Episode 4 -The Urban Experience: Race, Class, Gender and the American City

About

In this episode, the UC Berkeley Pedagogy Podcast team features Brandi Summers, a Professor in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley. Professor Summers shares with us the philosophy that “the diverse teaching tools and strategies created in the class are part of my commitment to engaged pedagogy, which has developed based on the presumption that classrooms are spaces that hold promise for radical change and growth within and outside the classroom. As an engaged teacher, she asks that both she and her students take risks to see themselves and their lives as part of the critical process of inquiry, to be vulnerable enough to ask hard questions, and to see the world from different, and sometimes contradictory, points of view.” 

Biography

In 2022, Professor Summers received UC Berkeley’s American Cultures Excellence in Teaching Award (ETA). The ETA recognizes faculty teaching a UC Berkeley American Cultures course for their inspiring and sustained commitment to creating a learning space that, among other things, includes addressing the multivocality of America’s diverse social fabric, the scales of geographic assemblage which support political and economical ways of being, the often contested nature of the political nation and the intersectional vectors that operate through everyday life. In the words of one of Professor Summers’ nominees, “Brandi’s teaching has been a critical resource for the university, especially as it has sought to understand and respond to the challenges of racial disparities over the past two years.”

Episode Transcript

[Podcast Introduction]

Marisella Rodriguez:
[instrumental music] Welcome to the Pedagogy Podcast, a space for UC Berkeley educators to share their stories on teaching, advancing equity and pushing the boundaries on what it means to cultivate an inclusive learning environment. Each conversation is co-led by your hosts, one of which is me, Marisella Rodriguez, Inclusive Teaching Lead at the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Victoria Robinson:
And me, Victoria Robinson, Director of the American Cultures Center and Lecturer in the Department of Ethnic Studies.

Victoria Robinson:
For this episode, we're joined by Brandi Summers, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, author of Black in Place: The Spatial Esthetics of Race in a Post Chocolate City and also the 2022 American Cultures Teaching Excellence Award Winner. Welcome Brandi.

[Interview Begins]

Marisella Rodriguez:
Okay, welcome! We are joined today by Brandi Summers, Associate Professor of Geography. Thank you so much for your time here at Berkeley's Pedagogy podcast.

Brandi Summers:
I'm so excited to be here.

Marisella Rodriguez:
Yes! We love talking, you know, not just about pedagogy, but pedagogy with an equity lens. We are focused on thinking about how we create classroom environments, course designs, learning experiences to be equitable, inclusive in spaces where students feel like they can bring their authentic selves as much as possible. We always know that there's going to be considerations

Marisella Rodriguez:
but we strive for that, at least when we think about American Cultures Center at Berkeley, I know we strive for that and at the Center for Teaching and Learning as well.

Victoria Robinson:
I was going to add also, it feels like at this moment in time, having these conversations and being able to share some of what we've experienced, what we've learned, what we've grown, what we've developed in the impact and the classroom feels really, really important for educators everywhere, and also to allow students an opportunity to come into the thinking of how and why our classrooms look and feel the way that they do.

Victoria Robinson:
So, yeah, very excited to have this conversation.

Brandi Summers:
I think it's really important that we also remember that crisis shouldn't be the only reason why we're coming to think about these these ideas, right? That instead it's an ongoing conversation that we need to have. So that's again, why I'm really excited to talk today.

Victoria Robinson:
Great. Brandi, would you like to share a little bit about where you are in the university, where your work comes from, a little bit about you and how you enter being at UC Berkeley?

Brandi Summers:
Sure. So I joined the faculty in the Geography Department in 2019. I am from Oakland, so I remember coming to Berkeley's campus as a teenager, mostly walking along Telegraph Avenue, the weekend, you know, booths that were up and the vendors were still there. So I remember going to Blondies, I remember buying necklaces that, in fact, my mom still has a few of them.

Brandi Summers:
But it was a very different relationship that I had as a kid coming to Berkeley. And so what was significant for me was that I didn't apply to Berkeley intentionally, and that was because Prop 209 had passed when I was in high school and I saw a precipitous decline in Black students after 209 passed.

Brandi Summers:
And my high school in Oakland was like a Cal- feeder school. There were so many high school graduates that ended up going to Cal or going to UCLA. And so once I saw that, you know, the Black population, I think at that time it dropped to like 2%. It was - it was horrible. I knew that I didn't want to go to college in California.

