilities are inclusive of these different parts (teaching, research, engagement, and leadership), but in ways where I get to work with others to imagine “the possible” for others and for ourselves, and to put those “possibles” in place. This also requires pushing for these “possibles” to become part of an infrastructure. Instead of thinking about where the balance is in this work, I am thinking about how my approach leads me to maintain a focus on changing systems and working for justice with others. And maybe that is the balance.

JLD:    While at Ohio State, you were credited with leading “…efforts toward building sustainable models of diversity, equity, inclusion, and engagement for the College of Education and Human Ecology…”  Please comment on some of the critical elements of a diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement model.

VK:      Let me first say that I cannot take credit for “building sustainable models of diversity, equity, inclusion, and engagement for the College of Education and Human Ecology” at Ohio State University. This is important to state, given the presence and efforts of other Black people in the College before my time at Ohio State who had an unwavering commitment to create spaces for the work to happen. While this is not an exhaustive list, I must recognize Drs. Charles Hancock, Bob Ransom, and Cynthia Dillard who placed attention on the need to have and the importance of having sustainable models of diversity and equity. The work they did helped me to be more vocal about, and explicit in, my ongoing commitments to these efforts. This work is not only important and valuable, but necessary in higher education, specifically, and in all aspects of the life and the world, generally.

In terms of “some of the critical elements of a diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement model,” I would offer the following: (1) Understand the value of diversity, justice, and equity in teaching, research, and engagement; (2) Situate equitable educational practices and initiatives at the center of the work we do in higher education, especially for historically underserved student populations who might feel disconnected from these institutions and who might have experienced (or who know someone who has experienced) alienation, miscommunication, disenfranchisement, and violence in these spaces; (3) Center practices that support the rights of students and that link inclusion and diversity to actions in equity and justice; (4) Focus on community engagement/partnerships that are reciprocal, mutually beneficial, justice-directed, and inclusive of multiple and diverse perspectives; and among others, (5) Understand that any model of, or practices in, diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement must be guided by proactive recruitment and retention strategies for historically underserved populations.

 JLD:   Having written about the works of June Jordan, you know that she held, To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that's political, in its most profound way.”  Given Jordan’s statements, what type of mentoring program would you envision to encourage young children in general and African Americans in particular to develop the habit of telling the truth, loving and valuing themselves

VK:      Yes, June Jordan asserted, “To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.” Indeed!  If I connect this passage from June Jordan to your question about creating a mentoring initiative for Black children and young adults, then I must and should first begin with love. There must be love in what we do, in how we do it, and in how we see and work with others. This love connects to truth-telling, story-telling, and being beautiful in who we all are in the world. I would start there. I would immerse myself in the communities where our children and youth are in order to learn from them and their families about who they are, what they think, and what they want from a mentoring program. Having already done some of this in my other work, I would then seek out those people (community advocates, leaders, families, educators, etc.) who have a strong disposition and unwavering commitment to community engagement, and who are unapologetically invested in the success of our kids. This is where I would start and how I would seek to both create and sustain a mentoring initiative.

Also, I think it would be necessary to partner with the community and the local school district where our students attend. If, however, this is not possible, then I would move forward, and that would include an intentional focus on cultivating love with our kids and youth as well as for learning, engagement, and collaboration. I know this sounds very general, but I do believe that we must first listen to them and what they say they need and want. If they mention literacy, then let’s talk about how to focus on literacy by placing attention on narratives and essays, the spoken and written word, and aesthetic experiences and performance. If they talk about health, then let’s focus on health, wellness, and restorative justice. In fact, let’s focus on literacy, health, and wellness within the multiple contexts of communities, schools, universities, and the larger world. The point is to listen to what they say and to collaborate with them on providing opportunities and resources that will both address what they say and that will expose them to so much more, within and beyond their communities.

Finally, I would add a university experience into this mentoring initiative. I want children and youth to have full access to college and university campuses and resources, and I want their families in these spaces, too. I want them to see themselves in these spaces. These, I think, are all part of what a truth-telling, story-telling, and loving mentoring initiative should include, along with emphasis placed on their racial and cultural identities.
JLD:   
As you know, Ntozake Shange wrote, “bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma...”  How does also being an academic leader add to that dilemma?

VK:      It adds to it, undoubtedly! And to be a Black woman academic leader…and yet the dilemma is not with who I am, it is not with my identity, and it is not with my historical roots. The dilemma is with how others choose, for themselves and for others, to interact with me, to see me and other Black people, and to read onto my body/our bodies in racist, classist, sexist ways. I believe, it is with how others might seek to demean my being because of the inadequacies they have within themselves that they project onto me. The dilemma is with how others, in fact, might be uncomfortable having a Black woman in such a leadership position. But that is a discomfort they have to live with and address without me doing that work for them. All of these dilemmas probably have to do with the fact that: I am Alive. I am Woman. I am Dean. And, important to name here, I am always, unapologetically, and beautifully Black. That, in and of itself, might make some people uncomfortable. Ntozake Shange’s sentiments about being “a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives,” is important to remember in the discussion of dilemma and identity. I’ll definitely have to think more about your question.

JLD:    Dean Kinloch, it is apparent that you, like Audre Lorde who took the name “Gamba Adisa,” are “a warrior who makes her meaning clear!”  Hence, I truly believe that you will be transformative in terms of being a paradigm for resolving the “metaphysical dilemma” associated with your “bein” and, moreover, the School of Education in particular and the University of Pittsburgh in general will be significantly transformed because Dean Valerie Kinloch served there! 

 

Jack L. Daniel

Co-founder Freed Panther Society

Professor and Vice Provost Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor

February 2, 2018

 

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