ICIS Newsletter - March 2021 (Plain Text Version)

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In this issue:



Ramin Yazdanpanah, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Amy Alice Chastain, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
Kisha Bryan, Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN, USA

Ramin Yazdanpanah

Amy Alice Chastain

        Kisha Bryan

In 2020, we saw tensions around race, culture, and social justice that boiled over into the streets across the U.S. Perspectives were most often expressed through peaceful protest, and at times, through violent clashes. Such events and realities challenge us individually and collectively in how to respond, engage, learn, and ideally change. As TESOL professionals, we are particularly well-positioned and arguably responsible, to facilitate discussions on culture, identity, race, class, and social justice with our colleagues and students. However, more often than not, such discussions of culture and identity in the English language learning classroom are limited to cultural dos and don’ts and comparisons of cultural practices and behavior. Well-designed intercultural education goes beyond surface knowledge to exploration of deeper or more subjective aspects of culture, identity, and society (Yazdanpanah, 2019).

To the authors of this article, it is apparent that there is still great uncertainty among many of our TESOL colleagues on how such conversations can and should be integrated into our classrooms. Such uncertainty and even discomfort often lead to avoidance of the inclusion of topics on race, class, and social justice in our classrooms altogether. As educators who embrace intercultural approaches to language learning, we profoundly know that collaboration and inclusion of multiple perspectives are critical components to a greater understanding of the diverse world around us. We also understand the transformative effects such approaches have on our students. For these reasons, members of the Intercultural Communication Interest Section (ICIS) reached out to Black English Language Professional and Friends (BELPaF) to collaborate in facilitating a discussion on how we, TESOL professionals, can provide leadership in this much-needed area.

In the first meetings, members of ICIS and BELPaF first met to get to know each other at the group and individual levels. Already sharing common identities as TESOLers, the next step was to better understand the mission and activities of both ICIS and BELPaF, as well as collaborate on a shared vision for what to present. ICIS was to host the event through one of our ICIS Coffee Hour sessions. It was important to ICIS members to hear and learn from our BELPaF colleagues on strategies, best practices, and activities to facilitate the discussion around race and social justice. ICIS members were able to add intercultural perspectives and scholarship to the discussion as well. Through this synergetic exchange of ideas, everyone learned a great deal, and it was clear that several items would need to be provided for the Coffee Hour participants:

  1. A list of clear definitions of terms and concepts.
  2. A clear agenda that would allow maximum time for participants to dialogue in smaller breakout rooms and then as a group.
  3. Resources to provide to participants to develop a greater understanding of social justice within TESOL.
  4. A plan to keep the conversation going beyond the one-hour session.

On September 30, 2020, ICIS and BELPaF members created a safe space for approximately 35 TESOLers to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues and the role of intercultural communication in the promotion of anti-racist practices in English language teaching. To set the stage for these critical conversations, we introduced ourselves, shared the mission of both BELPaF and ICIS, and defined the terminology (e.g. diversity, equity, inclusion, racism, anti-racism) that we thought would be mentioned throughout the hour-long discussion. Prior to transitioning into breakout groups, the participants agreed that the primary goal of the session was to have respectful, productive communication so that we might learn about each other’s unique experiences, contexts, concerns.

After participants were randomly placed into breakout rooms, each of the groups was provided the discussion prompts below and encouraged to select one or two of them to guide their conversations.

  • How do discussions of race and/or DEI emerge in your classroom or academic context?
  • What differences have you observed around DEI issues across countries, cultures, and/or contexts?
  • How might issues of race and/or racism impact intercultural communication?
  • How should teacher education programs prepare teachers to address issues of DEI? What specific issues should be raised?
  • How should issues of race be addressed in K-12 settings? With students? With colleagues?
  • What obstacles do you face in confronting (anti-Black) racism in your context and/or with your students?
  • What kind of support do you need in addressing (anti-Black) racism and/or DEI issues?

Participants discussed the issues and considered solutions that they believed would benefit historically marginalized groups and the ELT profession as a whole. We agreed that there are not enough safe spaces or opportunities to discuss the role of intercultural communication in calling out injustices and promoting anti-racism and we must be intentional in creating these spaces and responsible for keeping these issues at the forefront. Our conversations highlighted a) factors (e.g. cultural and geographical contexts) that influence the prioritization of anti-racism and DEI issues, b) the lack of quality training with regard to the ways that language ideologies promote white supremacy, c) the need to overcome implicit bias in employment applications and hiring processes, d) the responsibilities of language professionals to examine materials and curriculum for stereotypes and for the absence of diverse voices, and e) the need for resources that represent different varieties of English.