Brandi Summers:
I knew I had to get out and really thinking about what life would be like as a Black woman outside of this state. Anyway, that's a long time background component. But coming to Cal, I previously worked at Virginia Commonwealth University in the African-American Studies Department. I received my Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz, but I decided that I didn't necessarily find myself as a typical sociologist.

Brandi Summers:
I wanted to be able to have a more interdisciplinary focus. So that's why I went into AFAM and it was a wonderful experience. It was certainly complicated too, because for those of you who don't know, VCU is in Richmond, Virginia, which is the seat of the Confederacy. And so driving to work every day, I passed by the now removed Robert E. Lee statue, Stonewall Jackson -

Brandi Summers:
there were a number of Confederate quote unquote heroes who were lining the street. So having to pass that every day and then teach room fulls of African-American students was really jarring. I was ready to come home. So I was fortunate to make the change to geography, in a lot of ways because I had started to take up geography in my work.

Brandi Summers:
And so I'd say that I'd become more legible to geographers, especially the ways I was thinking about space and racialization and then race and spacialization. Thinking about different historical patterns as it related to how different people from different backgrounds moved, or the ways that space really made a difference in terms of who someone could be and who they were and where they lived.

Brandi Summers:
So it was a pretty easy kind of transition into the Geography Department here in a lot of ways, because my Ph.D. training was actually similar to the ones that our graduate students receive. But coming here, it was really great because I got to teach the things I cared a lot about and I was able to really go back into a more social- scientific realm and do some fun work.

Douglas Parada:
Also, a bit of a homecoming for you, too.

Brandi Summers:
For sure [laughter] which, you know, my family loves. Coming back as an adult is very different than when you are a child growing up in an area. And I'm also a first generation college student, so my family didn't really know what a college professor does. They don't still, I think they believe my summers are off and I just teach.

Brandi Summers:
So if I'm not teaching, then I'm free. And they don't seem to recognize the research or the service component. But it's still a homecoming. I see the benefits of being here. I see the benefits of raising my child in my childhood hometown. So it's really wonderful.

Victoria Robinson:
So you talked about - there’s such care and compassion to how you think about the classroom and what it can provide and how you enter it.

Victoria Robinson:
And right now at Berkeley, the Geography Department really does feel like it's a center of gravity for a particular kind of really important pedagogical positions and commitments. And I'm wondering, how do you feel of this moment or looking over a longer historical period about being in the classroom right now in the Geography Department with the real growth in student commitment to geography and the geography classroom in particular?

Brandi Summers:
Hmm. So I know you as a geographer, understand the significance of geography in these times and many others. So I think for a lot of people, geography equals maps and they don't necessarily know all that occurs in this discipline or are the ways that we were able to touch so many different facets of life. So for me, geography or at least the ways that we're teaching critical geography is where the rubber meets the road.

Brandi Summers:
So if we are able to have our students learn about, again, the historical dimensions of movements, right? So different populations moving around this country and other parts of the world, but then also understand this relationship to nature. So you have kind of this human development as well as this quote unquote natural development, and you see how they relate to one another.

Brandi Summers:
And so that influences everything. It influences how we talk about politics, how we talk about culture, language, how we talk about economics. And so really, geography matters so much. And I think there are ways that people don't necessarily realize that unless they were in conversation with us about these kinds of elements.

Marisella Rodriguez:
How do you convey that to students - the importance of it, the historical dimensions of it as well, for the space that we're embodying today?

Brandi Summers:
I think the easiest way is to meet them where they are. So oftentimes I use real world examples. So it's something that I might see in an article if I'm on Twitter or something and I see there was, you know, a story about an oil spill or there's a story about really the effects of COVID on learning, right?

Brandi Summers:
I'll talk to them and ask them questions about their knowledge of it, or if they had experiences in high school or what's going on in their lives. Right. And so when I come in to the classroom, regardless of whether I know the students or not, what's most important to me is not what they know, but how they come to know it.

Brandi Summers:
And so in that way, it's introducing them to new ways of thinking so we can stay on the same topic for a really long time. But as long as we introduce different ways of understanding a particular topic, I think that's what's most important. And so the historical dimensions of course, contribute to that. So if we're talking about COVID, and I remember I was teaching, you know, in 2020 as we're seeing this panic occur.

