Reframing Resistance: Reimagining Higher Education

How can the persistent failures of higher education be mitigated by centering the experiences of the people the system has failed?

This is one of the questions Johnnie Campbell, a social justice and resistance scholar, has built his doctoral research around. Johnnie is tackling this issue head-on through his teaching and his facilitation of safe and accessible spaces, where the new generation of changemakers can freely explore their voices and challenge oppression in their own ways.

The responsibility of educators to offer care

Higher education as a system of care feels obvious, but for many people – specifically young Black men and women – that is not the case. 

As a social justice educator, Johnnie Campbell is dedicated to integrating activism and resistance in danger-free spaces into the college experience as a means of facilitating real growth. The result: culturally relevant opportunities to “expose students to the ways that they are brilliant; [that] they are and can be thinkers.” 

Ensuring students feel comfortable to “freedom dream” necessitates the facilitator and fellow classmates to fully support them in the space. Often, by the time students arrive at college, their ability to practice resistance without fear of the repercussions has been roundly quashed. But Johnnie’s definition of care work holds space to reclaim this ability and nurture it, ensuring that people “who exist in the margins” can go out into the world able to “resist fully.”

Securing the future of resistance through scholarship

Terah J. Stewart has explored the idea that all activism is not resistance, but all resistance is activism.

Johnnie Campbell’s social justice focus lies in the everydayness of resistance. It’s easy to point to events, both historical and contemporary, where activist movements made the news or changed the laws. But the vast majority of Black people and other historically resilient groups have participated all their lives in acts of resistance that, while subtler, are no less potentially dangerous or impactful. 

Walking into a college classroom where most of your classmates come from different backgrounds than you is, in itself, an act of resistance. Facing down the specter of non-belonging is resistance. Johnnie hopes to bring together the diverse minds that experience and explore this ubiquitous divide with the goal of informing education policy and curriculum development based not on the status quo, but on what Black people have experienced.

These are the policies that are simply not working. This is glaringly clear, yet often goes unremarked when universities tout their rising percentages of Black graduates and are celebrated rather than questioned about how they are investigating and mitigating the percentage who moved across the country and took out student loans only to be blocked by a predetermined failure they are never given a chance to refute.

On this week’s episode of the Care Work podcast, Johnnie Campbell explores care in post-secondary institutions. He carefully reflects on how he reframed his deep-seated assumptions of self with Alida Miranda-Wolff. Together, they consider the very real and important effects his unique view of resistance could have on the future of education.

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