Faculty Spotlight: Education and Africana Studies Professor Chanelle Wilson
Chanelle Wilson is an assistant professor of education in the Bi-Co Education Program, and the director of Africana Studies at Bryn Mawr College. In the below Q&A Wilson talks about her research interests, love of teaching, and her burgeoning wine business.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I went through a bit of an educational journey to get to Bryn Mawr. I used to be a K-12 classroom teacher, so I taught middle school and high school, and I really loved it. But when it was time for me to work on my dissertation, I knew that I probably wouldn’t finish it if I were still teaching because I’m the type of person who does too much, and my students were always going to win every time. So, I left K-12 and worked as an adjunct for a little while, and then I found myself at Bryn Mawr in 2017. I was only supposed to teach one class as a visiting lecturer while I was finishing up my doctoral degree, and luckily I loved it, and I've been here ever since.
I was raised to make the world better, and I think what better way to change the world than through education. A lot of students actually spend most of their life in public schools. And so, if I am training future teachers to be critical, constructive, caring, kind, empathetic, and operating at all costs with humanity in mind, then I think that will make the world a better place.
What is your area of focus for teaching and research?
I remember in 2018 I was teaching one of our intro level education courses where students create a lesson, implement it, and share their reflections in a group presentation. One presentation that stood out to me and changed the trajectory of my research was called “Fighting Hegemony,” where the students talked about de-colonization and alternative, non-traditional methods within their lessons. I wasn’t just observing and taking notes, I was also participating as if I were a student. So, as they had different prompts, I was responding and thinking about fighting hegemony and colonialism in my own practice. During this presentation, I realized that, while I was trying to do progressive things, there were still ways that I had been participating in that system of oppression and participating in harm that comes from classrooms because I didn’t have all the information. I hadn’t gone deep enough with it, and I had a lot more work to do. So, I spent that summer afterward reconceptualizing my practice and doing a lot of work to better understand what I was actually doing rather than what I was telling myself.
So that led me to my focus now, which is anti-colonization in education. I write a lot on this topic, and I also do a lot of professional development around the world to open up this conversation. I don’t just work with people who are in education, but people who are in other fields as well because we’re all educators, whether people realize it or not, and we’re all part of the system.
How would you describe your experience teaching here so far?
I do a lot of work on classroom community, and I love that my students are willing to lean into that and participate in it. I can want to build classroom community all I want, but if students are resistant to it, it’s not going to happen. So, I love that they’re willing to go on the journey with me. My new-ish journey within education was completely transformed because of students, and so I get to teach them but also learn a lot from them. Not only do my students respect me, but I respect them because of what they bring into that space, and I value that. So I love, love, love the students here. But I also love the freedom, the opportunity, and the support that I’ve gotten within the education program specifically to experiment and try new things, which has been nourishing in a really necessary way that keeps me here.
How has it been teaching in this year's 360° cluster, “Paradigms of Revival Black Liberatory Education, Embodiment & the Arts”?
It’s been so fun; this whole journey for me came out of students’ work and has been motivated and encouraged by students, and that makes it so much better.
I'm leading the current cluster with Lela Aisha Jones from Dance and Monique Scott from Museum Studies. The 360° focuses on anti-racism and colonialism and the ways they have impacted learning, the body, the mind, as well as artifacts and objects.
Just being able to work with other Black women professors has been an amazing experience, and our students recognize as well that this is a cluster that has three Black women teaching it. And so it’s a really exciting time for us to be able to work together. For what we’re able to model for our students, the experiences that we’re able to create for them, and then literally just representation in general.
How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
Last year I actually started a wine business called The Wine Down. I was excited to plan and present five pop-ups, and a few people from campus attended my events, which was really great. We primarily offer wines from Black and Black woman-owned brands. Just like anywhere else, there’s room for more Black people and for women to push in and create space for themselves in the wine industry. So, I’m excited about that, and I have been studying toward different wine certifications from the Wine Spirit and Education Trust to eventually become a sommelier.
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