Equity in Action CA has become somewhat synonymous with local CUE affiliate events. The group, which started back in 2018, were often seen (pre-pandemic) at conferences across Southern California. The group – which consists of Sue Thotz, Jennifer Dean, Leticia Citizen, Toutoule Ntoya, Nyree Clark, and Tory Wadlington – had humble beginnings.

Thotz, a Senior Program Manager with Common Sense Media, explains how this group assembled. “We noted the presence of very few Black educators in attendance and wanted to learn more about the identities of folks who attended these events.

“We started out with an action research project that we carried out in partnership with CUE affiliates. We visited CUE affiliate conferences and asked attendees to reflect on their identities and share them and used that data to hold up a mirror to the affiliate to see who was attending.”

– Sue Thotz

“When the pandemic hit and we were no longer in person, we began presenting virtually on issues of equity and how to create welcoming spaces. We hosted our first event, Equitarium, in partnership with CUELA, and have continued to hold space to discuss issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” she states

The work of this group, goes beyond county lines, often connecting them with like-minded individuals from across the United States. It begs the question – why is their work so important?

Representation in education spaces
Tory Wadlington, a special education teacher from Murrieta, CA, recognizes the importance of students having teachers who look like them. ”Students of color who didn’t even know me appreciated seeing someone who looked like me in school. They just wanted to connect and say hi because we shared a cultural identity. For those students who see that, they might become teachers someday.”

Diversifying conferences
Toutoule Ntoya, an educational consultant from Pasadena, recognized early on in his conference-attending experience the need for more welcoming spaces for BIPOC. “If Leticia hadn’t sat next to me at my first conference, I probably would not have stayed. Because we were there together and able to talk about how we were the only ones there. It made it feel more familiar. It’s hard to feel welcome in a space where no one else looks like you. How can we get more of those marginalized people in your conference spaces to feel welcome?”

Being inclusive and welcoming
Wadlington, too, recognized a need based on his own experience. “Nyree found me and introduced me to other educators at my first conference.”

“Teachers of color feel small in a predominantly white district. It has to be a welcoming space to feel comfortable.”

– Tory Wadlington

What started as an action-research project has now grown into a movement to spread equitable practices, pedagogy, and frank discussions among the CUE communities each of the members Equity in Action CA are a part of.

Leticia Citizen, an i4 Coach for Beverly Hills Unified, mentions how CUE and their group clicked early on. “It was very organic. Leaders of the CUE affiliates talked to us about their sincere interest in making their spaces better. Sonal Patel at IACUE was so open to the reflections our group members offered and actively implemented suggestions to make conferences more diverse.”

Thotz agrees, noting the various affiliates willingness and desire to work with Equity in Action. “CUELA approached us as a true partner for our first Equitarium event last year. Jennifer Dean is a part of our group and provided us with opportunities to partner with CoachCUE on Equitarium II. IACUE, SGVCUE, and others gave us the opportunity and space to collect data at their events.”

Jennifer Dean, a 1st grade teacher from Palm Desert, also notes, “We, as a group, very much want to know how we can work with CUE affiliates on becoming more diverse and welcoming. We wanted to help those affiliates make the changes they wanted to make to see more diversity in their gatherings.”

Equity in Action continue to be driven by their work, despite the disadvantages provided by the pandemic.

“We have the same mission that we’ve been working on since we started: support learning spaces to diversify; share ideas and strategies to design welcoming spaces for inclusion; and build a network of BIPOC to attend, share and present in these spaces.”

– Sue Thotz

“Our first goal is to produce the finest Equitarium II experience possible for attendees that moves them from thoughts and conversations to action – #MakeEquityAVerb,” continues Thotz.

“The Equitarium II experience allows educators to bring equity into their practice. We kick off with a keynote by Randall Sampson and have a choice of three workshops the next day: ‘Culturally Responsive Lesson Design’ with Nyree Clark; ‘Mastery Based Teaching and Grading’ with Alicia Johal; and ‘Identifying Structural Racism in Your School System’ with Dr. Josuie Falaise,” Thotz states.

Equitarium II takes place on Friday, February 26th and Saturday, February 27th – with a mix of interactive activities, workshops, a panel discussion, and a keynote by Randall Sampson. This event is free of charge; if interested, please register at: http://bit.ly/EquityNS

Dean will also be presenting on behalf of the group at this year’s Virtual Spring CUE Conference. Her session, “CoachCUE Creating Welcoming Spaces,” will take place on March 19th from 5-6pm PST.

For more information, you can follow Equity in Action CA on Twitter: @EquityActionCA

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.