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Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz: Engaging Students and Peers in the Larger Community

“I am passionate about teaching educators ways to tap into the rich culture, language and worldviews their students bring with them to the classroom,” says Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz.

TC’s own culture has been much the richer for Sealey-Ruiz, Assistant Professor of English Education, having joined it two years ago.

In courses such as The Teaching of Writing, Writing Non-Fiction, and Teaching English in Diverse Social/Cultural Contexts, Sealey-Ruiz, who started her career as a high school English teacher in 1993, seeks to “guide teachers in creating learning activities, responsive curriculum, and appropriate assessments which hold their students to high academic standards while reflecting their interests and life experiences.”  Yet she has worked outside the classroom as well to help shape broader initiatives that have involved students and fellow faculty members from different areas of the College.

Sealey-Ruiz has served as faculty supervisor for the Racial Literacy Roundtable Series, now in its fourth year, in which, led by TC master’s degree and doctoral students and nationally known education scholars, participants examine issues of race, class, privilege and access – for example, whether gifted and talented programs in public schools encourage segregation – looking at their own biases as well as that of others. The series got its start at semester’s end in 2009, when Sealey-Ruiz, feeling that candid discussion had only just begun,  posted an open letter to her students on Class Web, asking them to “Open up to each other about your uncertainties, fears and ideas on teaching, so that you can become…a resource to each other…”

A small group of students responded, and subsequently, with Sealey-Ruiz, they applied for and received a grant from the Office of the Vice President for Community and Diversity Affairs to create a forum for building community around tough issues. 

“Students have the power to engage their peers and the larger community,” says Sealey-Ruiz. “It's really special.”

Together with Lalitha Vasudevan, Associate Professor of Technology and Education, Sealey-Ruiz is also creating a program at TC that supplies mentoring, tutoring and social support to young people who have been given the option of remaining in New York City’s foster care system for three additional years past the age of 18.

Vasudevan and Sealey-Ruiz have been awarded a grant from the Provost’s Investment Fund to create a seminar at TC that will bring together TC faculty and students interested in helping these court-involved youth. 

Before coming to TC – first as a Visiting Research Assistant in 2008, and then as a tenure-track professor the following year – Sealey-Ruiz was an Instructor of Letters at the College of New Rochelle, School of New Resources, and Assistant Professor of Composition and Rhetoric at Kingsborough Community College, and  a Research Associate with New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, where she led studies on the achievement gap for school districts in New York and New Jersey. She also provided professional development to districts around the state of New York on the topics of race and class in schools, and disproportionality in special education. 

Sealey-Ruiz currently continues to teach weekly with African American and Latino male high school students.

Meanwhile, she has also made her mark through research. In Fall 2011, she guest-edited “Preparing Teachers to Teach Black Students; Preparing Black Students to Become Teachers,” a special issue of the prestigious Journal of Negro Education (JNE), published by the Howard University School of Education. In the publication, which was sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Sealey-Ruiz and her co-editor, Chance W. Lewis of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, traced the 50-year decline in academic achievement of Black students to the virtual “disappearance of Black teachers, particularly Black males.”

Recently awarded a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, Sealey-Ruiz will extend her research on the education of black male postsecondary students to Toronto and London.

In describing her motivation to pursue this line of inqury, Sealey-Ruiz said the research in the special issue of JNE brought “a specific connection to TC's mission and focus for the College” because it provided “strategies and insights for meeting the needs of all students, and therefore it’s for all teachers.”

Published Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012


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