To that blueprint, Amanda Sullivan, Birkmaier Education Leadership Professor and Coordinator of the School Psychology Program, University of Minnesota, added a code of conduct for decolonizing research.
Sullivan began her talk, which was moderated by TC's Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor of English Education, with the well-known James Baldwin quote: “I love America more than any other country in the world and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
“I really appreciate those words generally but they also resonate for me professionally,” Sullivan said. “I’m a school psychologist and I do identify as such, but I have no blind allegiance or faith in the field, frankly. Instead I insist as a member of this professional community on the right to criticize it perpetually, and I do so in the hopes of contributing to a better future.”
The rest of her talk flowed from the rest of what Baldwin said, which is less well known:
“I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.”
In the field of school psychology, Sullivan said, “we must treat all aspects of our knowledge base, all aspects of the field as suspect — our theories and findings as open to modification of polarization. Because when we talk about decolonization, and racism, and social justice that will necessitate in some cases pulverizing some aspects of the field.”
Even importantly, she said, is the importance of letting one’s moral center be the guide. “I’d argue that field wide commitments to anti-racism or decolonization require an explanation alignment with this moral center in all we do and should guide our professional activities and serve as a basis for critiquing and modifying various aspects of the profession, including our own work. That moral center really has to be our anchor, and everything else is suspect.”
Sullivan acknowledged that for many of her listeners, a discussion of research and morality might be confusing or uncomfortable.
“But I’d remind you that all action is political,” she said. “Even in action or supposed neutrality are political in that they maintain passive acceptance or allegiance to the status quo. Denial of such is a reflection of privilege. Many of us don’t have that luxury, but within psychology, many gatekeepers and leaders do.”
All scholarship is also political, Sullivan said.
As others have pointed out, “our identities as psychologists or social scientists are not distinct from our identities as citizens. So it’s our duty to respond to injustice with all our available talents. That includes our scholarship and however else we show up professionally.”
The key take-away, for those doing research in the field:
“Whether we’re talking about anti-racist scholarship or decolonizing scholarship, it needs to start with and rely on with personal reflection and growth. I would ask that all the scholars and attendees here today really interrogate their moral center, really think carefully about what they mean, the nuance of it, and then really apply it consistently and broadly and articulate it very precisely.”