#GhanaTaughtMe: How Graduate Study Abroad Shifted Two Black American Educators’ Perceptions of Teaching, Learning, and Achievement

Brittany M Williams, Raven K Cokley
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 4  •  2019  •  pp. 227-244

The purpose of this collaborative autoethnographic research study was to explore how a shared Ghanaian study abroad experience would (re)shape how two U.S. first-generation Black women doctoral students understood teaching, learning, and academic achievement. Through our experiences, we reflected on what a reimagining U.S. higher education could look like to facilitate a cultural shift in educational norms.

The centrality of whiteness in U.S. education contributes to the learning and unlearning of people of Black students. The promise of Ghana, then, represents a space for revisioning who we are and could be as student affairs and counselor educators through more African ways of knowing.

Collaborative Autoethnography (CAE) served as the methodology for this study. CAE can be described as a collaborative means of self-engagement (Chang, Ngunjiri, Hernandez, 2013; Chang, 2016) and is an interplay between collaboration, autobiography, and ethnography among researchers (Chang, Ngunjiri, Hernandez, 2013), where researchers’ experiences, memories, and autobiographical materials are gathered, analyzed, and interpreted to gain insight into a particular experience (Chang, Ngunjiri, Hernandez, 2013; Chang, 2016).

This study nuances ways of knowing and expectations around learning and accomplishment for Black students. This is done through following the journey of two Black women doctoral students in counselor education and student affairs who are deeply aware of the ways their classroom and educative practices contribute to the socialization and learning of Black children. This paper offers strategies for operationalizing more culturally responsive ways of engaging students and of enacting student affairs and counselor educator practices.

The findings from this study have been synthesized into two major themes: (1) The reimagining of professional preparation; and (2) student and teacher socialization. Together, they reveal ways in which inherently Ghanaian practices and techniques of teaching and learning contribute to increased student engagement, educational attainment, and success.

Higher education practitioners should consider how to apply Ghanaian principles of success and inclusion to ensure students can participate in campus programs and initiatives with minimal barriers (financial, social, and emotional) through collective commitment to inclusion, centering non-western constructs of time so that students have flexibility with institutional engagement, and design support systems for student leaders where collective rather than individual accomplishments are centered.

Researchers should consider shifting the centrality of positivist notions of scholarship in publication and research pipelines so that inherently African ways of knowing and being are included in the construction of knowledge.

This study has societal implications for the P-20 educational pipeline as it pertains to Black students and Black education. Specifically, there are implications for the many ways that we can affirm Black brilliance in U.S. public school settings, by acknowledging what and how they come to know things about the world around them (e.g., via singing, dancing, poetry, questioning). In terms of higher education in the U.S., this study calls into question how we, as educators and practitioners, position Black students’ ancestral knowledges as being both valid and valuable in the classroom.

Future researchers may wish to examine: (1) the direct suggestions for what inclusive education can look like from Ghanaians themselves as outsiders looking into U.S. education; (2) exploration of Black American and Ghanaian student perspectives and perceptions on teaching and learning in their respective countries, and (3) exploration of a broader range of Black people's voices including those of Black LGBT people, Black trans women, and non-millennial Black educators, for insight into making educational spaces more inclusive, transformative, and affirming.

Ghana, study abroad, graduate preparation, higher education, student affairs, African American students, counselor education
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