Kara Mackenzie’s “Finding Community and Making a Difference: Looking Back on Three Years as a Citizen Scholar”

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This weeks guest post is from senior Kara Mackenzie. MacKenzie is currently a senior studying Professional & Public Writing and Women’s & Gender Studies. She is interested in the intersections between rhetoric and social justice, and hopes to one day use her communications skills to benefit a nonprofit organization. In her personal life, she is an intramural volleyball player, plant mom, artist, and avid reader. Also, Kara is one of the Citizen Scholars who have recently completed their Citizen’s Project, and the following is the description of what she decided to pursue. 

“As I approach graduation, I can’t help but look back on Citizen Scholars as one of the most influential parts of my college experience. 

As a freshman in Fall 2020, I remember taking AL 270 on Zoom. Even though we were remote, that was the first time I had really felt a sense of community, of shared goals and values, at Michigan State. The next year, when we were finally allowed to be back on campus, I joined some other CS students on a trip to Uncle John’s Cider Mill, which was exactly what I needed to make friends and connect to a campus community after feeling isolated for so long. 

Throughout my three years at MSU, Citizen Scholars has been a constant source of support and motivation. I met some of my best friends in the program, and we were able to support each other in doing some amazing work. For instance, Grace Carney has spent an incredible amount of time building the Life Letters program, which will provide support and encouragement to high schoolers struggling with mental illness. 

My own Citizen’s Project, although still in progress, has been one of the highlights of my college career. As a double major in Professional & Public Writing and Women’s & Gender Studies, I became passionate about using my skills in rhetoric and digital communication to positively impact the communities around me, and I saw a big need in the K-12 school system. Not seeing their own identities represented and respected in the classroom can decrease students’ self esteem, contribute to bullying and alienation of minority groups, and reinforce stereotypes. I could clearly see that there is a need for accessible tools that will help educators make their classrooms and curriculums more equitable.

For the past year, I have been writing an Equitable Teaching Workbook for K-12 educators in any subject area to find quick, accessible tips on improving their teaching methods and classroom spaces. The following is an excerpt from the introduction of the workbook, which will be published shortly.

There is a need for accessible tools that will help educators improve the DEI of their curriculums and methods. Unfortunately, many educators continue to find working with “diverse learners” to be complex and challenging. They may wish to improve equity in their classrooms but are not sure where to begin, especially when they are provided with traditional and formulaic curricula to use in their teaching. Because teacher education programs and school systems often do not provide adequate equity training for educators, there is a need for accessible tools that will help educators improve their curricula and methods to ensure that every student has the tools that they need to succeed. This workbook is intended for educators who want to improve their curricula and be the best they can be for their students, but aren’t sure where to begin, don’t have the time to do extensive research, or just want to learn more.

This brief workbook is not meant to be time-consuming or hard to understand. Instead, it is meant to provide short and accessible strategies and tips for educators, including printables and exercises that are easy to integrate. It will explain how educators in all grades and subjects can make their classrooms and curricula more equitable, and it will address a variety of identity factors, with a specific focus on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Finally, the document will provide additional resources for educators that are interested in learning more about topics covered in the toolkit. 

As a queer feminist researcher, I believe that an author’s personal identity labels, experiences, and privileges are strong influences in any research project. As such, I would like to conclude this introduction by disclosing my most important identities and beliefs, which I believe have an inevitable impact on my research process and outcomes. I identify as a queer, white, cisgender woman, and I recognize that I experience both privilege and marginalization, resulting in a unique combination of life experiences. For instance, I often felt left out in high school due to a lack of queer representation in my curricula. I vividly remember crying after reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s “The Prairie Wife” in my high school English class, because it felt like the first time that I had seen my sexuality—which was both important to me and extremely fragile at the time—represented positively and accurately. Conversely, I also remember that my favorite classes were those that introduced me to new identities and experiences unlike my own. 

For me, material that would be considered “diverse” or “inclusive” provided both the personal validation and new perspectives that I needed, leading to higher levels of confidence, empathy, and open-mindedness. Because of this, I am passionate about making it easy for educators to implement DEI in K-12 curricula, which led me to complete this project.”