Welcome to HECUA’s Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we’re delighted to feature Minrose Straussman. Minrose is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, and completed the MUST (now Inequality in America) program in 2012.
When I signed up for HECUA-Metro Urban Studies Term (now Inequality in America) in 2012, I was hoping to learn how to put my passion for equity in education into action. The notion of praxis HECUA taught me—the idea that I can put social justice values into action through my work—is something I now use daily as a curriculum consultant and writer, helping organizations design their English language arts, English as a Second Language, and social studies courses.
At HECUA, we learned about the diversity of communities in the Twin Cities area and their unique experiences; we heard personal testimonies from Latino labor organizers, people who had been homeless, Hmong GOTV activists, and so many more. This education made me sensitive to the multiplicity of human experience—and how valuable it is to have those perspectives shared. The range of stories to which HECUA introduced me has proven to have a lasting impact on my career.
For many, the books read in grade school profoundly impact how they understand their lives and the lives of others. For some, they are the only books they will ever read. That’s why it’s so critical the books teachers assign in their classrooms provide “windows” into other cultures and “mirrors” of their own.
As a curriculum consultant and On-Site Learning Fellow at 826DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students aged 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills and helping teachers inspire their students to write, I keep this value in mind when picking texts. To build empathy between people who are different and ensure minorities or other under-reflected groups feel engaged in reading and writing, we have to assign books about something other than white men and boys going on adventures (a staple of the Western canon).
It can be challenging—there are systemic reasons regarding copyright and accessibility that make assigning noncanonical texts hard. It’s simply a lot easier and cheaper for teachers to do The Great Gatsby for the 100th time then to take on a nontraditional text like Passing by Nella Larsen, similarly a post-war reflection on privilege in the Gilded Age but from the point of view of a black woman. But some organizations, like 826DC, recognize and take on this challenge in a real way to provide students examples of writers from all walks of life. I plan to keep advocating for such texts in my work, my daily work of praxis, so students have access to the full range of human experience and a diversity of stories—just as I did through HECUA.
MUST Spring 2012 Alum
On-Site Learning Fellow 826DC
Master’s candidate in Comparative Literature—University of Paris IV-Sorbonne