Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Edina Haslauer

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Dr. Haslauer in class
December 15, 2017

Helping students understand systematic inequities in society and the educational system is the driving force behind everything Dr. Edina Haslauer does while teaching undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. As an assistant professor in the School of Education, Haslauer teaches Ethnic and Gender Equity in Education and Human Growth and Development.

Fluent in three languages and possessing more than 15 years of teaching experience, Haslauer’s research and teaching interests focus on the implementation of multicultural education throughout teacher training programs, culturally responsive pedagogy, social justice in education and teaching English language learners. Currently, she is working on a project that examines the ways in which after-school programs enhance the language development of ELLs.

While Haslauer feels fortunate to have a profession that she is passionate about, in her free time she loves reading, walking and enjoying Wisconsin’s beautiful, winter sunsets. She also appreciates silence and solitude.

What are the unique challenges education majors will face in their future careers? How do your classes help prepare them for these challenges?

One of the challenges education majors will face is working with diverse groups. It is critical for our teaching majors, as future educators, to understand that their own cultures may not match those of their students. Research tells us that members of the overwhelmingly white, middle class, teacher force tend to lack cultural similarities with their students. This cultural incongruence often leads to lower expectations, unfair tracking practices, an overrepresentation of minority children in special education and underrepresentation in gifted and talented programs. This ultimately leads to inequity in education.

It is critical that our students are prepared to work with children from all backgrounds and have positive dispositions and attitudes toward all of their students. In addition, future educators must be committed to ensuring a safe learning environment. Bullying based on race, language background, socioeconomic status, immigration status and sexual orientation, among others, is on the rise in our schools as well as in society. Educators must be their students’ strongest, most dedicated advocates. 

I hope that my course provides students the skills needed to detect and recognize any manifestations of discrimination in schools when they witness them or experience them in their own lives. For this end, this fall, my students in Ethnic and Gender Equity in Education course read “The Hate U Give,” fiction by Angie Thomas that addresses issues of systemic racism, classism and police violence. This is the first time that I used fiction to help students understand the difficult concepts of my course. Typically, students relate better to stories than to theories, and “The Hate U Give” remarkably well exemplifies complex issues, such as racism and classism.

How does your Ethnic and Gender Equity in Education course help students become more aware of the multicultural issues in education, especially in terms of equity?

We begin the course by discussing culture, including how our own views and perspectives are shaped by our culture. Students also learn that the ways in which we are affected by our culture are implicit and we are often unaware of its influence on us. Once students realize that, it is easier for them to see how we are also impacted by those biases and prejudices that our society promotes. Following, we explore cultural, institutional and individual forms of discrimination in schools and society. Students analyze current issues from both historical and contemporary perspectives. In our society, we tend to look at educational attainment based on individuals’ choices, merits and demerits.

In my classes, I try to help students recognize that while our culture promotes the idea of meritocracy, individual success is deeply connected to, and affected by, social inequities. For example, racial and socioeconomic segregation is as prevalent today as it was in 1954, affecting the way we fund schools. This creates an education opportunity gap, which has an enormous effect on the children’s educational achievement. Just one manifestation of this is the quality of the teacher force that a school district can afford. Besides classism, this educational opportunity gap also relates to racism, sexism, heterosexism and nativism, among other forms of discrimination.

Students in your Ethnic and Gender Equity in Education course are required to complete 15 hours of community service. How does giving service to others help students prepare for their future careers and lives and become more caring, compassionate citizens of the world?

My hope is that if students see the issues and problems we talk about in class first-hand, they will become real to them. Many of my students volunteer in after- school programs in organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dubuque, St. Mark’s Community Center, Multicultural Center of Dubuque, or Circles Initiatives of the City of Dubuque. These organizations provide support for children of lower socioeconomic status. Once they have completed their service learning, I hope that students recognize that all children are capable of learning if they have access to educational opportunities.

Other students work with recent immigrants at the Presentation Lantern Center in Dubuque or as conversation partners with international students on our campus. These placements strengthen students’ intercultural communication skills. Another group completes its service learning in local schools and tutors English language learners, which is one of the fastest growing groups of the student body. Thus, these placements are especially valuable for teaching majors, preparing them how to meet the special needs of these students.    

This past summer, you took a group of students to a week-long 21st American Indian Summer Institute conference organized by the Department of Public Instruction. What did the students appreciate most about this experience?

This first-hand experience increased the students’ understanding of issues related to the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of the 11 federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities in Wisconsin. Opportunities like this enrich students’ higher educational experiences. It was wonderful to see how students connected with the Forest County Potawatomi and Sokaogon Chippewa people and culture and other professionals who are passionate about the education of American Indian culture. A classroom environment simply cannot offer such an experience. I hope that seeds were planted, and someday these students will become the leaders in the appropriate implementation of ACT 31 in schools.

You and some of the students in your Ethnic and Gender Equity in Education course attended the teach-in event “Charlottesville: White Supremacy in America.” Can you explain your thoughts about the critical issues addressed at the event and why discussions about these issues are so important?

The event was well attended, and audience members’ reactions were amazing, asking for more conversations about racial issues. I think it was crucial that the four presentations provided the historical, political and cultural contexts of what happened in Charlottesville. This is so extremely important, because none of the racial conflicts that are happening today can be understood in isolation. Their roots are so much deeper than the contemporary United States. I think that this was very much appreciated by the audience, and for sure by my students. 

Interview conducted by Laurie A. Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email pr@uwplatt.edu.

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