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Laurence J. Parker Receives Linda C. Tillman Racial and Social Justice

Professor Laurence J. Parker of the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy received the 2023 University Council for Education Administration (UCEA) Linda C. Tillman Social and Racial Justice Award in Minneapolis on November 16. The award honors Professor Parker for his contributions to fostering diversity, equity, and justice in PK-20 Education, including the field of educational leadership in both K12 and Higher Education, and his internationally transformative scholarship around Critical Race Theory (CRT) — particularly his groundbreaking piece “Race Is Race Ain’t” and Race Is….Race Isn’t, for which he served as co-editor — as well as CRT’s implications for K12 schooling, the preparation and practice of leaders, and educational policy.

Parker worked with Linda C. Tillman during his early academic career in the late 1980s. Both were assistant professors, Tillman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Parker at Temple University.

“Linda and I were really doing a lot of work tirelessly fighting for racial and social justice in the UCEA organization, as well as in education overall for BIPOC students in K-20. Because the award is in her name, it has a special meaning for me,” says Parker.

Parker says this award also belongs to the students he’s mentored over the years. He cites advice he received from one of his own mentors, Dr. William Trent of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: “You are going to be known not so much for your own writings and teachings, it will be about the students you work with.”

The award is for Parker’s students, and it is also for the wider university. He hopes it will call attention to the importance of diversity and racial justice in the current climate of higher education, where attacks and injustices take a particular psychological, emotional, social, and professional toll on students of color, he says. We see it in the classrooms, in lower graduation rates, and when students describe their day-to-day college experiences.

The social change it will take to shift the university landscape includes something Parker has prioritized since his days working alongside Tillman: disrupting the normalization of failure for BIPOC students, and working with any graduate student whose research aims to do the same. “I want to change that narrative, particularly for BIPOC students, whether it’s SPED, LGBTQ+, kids without a residence, low-income kids, Black kids, Latinx kids. There are many failure tropes associated with these groups, and I’m about working with school leaders, graduate and undergraduate students to break out of those assumptions.”

One of Professor Parker’s former graduate students, Dr. Erin L. Castro, is now his colleague in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. Professor Castro helped to write the nomination letter for this award. Of Parker, she says: “Parker introduced me to the publishing process and conference circuit 15 years ago and now supports my efforts to do the same with the next generation of scholars of color, queer scholars, and first-gen students. I always know that I have Parker in my corner and there is a certain kind of confidence that comes from that unconditional love; no way would I have been able to start a prison education program at this institution without his support and mentorship and quite frankly, his guidance.”

When Professor Parker considers the way this award mirrors the College of Education and the way it will contribute to his legacy as a scholar, he hopes it will inspire interested parties across the university to unify in their efforts to increase the number of BIPOC students graduating on time — within six years.

“My hope is that we can use the symbol and spirit of this award – that we can all pull together and say, ‘how can we get this to work?’ This award was around racial justice for students; we’re doing students an injustice to keep letting them fail. We’ve got to change that.”

Last Updated: 12/11/23