Teana Boston-Mammah

Reader 2017


Teana Boston-Mammah is a sociologist, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Essex University (UK) and a Master of Urban Studies and Public Policy at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is particularly interested in notions of identity in an urban context. The first ten years of her career she worked as a teacher of sociology in London. In the Netherlands, she went on to develop her research and policy advising skills. She worked for over eleven years as a policy advisor / researcher for Scala, a non-profit expertise center for gender and diversity, in Rotterdam. Research areas include: the glass ceiling, emancipation in Rotterdam, radicalisation, fatherhood, sexual diversity and gendered social contacts patterns. From 2012 she has worked as a consultant and researcher for various organisations in Rotterdam, Formaat, Het Peutercollege and the research center Creating 010. In her free time Teana organises, as co-founder of the foundation RotterdamINK, various events, in the context of women’s empowerment issues. Teana is a board member of various nonprofits. Her research on gender and social contact theory in a neighbourhood in South Rotterdam is via Emerald publishers accessible and called “Women and the Gender Gap”.


The Entrance Gap

Abstract — This study seeks to establish, inspired by the widening participation discourse,[1] what the admissions criteria for an art and design school in Rotterdam are. This research focused on interviews with ten admissions staff over the period of one year. The analysis draws on the work of various scholars, Bourdieu (1990, 1993, 1997), Burke (2002, 2011) and McManus (2006, 2011), who have expounded exponentially on how the labels ‘creative potential’ and ‘original’ are infused with specific notions arising from a very particular class and ethnic location. The transparency of selection criteria lies at the core of this work. Asking the question, who is being selected for the art school and on what grounds? Key references for discussion on terminology of difference centres around the work of race and critical theorists; Ahmed (2012), Hall (1991, 1992, 19996, 2013), Wekker (2016), el-Tayeb (2011) and Baumann (1996).

[1] This preliminary research Making Differences (2011) was conducted by the Institute for Art Education (Zurich University) to gain a first understanding of inequality in the field of Higher Art Education and to assess possibilities of impacting on current practices within art schools. It was conducted at three art schools in Zurich, Bern and Geneva entailing a survey among candidates who had applied and were in the admissions process (700 respondents), and 19 qualitative interviews with heads of Bachelor degree courses.

Download TheEntranceGap by TeanaBoston-Mammah or download WdKa Makes A Difference Reader 2017


Reflections on the Inclusiveness and Diversity Workshop

Day 1
A small group of teachers working at the Hogeschool Rotterdam started a two-day journey into the world of participative drama, with a specific focus on diversity and inclusion activities. Our trainer is Luc Opdebeeck, an expert in the work of Augusto Boal[1] who in turn worked with and was inspired by the teachings of Paolo Frere[2].

By using the tools of participative drama we hoped to move away from a more cognitive approach to diversity issues and experience how inclusion and exclusion work upon our own bodies. Focusing in this way on a more corporeal and emotional experience that could then be used to create spaces for self reflection and critical thought.

The morning was spent with a series of trust exercises to build on safety in the group. Many of these exercises were also designed to enable participants to feel the difference between the body as a form of knowledge/ habitus of experience and the mind.

One of the first challenges the group had to face was how vulnerable some of the exercises made people feel, being asked to form two groups based on biological gender divisions was felt to be reproducing the very binary thinking we had come here to avoid. Group members were asked to voice their opinions, participants were given the freedom to withdraw their involvement at any moment, with the invitation to share these reservations.

The afternoon was spent using the body to express how participants feel and think about a range of concepts associated with diversity work such as inequality, oppression, power, identity, violence, racism, sexism, binary thinking, ableism, stereotyping etc. Difficulties arising from this were how to relate to stories of oppression coming from those with a majority/ minority background with those from a majority/white background experiencing feelings of guilt, or anger or shame. Other issues that the group had to deal with were the feeling of ‘spectacle’, watching others relive their traumas, for some this was very uncomfortable to see/feel. Interestingly those sharing were less uncomfortable.
The round up at the end of the day revealed a notion among participants, that while the day was seen as valuable, that we were only skimming the surface and needed to explore the notions of power and white privilege more thoroughly.

Day 2
We focused on three ‘becoming aware’ of stories from participant’s personal histories. The group was then asked to choose one to explore more fully. This proved to be a very valuable exercise by creating a greater understanding of the differing, simultaneously arising complex responses to discrimination felt by the discriminated in situ. The interactive and dynamic nature of this activity meant various competing responses could be thought through, tested and thought again, reflecting in the moment on the ramifications of the experience for all of us. This element of the program led to much discussion and emotional engagement.
The round up at the end of the workshop was positive in terms of group safety, participants commenting on how welcoming and accepting the group was even for those who had to miss the first session due to teaching responsibilities. How interesting all the activities had been. There was however a lingering feeling by some that the group was still a little too polite with each other, not daring to really share how they felt and reacted to power dynamics going on. Many agreed that perhaps an extra half a day would have been advisable in this regard.