Brandi Summers:
So I'm talking to them about quote unquote yellow fever or these kinds of ways that there was a panic around specifically Chinese and Japanese Americans in terms of infestations or understanding ways that they are seen as different while this was occurring. Right. I'm showing them visual culture. I'm showing them news headlines. So I'm able to trace a longer history and really make the argument that 's really new, that it ends up being this cyclical pattern over and over again.

Victoria Robinson:
That was so wonderful to share how those historical dimensions are circular, come back, repeat and then are kind of refabricated where they're at, and then also meeting the students where they are, picking up from Twitter, from Instagram, from YouTube, from conversations so that students can see that constant engagement. But also it seems like you have such a playful and joyful way of thinking about pedagogy.

Victoria Robinson:
And I know I've had the privilege to see some of the ways that you've thought about futurity and imagination, and you have this work going on about thinking about what would Lake Merritt look like if we kind of took it back in different ways and imagined it in these verticality of ecology and and human engagement? And to me that feels just so incredibly sparkly and alive and I'm wondering, is that just you? [laughter] Or is that like - that's a pedagogical commitment and dimension of how I've decided I need to teach and want to teach?

Brandi Summers:
Thank you so much, Victoria, I really appreciate that. Whoa. I mean, I, I don't know. I think there are so many ways that I try to work with what I have and then fit it into a category so it's not the other way around for me. I don't know that I'm particularly good at having a box and then learning how to fit within the box.

Brandi Summers:
It's more so I figure out ways to stretch the box a little bit. So as it relates to incorporating art, part of it was my own desire. So it's kind of like I figure out what I want to do and then figure out how to make it fit. In this case, you know, I was really overwhelmed coming back home and seeing the unhoused population and particularly the unsheltered, unhoused population.

Brandi Summers:
I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to talk about it. I didn't know how to think about it. I didn't understand. And I was finding that a lot of the material that was about homelessness or about the housing crisis didn't necessarily get to the crisis of Black homelessness. And why that was significant for a place like Oakland with this diminishing population of Black residents.

Brandi Summers:
And so I thought, well, there is a lot of absurdity in the news media. Let me play with it. There's a lot of absurdity as it relates to policy recommendations. Let's play with that, too, and take it to its limit rather than trying to come up with solutions. So the beauty of being interdisciplinary trained and also developing, you know, different methods to do doing lots of things based on various disciplines allows me the freedom to make different choices rather than sticking with some more traditional options.

Brandi Summers:
So that that's kind of the sparkliness has to do with experimentation, which is something that I always still encourage my students to do as well.

Marisella Rodriguez:
I'm thinking about the time in which we've all been teaching the past few years. You mentioned the COVID 19 pandemic. You mentioned the impact around the world somewhat outside of the classroom, but the impact was so much in the classroom as well for many of us and students and instructors alike, you know, instructional staff folks, advisors, I'm wondering how you navigated supporting students in the ways that you were able to sense, but also helping them meet, you know, your student learning outcomes or, at the end of the day,

Marisella Rodriguez:
the things that you needed students to know in order to advance in their curriculum. How did you navigate that?

Brandi Summers:
That's a great question, Marisella. So I'd have to say that the COVID years have been the most challenging of my career, so and I think probably for everyone in different ways. So teaching on Zoom is horrifying. I don't know too many people who enjoy it, especially if you're teaching a course of 100 plus students to not see their faces.

Brandi Summers:
I definitely respond to people's, you know, the visual cues. I respond to nods, I respond to smiles, I respond to sleep, you know, the ways that they're engaging or not engaging in class. And so to have the cameras turned off, but me also respecting that they may need to have their cameras off or that, you know, they may need me to record the lecture where I don't typically like to record lectures, but I still recognize the ways that we all had different contributions and also different ways to participate.

Brandi Summers:
I think prior to COVID, I already had a pretty - not lax, but I was very specific about the ways that I was lenient. So I recognize that for me, as a high school student and a college student, I hated speaking up. I’d get butterflies like I'd get so nervous when I even had a thought that I typically convinced myself not to say anything because I was so nervous.

Brandi Summers:
And so I recognize that it's possible that there are a lot of students who have that same experience, and especially when we're discussing topics that are so sensitive politically and culturally. And so I try to give them different options for assignments. Sometimes I switch up mid-semester. It really does depend on the audience that I have. So while I'm teaching students who are online, you know, I might have assigned a paper well, because we're teaching on this screen in this virtual space.

