Theses Doctoral

Disrupting Racial Silences in a Predominantly White School District

Krill, Jennifer

This research study invited teachers to participate in an inquiry discussion group in order to disrupt the racial silences that existed in a predominantly white school district. The ways Americans think, act, and talk about racism and white supremacy have become more complex over time as they have shifted from explicit to implicit (Bonilla-Silva, 2015). This is true in American society and also in America’s school systems, where racism has shifted from overt segregation (many school systems remain de facto segregated [Wells et al., 2014]) to covert colorblind silences (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Leonardo, 2004). Even though there have been efforts to disrupt racial silences in schools, previous attempts framed the problem in terms of culture rather than addressing race in explicit ways.

These curricular initiatives (e.g., multiculturalism, culturally responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogy) introduced in schools were also problematic in that teachers were treated as technicians (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999), which assumed they could take these curriculum tools and implement them without questioning their own mindset or beliefs about race. Therefore, this study was a next step toward disrupting racial silences in educational settings by explicitly discussing race and positioning teachers as knowledge producers.

For this research, intersecting theoretical ideas from Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies, and inquiry as stance were used to strengthen an understanding of what happened when the silences that existed around topics of race in white educational settings were disrupted. Data produced in ten weekly inquiry discussion group meetings were analyzed using discourse analysis. Results of this analysis pointed to a gradual shift in the discourse, which suggested a shift in comfort with explicitly talking about race.

These results were organized into three phases: discomfort of not knowing, embracing discomfort, and grappling toward change. It is important to note that this study also highlights the complexities of race work in predominantly white schools as is evidenced by the ways this shift was not always perfect (i.e., Discourses of white supremacy and colorblindness circulated throughout). Therefore, teachers in predominantly white educational settings, teacher educators, and educational researchers need to be prepared for tensions and contradictions that may arise when disrupting racial silences. Educators and researchers in the field should encourage educators to embrace the role of knowledge producer and also be aware of the ways “nice white women” typically engage in this work so that important steps toward disrupting the racial silences that exist in predominantly white educational settings can be achieved.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Siegel, Marjorie
Ed.D., Teacher College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 15, 2022