The final question posed at both the collaborative coffee hour as well as here now for our readers is this: how do we continue discussing and supporting each other to actively engage in anti-racist practices going forward? The need to collaborate and form alliances is an ever-present urgency. BELPaF has been active since its inception in 1992. It is incumbent upon all of us to engage and support them as allies and accomplices to fill out the acronym and count ourselves among their ranks of professionals and friends.

This coffee hour served as a way to formally open dialogue around racism and anti-racist practices, but the challenge remains one of creating the spaces and the dynamics to foster authentic, vulnerable conversations, particularly inclusive of those who are not yet comfortable. In our observation, the participants often diverted the conversation away from race and racism towards other topics such as cultural difference, gender discrimination, and LGBTQ concerns. This can occur in the spirit of a broader discussion of diversityand inclusion, but avoidance in itself can be a racist act, regardless of intent, when it serves as an obstacle to a solutions-oriented conversation around anti-racist practices. Is that to say that there are not important considerations in our spheres around diversity of representation of other marginalized groups? Of course not. But we must not let our individual nor collective discomfort distract us from having these specific conversations in favor of one that may be easier or less wrought with potential personal hazards.

Discomfort, fear, uncertainty, lack of familiarity or experience all have the power to derail our best intentions. In light of this, frequency of exposure and interaction within groups is imperative. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Engagement must take place in multiple forms and venues. We are fortunate to take advantage of the shift toward virtual events and dialogue as it removes the barriers of time and space and enables us to broaden our social and professional networks to expand and empower these efforts across ISs and PLNs and beyond our institutions and communities which may themselves be limited in diversity.

So, how do we continue discussing and supporting each other to actively engage in anti-racist practices? Challenge ourselves and colleagues to keep the focus on race and racism when that is the topic at hand. Seek out and attend BELPaF sponsored sessions at TESOL 2021, including their pre-convention networking session on Mar 20, 11:00am EDT (register here), and their Summer 2021 Symposium. Organize, invite and attend upcoming coffee hours and other discussion sessions centered around promoting anti-racist practices and policies--in our own institutions and within TESOL and other communities of practice.

Ten Tips for Facilitating Critical Conversations on Anti-Racist Practices through Intercultural Communication

  1. Provide specific guidance on how to engage in critical conversations.
  2. Facilitate in a way that participants stay on topic.
  3. Provide materials in advance so that participants are prepared for the conversation.
  4. Start the conversation on time and decide whether latecomers will be admitted.
  5. There should be a maximum of three people per group to maximize conversation and provide for every voice to be heard.
  6. Designate roles within the groups. These roles could include notetaker, timekeeper, and presenter.
  7. Stick to the time frame allotted for whole group sharing.
  8. Keep cameras on and be respectful while others are sharing.
  9. Consider multiple pre-scheduled sessions to allow for continuity of topics and participants.
  10. Consider ending sessions with a brief self-reflection questionnaire and/or a call to action.

It is incumbent upon all of us to acknowledge and work to eliminate racist practices in our curricula, our individual classrooms, our institutions, and affiliations. Members of the Intercultural Communication Interest Section (ICIS) and the Black English Language Professional and Friends (BELPaF) will continue to collaborate as TESOL professionals to encourage critical conversations around issues of race and promote anti-racism within our profession.

Useful Sources

Hubicl collection: https://hubicl.org/groups/icistesol/collections/social-justice-and-intercultural-communication

TESOL’s Race, Identity, and Language Teaching collection of TESOL Journal and TESOL Quarterly articles


Yazdanpanah, R. (2019). Exploring and expressing culture through project-based learning. English Teaching Forum, 57(3), 2-13.

Ramin Yazdanpanah, Ph.D., is the Director of Full Circle Language Learning. He works extensively with the U.S. DOS-ELP, TESOL International, and the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University.

Amy Alice Chastain is Associate Professor of Instruction in ESL Programs at the University of Iowa where she also teaches courses in Intercultural Communication and Engagement. She is Co-Chair of ICIS.

Kisha Bryan, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of ESL Education at Tennessee State University, current co-chair of the Diverse Voices Task Force, and a longtime member of BELPaF.