Brandi Summers:
Instead, I ask them to build websites because they're already on the computer. So you might as well spend more time on it. [laughter] And probably I'm not going to have the same kind of attention to read, you know, 100 papers. So in that way they could work as a group, in that way they could be more creative and they could use various visual components.

Brandi Summers:
Some of them did podcasts, some of them did drawings, some of them did some audio features, right? So it allowed them to tap into whatever talents or comfort they had because I think a lot of them were still trying to figure out how to remain present. And I do think that various forms of art allow people to stay present.

Brandi Summers:
So if I can incorporate that in the teaching, great. If they didn't want to, I still tried to work with them to figure out what would be the best way. I do, you know, I will say also what was most challenging is I got some of the most offensive responses in student evaluations. I was appalled and it took me a moment to - or a few moments to realize that I shouldn't take them personally because a lot of them were personal attacks.

Brandi Summers:
And so I knew that it didn't have to do with me teaching, that it had to do with me personally. But because they weren't in a room with me every week, I wasn't able to disarm them or I wasn't able to connect with them. And so I had to chalk it up to the conditions that we were all under a ton of stress and that, you know, where there are opportunities for people to hide behind a cloth, they're going to do it.

Brandi Summers:
And so it was challenging from so many different directions, me trying to be lenient, me trying to be considerate, but at the same time still trying to give as much information and power as necessary. The last thing I'll say is that, you know, with with AC courses, since everyone at Cal has to- every undergrad at Cal has to take one, you often get students who have no intention of learning much about race, of learning

Brandi Summers:
much about culture, about culture and economics, about race and power, about politics. And so I realized that I'm going to have some resistant students, but it becomes even more challenging in that kind of digital space. So I'm still learning. We're in person now, but I'm still taking from that experience and really still trying to learn.

Victoria Robinson:
I think I'm taking a moment to process what you shared about the kind of offensive comments that you got because yeah, that that's that's a little overwhelming to to know how you as a teacher are so intentional with constructing the learning space, about the very important nature of the content and the opportunities for experimentation, risk taking, art making that goes

Victoria Robinson:
on in the classroom. And so we often think about how we can't design out those attitudes and ways of engaging. And in some ways this is a little controversial perhaps, but an element of conflict is - in a classroom, might actually be productive because we have these questions of a safe space. Who is it safe for? What does it mean to engage in a dialogue which has rough edges around it, that people aren't lining up around in the same way?

Victoria Robinson:
And to try to design for that space, we often think about community agreements or statements about the ways in which we will create community or what we expect. Do you have advice for other instructors about how to create that kind of space where you are accommodating for dissonance, but also really trying to get on with the learning that that you need to have happen?

Brandi Summers:
Yeah, I include in all of my syllabi this kind of - it's not necessarily agreements, honestly, they’re rules. So ways that we engage with one another, I don't offer that as an option. It's not something that you have to agree to. I'm I'm instituting it as a rule in my classroom so they shouldn't take my class if they're not willing to [laughter] abide by these rules.

Brandi Summers:
And it's mostly around, you know, notice if you're talking more than your other classmates, you know, really in a way, be thoughtful in how you present information. Be thoughtful about what you're saying. If you have openly offended someone, you know the - I have the ability and I'm going to take an opportunity to have a conversation about it. I even have things around professionalization, right, in terms of when people send me emails.

Brandi Summers:
And so what I noticed in some of the more negative evaluations was they would call me by my first name or they would diminish my degree, they would diminish my work and so I saw these were the kinds of ways that they were trying to usurp the power. And I put that essentially in my syllabus as those elements that I pay attention to.

Brandi Summers:
So it didn't happen in the classroom. It didn't happen in this space. It was only after when they could be anonymous. So for other instructors, I would certainly encourage them to have a sheet where they say what their pedagogical commitments are as an instructor and what they are also committing to do, but that this is a space, it's a communal space, and this is what we are going to do, or else ,right, there are going to be some consequences.

Brandi Summers:
So I don't attach grades to them, or I don't attach point deductions or anything like that. It's more so they're going to recognize that I'll address it. I agree with the comment about conflict, Victoria, because I did have some conflicts in my class and so I found them to be productive. I found that when I am not defensive, when I don't take comments personally, which is hard sometimes, I try to open up a space where they can ask the questions that they may feel silly asking otherwise or they stay after class

Brandi Summers:
and I'm putting that in scare quotes because it might be on Zoom. They'll stay to ask those questions that they didn't feel comfortable asking during class. So for instructors leaving space after class or even leaving spaces for groups to have conversations that they don't feel most comfortable with, you know, as a larger group can always be helpful as well.

Marisella Rodriguez:
You're reminding me that when we talk about teaching as a job, it's not just that moment of interaction with with your full classroom, but there's so much emotional labor to teaching as well. And I can just imagine having a student talk about knowingly or unknowingly, you know, your identity in many ways because it can be tied to the course content and to have such a lack of acknowledgment or recognition in that moment.

Marisella Rodriguez:
I would love to hear what you do, but I'm imagining take a breath, listen with care and patience, and then proceed. But that is so much easier said than done.

Brandi Summers:
It is. And I think it was something that I had to develop, honestly, coming to UC Berkeley. So when I was teaching at VCU, I taught mostly courses with African-American students.

Brandi Summers:
And so while we share the same racial background, we didn't share the same, you know, nationality necessarily, gender, sexuality, so that we did have issues as it related to difference. It was just with - amongst Black people. Right? So coming to Cal, it's - I have maybe one or two Black students in my undergraduate courses. And so while I have a number of students of color, there are ways that I have to think honestly about nation, about religion, about gender, about, again, sexuality and again, what the concept of difference is.

Brandi Summers:
And so I have to recognize that oftentimes taking that pause and breathing allows me to think and be more generous with my response and honestly ask them more questions than for me to answer them. So once I ask them questions back, they tend to like, “ Oh, oh okay, wait- oh, oh okay, got it,” right? And they don't have the same force in their comments in the same ways.

Marisella Rodriguez:
I often find that new instructors forget that they're a part of the teaching community too, that they're a part of the classroom community. You know, whether you write community guidelines or rules for engagement in your course syllabus, that the instructor has some protection there as well. And, you know, oftentimes, folks turn to that as a resort after a negative interaction.

Marisella Rodriguez:
But to be preventative and proactive with these teaching strategies that create an environment that's comfortable and respectful for students and for you as the instructor, especially after COVID 19, everyone's so burnt out, you know, we need these strategies as well, not just for our students.

Brandi Summers:
Well, you know, and I think what ends up being really important is that sometimes you have to revise your goals, too.

Brandi Summers:
So I think that you might have goals that are listed or - or what you tell your students they should get out of your course. But you can kind of - I have a shadow syllabus where sometimes I have readings that I would assign if I have extra time or if I want to switch something out at the last minute, I'll add it.

Brandi Summers:
But also what's on my shadow syllabus are goals that I have for myself. So you know, one of my favorite things is when I get a student after class and they tell me they went home for Thanksgiving and had a conversation with a family member or family members from our class, and they got into a very spirited debate and they were able to influence their family.

Brandi Summers:
members. I love those stories, and they happen really often. And so not to say that my goal is to have a certain amount of students come and tell me about their familial interactions, but more so, the shift in how they're thinking about things matters to me. So if I can have an impact like that where they can talk about things that matter to them that are real world, that they have some compassion or passion for, then I've done a decent job.

Victoria Robinson:
Brandi, I'm so happy that you mentioned how our students take their learning outside of the classroom because it feels like we're teaching them to be those interlocutors or to be those educators to be the ones who them themselves become the teacher of other communities that they're part of. So it sounds like that's already happening in your classroom.

Victoria Robinson:
Do you have any advice for other instructors who are thinking, I've not noticed that before, so how do I encourage it? Or think about that as the extra that comes from the learning environment?

Brandi Summers:
I think it's really a question, and this can be for people at a variety of stages in their career, but oftentimes you want to think about impact.

Brandi Summers:
So why are we doing this? If we're if we're only doing it to teach certain lessons and not have an impact, then I'd question kind of, why or how you expect to last in this career because it's intense. So if you're not going to have a lasting impact on their lives, then I don't see what the commitment is, right?

Brandi Summers:
We don't get paid a lot. [laughter] So it's more so recognizing these ways that having that real world impact matters. So again, it's one of those things where you have to have goals. And so I think as it relates to creating some form of communication between yourself and your students, you're trying to also recognize when they walk out of my classroom, I want them to feel, think, fill in the blank a certain way, or I want them to be open to feeling, thinking a certain way.

Brandi Summers:
And honestly, I think that's why the AC classes matter so much. Right? And that's why and admittedly, you know, being on the committee who reviewed a lot of these syllabi, I had to really kind of think for myself, if I wasn't happening, all of these ideals that I had in my head. Right? And also I was critical of syllabi that didn't seem to engage, but instead wanted to spend a week on a different group.

Brandi Summers:
Right? So in thinking about, you know, whether you're teaching in Linguistics or you're in Data Science or you're in Sociology, you're still training students to go out there into the real world and you want them to carry something with them regardless of whether you can apply it directly. So you may not be able to apply your linguistics training in,

Brandi Summers:
I don't know if you're in med school, right? But once you actually enter the world, once you become a doctor, you probably will have to. Right? So it may not be immediate gratification, but it's certainly something that will come with time. So as an instructor, it's thinking about the long game and not just this kind of short interval.

Victoria Robinson:
That's great. It feels like there's a lot of language that runs around how we think about teaching with an equity lens in the classroom, and we have many entry points. We want a diverse classroom. We want it to be equitable, we want it to be inclusive. And at the moment, the ways in which the classroom is being considered is perhaps to inhabit anti-racism pedagogy?

Victoria Robinson:
And I'm wondering what your thoughts are of one, you know, is this a shift? What is that shift? And also, how are you feeling about as being at that place, particularly at UC Berkeley?

Brandi Summers:

Nothing is new. Constant cycles. We operate in circular patterns and so we can think back to moments when there have been social movements, political movements, cultural movements around need for change, expansion of particular ideals.

Brandi Summers:
And what we know about history is that with some forward progression, there's always a reaction and a pushback. And so I can think about the ways that the racial reckoning of 2020 brought about a lot of different shifts as it related to not so much policy, but certainly programing. And so I think that the move and emphasis on DEIB everything and anti-racist training or at least addressing Anti-blackness in particular, there are elements of it that have good intention. Oftentimes I think that they fulfill a certain ideal, but in practice I haven't necessarily seen where there's tremendous impact.

Brandi Summers:
So I think part of it also has to do with - and why geography is important - is recognizing how much of the inequities that exist are structural and that adding a particular program or finding this method of inclusion isn't necessarily going to change the system. It's slow, it's incremental, it's fraught. So recognizing that we're going to take a step forward and seven steps back and then we gotta keep pushing through really matters.

Brandi Summers:
The concept of inclusivity at this point really means so much now. It's not just around race. You know, when you had like race, sex, creed, religion, duh-ta-duh-ta-duh, fill in the blank, now we're really thinking about ability in different ways as well. And with COVID bringing about significant changes to people's lives, we're having to really - I mean, we saw the jump in DSP accommodations that we were giving and really had to be thoughtful and mindful of.

Brandi Summers:
But really, I had to start thinking about my own accommodations and ways that I needed to take care of myself in order to serve my students. So thinking about DEIB also has to be mindful of these shifts as well. And I think it's slow. So I'm not going to say I'm not hopeful. I just believe that there's more room for improvement.

Brandi Summers:
I think that we should not move back to a colorblind framework, which was very prevalent, of course, in the eighties and moved into the nineties, where the presumption is that everyone needs to be seen as the same or - as in order to be seen as equal, but instead recognize the value of difference and that it may not come down to dollars and cents, but instead we have to find different ways to appreciate and value different people and different forms of knowledge.

Brandi Summers:
And that's why me focusing more on how they think over what it is they come in knowing and thinking matters more to me.

Marisella Rodriguez:
I love this podcast. I love what we get to talk about and I love the insight that you bring ,Brandi, to this conversation. I'm just in awe and I'm also thinking about the folks who, you know, are new to anti-racist teaching pedagogy who - or maybe in sitting in a department where there is the resistance.

Marisella Rodriguez:
Right? You spoke about the pushback. when you have change and you have a step forward. What advice or recommendations you might give to those instructors who are really trying to make it happen, but, you know, receive the pushback from their colleagues or from their department leadership?

Brandi Summers:
I would honestly encourage them to keep going [laughter] so I think there are many ways that, you know, I tell my grad students, I tell them are like being in graduate school was one of the hardest and can be one of the hardest moments up to that point in your life.

Brandi Summers:
Right? And so the ways that you have to establish who you are, what you want to do on your own with the support of others. Right? As we're trying to do this kind of work. And if you're receiving some kind of resistance, oftentimes, again, try not to take it personally, but recognize that kind of resistance probably has to do with those people.

