Academic Minute Podcast

Tiece Ruffin, University of North Carolina Asheville – Radical Enactment of Equity for Educational Justice

On University of North Carolina Asheville Week: How do disrupt the education gaps that exist in public schools?

Tiece Ruffin, professor of Africana Studies and Education, looks into a few ways to do so.

Tiece Ruffin received her Ph.D. from Ohio University in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Special Education and cognate in Reading Education. Also, she received a B.S.Ed. and M.Ed. from Ohio University in Special Education, with an emphasis in learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities; and Secondary education, with an emphasis in reading education, respectively. Tiece Ruffin has past teaching experiences as a licensed special educator (K-12) and reading educator (K-12) teaching youth with and without disabilities from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds in both rural and urban contexts. Additionally, her teaching experience spans various educational settings such as the public school, correctional institution, and home/hospital. Lastly, her school administration experience was as a local education agency representative for a large urban public school district monitoring placement and educational services for students with disabilities who attended private schools.

Her research interests include learners with special needs, diverse learners, pedagogical approaches for the diverse and inclusive classroom, service learning, and the internationalization of teacher education. She has authored and co-authored several publications and presented at both National and International Conferences. Her book, Somalis and disability: Cultural context and implications for practice, is considered one of the best descriptions of the cultural context that structures our understanding of ability and disability for Somali African refugees, and how culturally responsive education systems can bridge or break assumptions we hold about our students and create new opportunities for educational growth.

Past accomplishments include four notable fellowships: the prestigious honor of being selected as a Past-President’s Fellow of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, U.S.A. (2002), a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar in the U.S. Department of Education (2003), a 2016-2017 North Carolina-West Education Policy Fellow, and a 2017/2018 Fulbright U.S. Scholar at the University of Education, Winneba, in Ghana, West Africa. Currently, she is the Director of Africana Studies and Professor of Africana Studies and Education at the University of North Carolina Asheville.

Radical Enactment of Equity for Educational Justice


Although education is well considered a public good and the opportunity for an equal education is guaranteed by the constitution, historically, the U.S. has a proven record of denying, excluding, disenfranchising, and pushing people to the margins based on race, class, gender, and ability. The Asheville City Schools system in North Carolina is an unfortunate example of this inequity, holding the fifth largest racial achievement gap in the nation and statistically showing considerable disparities in discipline rates and academic achievement between white and Black students.

Around the U.S., gaps are prevalent in today’s American public education system. Some academics may choose to spend their time problematizing the inequities in education; a better use of focus may be in executing practical actions that disrupt and transform inequitable education practices.

At the forefront of actionable solutions is working in partnership with the community. We must employ practical equity on the ground with direct support for children and their families by supplying concrete tools. For example, for the past two years, my colleagues and I have curated and distributed 176 relevant, responsive and fun family literacy toolkits plus 300 STEM Fun-Packs to Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous youth and their families through partnerships with non-profit afterschool programs, public housing communities, early-learning schools, and community-based learning centers. These Toolkits and Fun-Packs are steeped in cultural relevance and include literacy, STEM activities, and fiction books featuring Black protagonists and nonfiction books centering on Black excellence written by Black authors.

It’s not enough for a two-hundred-plus-year republic to simply engage in rhetoric about its education problems. We must address the issues with work grounded in equity and inclusion and the intent of transforming unjust systems in pursuit of educational justice – where all children thrive.

Read More:

[Moja – An Interdisciplinary Journal of Africana Studies] – Special Issue Closing the Opportunity Gap: Black Children Thriving in Schools
[Medium] – Asheville’s Reparations Plan Must Prioritize Racial Justice
[Creative Mornings] – Tiece Ruffin: Taking Charge and Claiming my Full Humanity


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