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Pack IDEAS Staff Spotlight: Kayla Baker

Kayla Baker

In each edition of Pack IDEAs (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), a newsletter released by the NC State College of Education Change Agent Task Force, we highlight faculty, students and alumni who have expertise and experiences that align with advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the college. In becoming an anti-racist college community, we must deepen our commitment to creating and sustaining a healthy teaching and learning community that uplifts the humanity of all people, but especially Black, Indigenous and people of color, who due to structural inequities are marginalized in education and society. The spotlight feature offers a counternarrative that celebrates and showcases the brilliance of individuals within our college community.

Kayla Baker

Assistant Director of Student Success

What is your current role in the NC State College of Education?

My current title is Assistant Director of Student Success. Along with this title, I hold a diversity coordinator role as well. 

How long have you been at NC State?

I have been at NC State for a little over six months.

Why is diversity, equity and inclusion in education important to you?

Diversity, equity and inclusion in education are extremely important for so many reasons. DEI provides a wealth of knowledge that we can use to inform our practices and approaches to education. It helps us to acknowledge and address the disparities that exist in society, which impact the lived experiences of different groups in different ways. It allows us to understand how our thoughts and behaviors impact others and ways to improve operations on an institutional level. Ultimately, DEI provides a shared knowledge base for discussing and challenging matters such as injustice, marginalization and oppression to be able to achieve the transformative potential of education.

Are you currently conducting research around the area of diversity, equity and inclusion? If so, tell me a little about your research.

My dissertation topic looks at how Black students at Historically White Institutions (PWIs) create and participate in same-race peer groups on social media to navigate their college experience. As conversations continue about supporting diversity and inclusion on campuses, same-race peer groups of racially minoritized students must not be looked at as the self-segregation problem, nor the cause for racial balkanization on campuses that prevents interracial interactions from happening. These racially homogeneous peer groups are valid social responses to circumstances both on campus, in virtual spaces and within the larger society. So often people look around at PWIs and ask, “Why are all the Black students always together?” What some may perceive as self-segregation is actually an intentional and powerful strategy Black students use as they create same-race peer groups that have the potential to operate as a site of self-preservation, community, racial identity expression, agency, resistance to assimilation, and a source of supportive, safe, affirming and liberating spaces.

What are you hoping to accomplish as a result of your research and how do you hope it impacts the field of education and learners?

I am hoping that my research will provide insight that informs the decisions of campus administrators, faculty and staff concerning support strategies for this specific student population. Diversity and inclusion efforts on campuses must reflect a critical consciousness of the historical legacy of exclusion that Black students have faced and its implications for the current circumstances facing these students today. Institutions can learn from these students, the community they create within same-race peer groups and the avenues through which students from racial and ethnic minority populations are empowered. Creating inclusive environments in higher education should not only refer to promoting cross-racial interactions for students. It should also mean creating space and opportunity for minoritized students to embrace their racial identity and express it in ways that these specific student populations have identified as helpful and supportive. As many instances have shown, one of the ways in which Blacks students choose to create solid support systems is through the creation of racially homogeneous peer groups. I hope my research will help higher education institutions and others embrace that and allow for racially minoritized students to gather without feelings of fault or blame for choosing to protect their mental health, utilize agency and build community in ways that are authentic for them.

Are there community projects and/or initiatives you are involved in that are related to diversity, equity and inclusion? Tell me about those projects.

I am currently not working on any community projects. Previously, I worked with non-profit organizations that focused on mentoring youth of color in the areas of personal development, goal setting and college prep. Additionally, I have done some artistic work for a project called The Resistance Project, which was a creative space that brought together women of color to focus on scholarship that centered experiences with overcoming oppression.

What do you hope to teach future educators and scholar-leaders about equity and inclusion in education? How do you incorporate that into your instruction and curriculum?

I hope to teach the possibilities for fostering student development through critical thinking and societal transformation. Being able to reflect on my understanding of the cultural, social, political and ideological forces that have shaped, and continue to shape our education system and social world, I have been able to develop a few courses (i.e. The Experience of Race on College Campuses; Race, Ethnicity & Science Identity). By highlighting the experiences and perspectives of underrepresented populations in my courses, I encourage self-exploration, open dialogue and identity expression.

For other educators and scholar-leaders who are interested in learning more about issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion, what are two resources you would recommend?

Learning for Justice has great resources for educators to include in their classrooms (i.e. lesson plans and teaching strategies) and also has facilitator guides needed for facilitating professional development training. I would also recommend reading Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools by Amanda Lewis and John Diamond. The authors discuss factors in schools that contribute to the academic achievement gap and explore how race impacts students in educational settings.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the College of Education community?

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” — Maya Angelou.