Brandi Summers:
And that's what I think, you know, there are opportunities to think about what privilege really is, that you don't have to hold all these things at the same time. So for those colleagues who - especially those colleagues of color who are trying to show their own colleagues that, hey, look, these are the things that I've always had to consider, I'm just trying to invite you to consider them, too.

Brandi Summers:
That, one, the labor, of course, is falling on them disproportionately, so the recognition of that. So I always encourage people to find ways to incorporate that into their own evaluation, right, to make sure that their institutions know that they are contributing a significant benefit or resource to the institution. But secondly, as it relates to the resistance, keep going, don't falter, don't fall - like keep going.

Brandi Summers:
In a way, I think there's potential in the numbers and in the energy around this that again, it's long, it's slow, it's intense, but it's meaningful and that oftentimes you don't always know who's looking at you. Right? So it might be that you're getting resistance from your colleagues, but boy, your students or staff or other folks might be noticing what you're doing and either supporting you from their places or they might be encouraged and empowered to do more difference in their own kind of spaces.

Brandi Summers:
So keep moving forward. Don't give up. That's really it.

Victoria Robinson:
It's great now that that advice is out in the world, and for those people who are feeling that resistance, they can actually tap into the podcast and go, You're right, that's a strategy. That's something I can I can hold on to. So, Brandi, you're not teaching in an American Cultures course at the moment, but you're teaching some graduate seminars.

Victoria Robinson:
When you come back to the undergraduate classroom, what are you excited to bring into the classroom next time around?

Brandi Summers:
Well, you know, I'm not -that's right, I'm not teaching an undergraduate course right now. I'm spending more time with the grad students. However, I am working on a grant project right now, and that's focused on building an archive for Oakland, my hometown.

Brandi Summers:
And so it's this multi-pronged project where I'm working with the Moms for Housing group and they are incredible. And we're really rethinking what Oakland's Black past, Black present, Black futures could be. So I'm really looking forward to bringing in some work we've done. Me and my wonderful team of graduate students and undergraduates, but also because I see this as mostly a service and a teaching project, I - I have to bring in some of the tools. So I'm looking forward to there being - or reconceptualizing what our institutions relationship is to surrounding communities and really interrogating, honestly, some of the violence that's occurred between these two positionalities,

Brandi Summers:
right? I'm hopeful as always, that I can make real shifts to my syllabus. I make changes to my syllabus every semester and it's mostly based on feedback. So they're not dramatic, but it's more so making a change to readings. Or I might change an assignment, or I might change, you know, what media I bring in. I even change sometimes topics if they become more relevant.

Brandi Summers:
So adding COVID, for example, to the syllabus or probably some of the protests that's occurred. I'm certainly going to add those, so I'm looking forward to making some changes since I will have taken a year without having taught the course.

Marisella Rodriguez:
Do you have any plans to, you know, make Oakland more central in any of your courses given your current research project?

Brandi Summers:
So I have designed an undergraduate course, I just haven't taught it yet. And also some of the work that I'm doing with the Berkeley Black Geographies Project in my department with Jovan Lewis, we're one having a symposium in the Spring, but also just thinking more about how to conceive of various locations and the geographic promise as it relates to Black freedom.

Brandi Summers:
So I'm certainly incorporating some of those elements in the classroom. But, you know, honestly, it's besides, of course, also working on a book on Oakland. I bring Oakland into all of my classes. [laughter] I may not have, you know, some several readings on Oakland or around Oakland, but I certainly bring Oakland into the classroom every every time. So I use Oakland in some ways as a test case for so many of the topics that I discuss.

Brandi Summers:
So while I'm not necessarily building one course around this particular grant work, I still am going to continue to bring in these examples. I'm hoping to bring in some community members to speak to them and think about perhaps even a speaker series to allow, you know, these kinds of conversations to flow and to honestly have my students be comfortable with engaging different populations and different people who who sit in various forms of power, so.

Victoria Robinson:
Brandi, it feels like we have to ask this question then, given that the American Cultures Center has been supporting community engaged, community based scholarship for quite a while and I think we're still at that moment, 12 years on, where there is so much damage centered research and relationship with communities, especially to local communities, that I'm wondering and this is really coming from personal reflection, is that after 12 years of a particularly significant initiative, which doesn't seem to have shifted too much,

Victoria Robinson:
some of those trends to keep doing damage centered research and teaching - what do you think we should be focusing on in in the hopes that we can move away from the ways in which universities like Berkeley have traditionally engaged our local communities?

Brandi Summers:
Great question, Victoria, and it's something that I, I struggle with myself given my position here, my positionality as it relates to who I am, where I'm from, who I'm working with.

Brandi Summers:
And so I just as I was mentioning earlier with the grant, I see this as a service and teaching. That's it. I don't see this as specifically research oriented, though there might be research coming from and I want my students to benefit from it in that way. But if the university shifts not only its stance as this kind of focus on philanthropy or recovery or reclaiming, but instead what can we do?

Brandi Summers:
Just tell us what we can do for you and then do it. [laughter] It's pretty simple. And what it also presumes is that people know what they want and need, so it's not nec -there are elements where I think as instructors, as people who are trained in various areas that are related to this particular kind of work that, yes, we teach the histories and we can understand what has happened.

Brandi Summers:
But in terms of going forward, it's really we can ask the question, what do you need? And I find this that, you know, being someone who's in the Geography Department, who's trained in sociology, has a background in history, actually did a little work in political science, too that I'm oftentimes critical of fields like urban planning, some architecture fields as well, and all very friendly, we love,

Brandi Summers:
but a lot of my criticism or critical commentary has to do with the fact that there's this presumption of an expertise over particular communities. And I think it's similar when it comes to these institutions, these powerful institutions. So rather than, again, presuming what's needed, it's more asking questions and then fulfilling that promise. I do believe that donors and alums and others who contribute to the university financially would actually be interested in figuring out ways to do less harm.

Brandi Summers:
It's just a matter of asking the question and not presuming a certain kind of knowledge. So we need to walk in with, you know, this continuous learning. We are not walking necessarily as experts. It’s more so we are practitioners and the way that we can fulfill their needs.

Marisella Rodriguez:
There's so many things that you've mentioned today that just remind me of the overlap between spaces and individuals and roles. I’m thinking about you know, the Berkeley community, as one of many educators and learners.

Marisella Rodriguez:
And then I'm thinking about the broader community of Berkeley, situated next to Oakland and what that means for the space that we all take up, it's been so thought provoking, speaking with you today, Brandi! I’d like to just throw the last question really to you. You know, what would you like to share with folks who may be listening? What would you like to share with folks in our community?

Brandi Summers:
That's always the hard one, right? It's easier for us to be peppered with questions and then answer them. You know, I got to say, this year, really, since the start of this semester, and I've been- I tend to repeat myself to all my friends and oftentimes my students too. And I’m, I'm sorry, but I'm really take - I'm tired. A lot of us are so tired and I'm really trying to take this opportunity to slow down and see what slow means to our line of work.

Brandi Summers:
There's a way that, you know, a focus on technology, automation - the idea is that it will enable us to work less when it really makes us work more. And then the us ends up - when I say us or we, it really has us question what that means too, right? So I guess I’d leave by saying that I think it's important for us to be incredibly thoughtful and part of slowing down is to take the time to think, process, focus, rest and recover.

Brandi Summers:
I think the trauma that has been inflicted upon us from not only, you know, years and years and years of structural violence on some of the most marginalized communities is really coming to the surface. It's really bubbling to the surface. And so there's an opportunity for us to have more candid conversations about that, but then also to slow down, process what's being communicated and then really take some meaningful and measurable steps.

Brandi Summers:
So I'm trying to do that my own life. I'm trying to do that in my work. I'm trying to acknowledge when I've been wrong or when I have more work that I need to do and more things that I need to learn. So I would encourage others to do the same.

Victoria Robinson:
We're so lucky, Brandi, that you chose to be at Berkeley.

Victoria Robinson:
All of us, your colleagues, our students, our communities. So thank you so much for the work that you do. It really has made a huge impact on us right now. When we need it. Thank you.

Brandi Summers:
Thank you for having me here!

Victoria Robinson:
This podcast is a partnership between the American Cultures Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning. These episodes would not be possible without the support and guidance from Doug Parada, Program Associate for the American Cultures Center, The Ethnic Studies Changemaker Podcast Studio,

Victoria Robinson:
Angel Garcia, undergraduate student in Chicano Studies. Dr. Pablo Gonzalez, Director of the Ethnic Studies Changemaker, Podcast Studio and Lecturer in Ethnic Studies Department. Thank you to all. [instrumental music]