Personal reflections
Starting with the notion that reflectivity involves the novel conception of ‘internal conversation’ (Archer 2003), involving the continuous self-confrontation of my whole self as perceived by myself. However, what I particularly appreciated about working with the tools of participative drama is the revelation of the reactions of my various selves in relation to the presentations of the other (significant or not) without the added the feeling that coherency must prevail. Leading me to feel at some point that all knowledge (however it is defined) is uncertain and also unpredictable, and arises from individual relationships which are in fluid communication; thoughts on what is it that I think I know for example what it does it mean to be inclusive, is it allowing everyone to speak while simultaneously revealing the the fissures in their stories without a concomitant feeling irritation or judgment on my part? Do I have a right to feel that I know somebodies story? Am I not always framing the other in terms of myself and my own reality. In some conversations I felt a certainty of perspective, knowing from reliving my own bodily experiences as a bridge to understanding. With other contributions I felt a gulf of incomprehension. In this way the grounding of this workshop in performativity is a valuable way of theorizing and practicing the multiple ways in which social reality comes into being. Moreover, this also enhanced my own understanding of the partial perspective, the relationship between identity location and the lens(es) with which we see the world and how valuable it can be to set them side by side. At times it was painful to feel unsure, to not understand the other and it was also painful to understand and to identify with dehumanizing situations, where someone else’s humanity was privileged over the others, rendering them less than.
A painful but rewarding experience.

The group have expressed a wish to meet up again and ‘be less polite’. So it will be interesting to see what direction this will take on the 6th of June.


WdKA makes a Difference’s “Brown Bag Lunch”

How to create a Critical Diversity Literate Art school, in which students and teachers of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, genders, sexualities and (dis-) abilities feel treated with equity and are supported to explore their full potential?

This is the question at heart and at the same time one of the main goals of the project WdKA makes a Difference’s Brown Bag Lunch (BBL). We are thus interested in rethinking pedagogy in increasingly diverse learning environments within the University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam through various programmes and methods. Our concern as educational professionals is, that traditional academic environments are inadequate in serving this diverse body of students. In response to this concern we decided to create a space for interested teachers wherein which informal academic exchanges could occur. In September 2015 we began the first in our series of Brown Bag Lunches.

We began by discussing an article by Frank Tuitt on “Realizing a More Inclusive Pedagogy”. Unlike traditional modes of instruction, proponents of inclusive pedagogical models argue that students enter the classroom as personal, political, and intellectual beings […]”, and Tuitt, proposes “a variety of pedagogical models that focus on the education of the whole individual — that is, the union of the mind, body, and soul of human beings.”(Tuitt 2003, 243). “Inclusive Pedagogy”, is a form of Pedagogy that advocates teaching practices that embrace the whole student in the learning process. Learning and collaborating at the boundaries and intersections of different educational backgrounds and levels, disciplines, gender, ages, interests a.o. are issues recognized by all teachers in the group.

Discussed in relation to the Tuitt article on inclusive pedagogy, was the need as practitioners to feel to be self-aware, particularly asking the question who are we? and who are our students? Are we facilitators, transformative educators or providers, serving pre-framed knowledges & practices?

Narratology, one of the many models reviewed by Tuitt appeared to be a compelling method. Teachers were keen to explore how personal narratives could promote critical thinking by using students personal narratives to appraise the canons of knowledge used in our various educational settings. This method could also be used to increase awareness of wider systemic power structures. In this way the stories become de-personalised and rather represent a framework for critical reflection and possibly reveal aspects of shared experiences amongst dominant and marginalized groups in the learning environment. Thus enabling the development of (self-)critical awareness in everyday life. However, in our discussions teachers also expressed caution in engaging students in this way as it puts more pressure on teachers to manage emotional slippages and discontent among other students who may prioritize more formal knowledge streams as well as concern for the students who speak out about their experiences as part of marginalized groups. While seeing this as a valuable experiential resource for themselves and others, it can also leave students exposed and vulnerable, running the risk of becoming the spectacle for students belonging to more dominant (hence less vulnerable) groups. It is thus intrinsic to hear the dominant groups reflections and opinions in order to analyze their contributions equally. In this way students can also be encouraged to contribute to the construction of knowledge and classroom dynamics.

Teachers felt that they too could harness their own personal narratives in the learning environment, at the beginning of each new course, so that students have a better understanding of who they are. This also, allows us to think through which aspects of our identity students would perceive as important and are related to, or influence, the way we teach. Such sharing can be a form of pushing i.e. making students do connecting work whereby the diversity of the reactions the teacher’s narrative elicits can be used to help students learn about competing narratives and analysis

“We are working and living in an emotional environment- but the school constructs itself as rational.” (WdKA teacher at BBL, 2015) Born out of a concern with the contradictory nature of this observation, teachers are apprehensive of such approaches being perceived as replacement therapy sessions, while nevertheless agreeing that it is invaluable to raise awareness of the notion of differences in “speaking positions”. An important remark during this discussion centered on the concept of emotional safety in the classroom, with teachers finding it important to distinguish between empathy and sharing on the one hand and friendship on the other. Employing these kinds of practices does not mean that “everybody leaves as friends” (WdKA teacher at BBL, 2015). A desired framing is one that prioritises transparency, in other words to address the power structures, which our Bodies re-produce in a classroom setting and to be able as professionals to discuss and reflect on them with the cohort.

While there was general agreement that Inclusive Pedagogy offers many valuable tools and insights for further development, there was a concomitant realization that many teachers would not only lack the confidence to embrace such an approach, but also not necessarily see it as part of their professional read cognitive, task driven imperative.
However those teachers participating in the BBL, which is a racially and culturally diverse group, who embraced Narratology and apply it in the pedagogical approach face different responses by students, that are often forms of personalised projections on the teacher's Bodies. White teachers are often confronted by students with remarks such as “who are you to address the issue of power and race”, which white teachers said make it difficult for them to respond. In the BBL group we agreed, that there are no universally correct answers for these questions, but that it was important to try to understand and reflect on each critical and sometimes painful comment.

The BBL has proven to be a great opportunity to not only support teachers, who are committed to bringing social change to the ways in which we teach but also has become an invaluable resource for us as researchers to develop strategies and methods to create more awareness of the power structures, that are reproduced in our classrooms.

As with every project we do- we never loose our humour: