That’s So Ghetto #microagression

One thing I’ve learned about racism is that until you can name it in several forms, it will continue to operate in plain sight. This zine was inspired by a collaboration with Eboni Joy Britt in the Syracuse University Office of Diversity.

Zine Creator Prof. Nicole Fonger (c) 2021
“That’s so ghetto!” #microagression
“But what exactly is a ghetto?”
“Ghettos were created and under-resourced by design…” – Prof. Nicole Fonger, Zine Creator (c) 2021.
“Have you heard of Redlining?” #housingsegregation #thenewdeal #homeownersloancorp #covenants
Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which people are denied access to financial services (e.g., mortgages, car loans, insurance) due to their race and/or ethnicity (Source:
“#Redlining Systematized The Creation and Persistence of American’s Ghettos”
Shown here is a rendering of a 1919 Map of Syracuse, NY (Source:
(LEFT): “Most African American families who were denied the opportunity to buy into Levittown … remained renters often in depressed neighborhoods, and gained no equity” (Source: The Color of Law, 2017, Richard Rothstein).
At the top left, a white family is depicted in front of a home they purchased in Levittow, NY. Below that photo, the Graph depicts the Wealth Accumulation for White Home Owners from 1948 until 2017 with growth from $8K (or $8,000) to $350K (or $350,000). These data are cited in Rothstein (2017). At the top right, a black family is depicted in front of an apartment rental. The graph below it shows wealth accumulation for black renters — nil (or $0).
(RIGHT): Equality and equity are not the same thing. This photo shows that equality would mean that despite some folks having access to what they need, everyone gets the same thing. The image on the right shows that with equity, everyone gets what they need – those who need more, get more. That way all have access.
“Equity isn’t about giving everyone the same thing. Equity is about understanding what everyone needs, and giving them that.” – Prof. Christopher Emdin
“Do you notice equity opportunities on campus?” #equityopps
Reach out @syracuseudiversity on instagram
Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Steele Hall

This zine was created by Prof. Nicole L. Fonger, Syracuse University, August 2021. Educational use of these materials is permitted under a creative commons license. Thank you for engaging with these ideas.

What is Community-Engaged Scholarship?

I like to think of the “work” of linking research and practice along a continuum. This continuum may have at one extreme <use-inspired> research and at the ether, <community-engaged scholarship>.

For me, I’ve learned from folks in the humanities and public scholars and artists, that community-engaged scholarship is intentional in disrupting power dynamics.

Sometimes as scholars we may take for granted the “basics” of asking questions and meeting needs. I’ve found that community-engaged work challenges me to question: Who gets to ask questions? Whose needs are met?

As an example of one initiative, faculty members and public artists are coming together to explore collaboration that brings a sense of “place” to two sister cities – Syracuse, NY and Rochester, NY.

One goal of our group is to disrupt the power structure of who the “keepers of methods” are. Another idea we are exploring is moving outside the University space into community spaces (e.g., parks, murals, sidewalks).

How are support structures designed to encourage additional work as a community-engaged scholar? Consider the example highlighted below with explicit guidelines, definitions, and parameters to make community-engaged scholarship count in tangible ways for both the community that is being served, and the individual scholar who is participating and/or leading the efforts.

What is our work?

This post is a Zine I created to share my current thinking (May 2021) about the work of the Antiracist Algebra Coalition – Syracuse. It’s a starting point for conversation and action toward antiracist algebra for the future of black students who attend Syracuse City School District. Reach out with comments or questions. I’d love to hear from you.

Antiracist Algebra Coalition Cogen Leaders 2021 – What is our work?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Teach Antiracist Lessons. What makes a lesson antiracist? What are the guiding principles and practices for antiracist curriculum and instruction?
((c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Engage Teachers in Dialogue About Race, Racism, Bias — What are accountability measures for action on this front? How are views, beliefs, manifested in actions? What are teachers’ views of students’ mathematics capabilities? (How) Can those be changed?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
The Syracuse City School District has adopted an “Anti-racist Policy” — how can the superintendent be held accountable for upholding this policy? What role does the SCSD Board of Education play in this accountability? What role do students and families play in this?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Let’s empower parents, families, and students to demand action and change. We aim to spread accessible information about students’ rights to quality mathematics education to parents and families. This may include knowledge about the policies and procedures in place to ensure that those opportunities to learn are there. WIth such knowledge, parents, families, and students may become empowered to act and advocate when the institution of education falls short of students’ rights to quality mathematics education. Demand equity. Address access, achievement, power, and identity.
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Part of the theory of action or theory of change for the work of the Antiracist Algebra Coalition includes the following components: (a) Teacher education with specific emphasis on teachers’ views of students’ mathematics capabilities. this training can occur through “SCORE” training (student coalition on race and equity) with a specific emphasis on mathematics (b) Antiracism in Practice via Lesson Study – engage in cycles of experimentation and theory building to advance principles and practices of antiracist algebra (c) Student and Family Empowerment and Action through Advocacy, Art, and Placemaking, and (d) Achievement and Experience. How do students’ test scores in algebra and disciplinary rates relate to one another? How can these measures be used to reframe the narrative around student failure or success toward teacher, principal, school, district accountability to students’ opportunities to learn?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
The work of antiracism is ongoing and never ending. It is a battle of resilience in the face of racist policy and practice that perpetuate anti-black racism and uphold white supremacy. Through the systematic work of the Antiracist Algebra Coalition we are dedicated to bringing our strengths to the table, with a focus on manifesting joy. We invite you to join us.
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger)

Joy in math is possible.

Disproportionality in achievement outcomes such as math scores, and graduation rates, are smoke signals of racist policy and practice.
Abolitionist work is about fighting, resisting, and confronting, as much as it is about dreaming, imagining and creating.
The work of antiracism involves educating ourselves, educating others, and advocating for change.
Joy in Math is Possible.
All images are copyright by the author, Nicole L. Fonger (c) 2021. You are welcome to use these images under a creative Commons License. However, please cite these resources accordingly.

Antiracism and Algebra.

I believe a mechanism to supporting an antiracist agenda in algebra education is to form a coalition of diverse stakeholders who are dedicated to racial justice and committed to learning and taking action to dismantle policies and practices that perpetuate inequities for students’ meaningful learning of algebra.

Let me tell you more about this work in a series of sketches and visual provocations. If you’re interested to learn more, or take on a leadership role in this work, please visit the Antiracist Algebra Coalition website. I look forward to connecting with you!

Note: the artwork on this site is copyright by Nicole L. Fonger (c) 2021. Please do not use, copy, or freely distribute without express permission from the artist. Thank you.

An Equity Lens (in Sketchnotes)

What is equity?

Equity lenses help to better understand and situate both broad issues in mathematics education, as well as approaches to addressing inequities and injustices. In this series of sketches, I explore one lens on equity developed by Rochelle Gutierrez, and relate this to other perspectives by Christopher Emdin and Bettina Love. While the sketches are my own, I draw on the ideas of other scholars and thought leaders to inform these visualizations.

Rochelle Gutierrez (2007) argues that equity includes both access and achievement (dominant axis) as well as identity and power (critical axis).
Lens offer a way to see things from new perspectives, a way to tie things together, or a new set of glasses that might clarify or sharpen our vision on complex issues.
In taking the notion of “access” dominant perspectives might focus on the need for tools (WiFI, computers, tasks).
Christopher Emdin champions the idea that equity is not about giving everyone the same thing. Equity is about understanding what people need and giving them that.
Christopher Emdin also argues for listening to young folks, our students in classrooms, to understand — do not assume — what they need to best support their learning.
How can our view of access become more nuanced and complex? Consider viewing culturally responsive education through a lens of access.
In Bettina Love’s (2019) book on abolitionist teaching, she argues for looking across linguistic and cultural resources. Attention to places — cities, schools, states — is also central in better understanding access.

Being, Rain.

Lately I’ve been focusing on cultivating a sense of being. Non-judgmental being. I notice when I come into a state of judging myself, judging others, and sit with that.

Through writing, through mothering, through teaching, through researching, through mentoring, through exercising, through gardening, through sitting. All of these practices provide opportunities for being. Yet they also provide opportunities for which doubt, suspicion, or judgment might seep in.

In a state of being, I notice. I breathe. I experience sensation in my body. I pause to listen to what I need. I listen to and notice the potentiality of needs that aren’t being met. I drink water. I move by body. To the extent possible, I adjust the light, sound, and sense of distractions in my present surroundings.

A yoga and wisdom teacher recently introduced me to the RAIN technique. Recognize, allow, interrogate, and nourish. The RAIN practice invites you to:

recognize – notice thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, acts of social participation;

allow – to the extent possible, allow yourself to be fully immersed in those thoughts, feelings, sensations, or practices;

interrogate – become gently curious about those experiences, and wonder; and

nourish – embrace with heart centered energy, warmth, and love.

Through practices such as these, or variations on them, again and again, I cultivate a sense of being.

Cultivating Joy.

What if your job was to cultivate joy? In all seriousness, I believe this is in some way – I have yet to figure out how to quantify or qualify it – this is my purpose. My job is to cultivate joy. My purpose is to cultivate joy. I can still hear the words of RMIII echoing in my mind as he champions “you were built for this” to the community. I was built to cultivate joy.

Cultivating joy means living with intention to make decisions, engage in activities, build relationships, and ultimately make choices that bring about a sense of joy. Joy for me and joy for others.

I believe that when I am guided by intentions of cultivating joy, I find myself more receptive to others, and more receptive to the nature of my experience.

Receptivity to experience is not to be conflated with acceptance. Instead, it’s about being open to whatever unfolds. It means detaching from judgement of good, bad, or ugly, and becoming curious and kind.

For example, this happens to me a lot during meetings. I’ll find myself in a meeting and sooner or later start to notice that I’m uncomfortable. I might be leading the meeting with one or more students, and hear an inner voice of doubt and imposter syndrome sink in. Listen to yourself, you don’t know what you’re talking about. (notice judgement)

I might be participating in a meeting where my primary role is to listen. In these cases, I have noticed a pattern that I sometimes disengage from what others are saying. Instead of paying full attention, I might notice something else that’s happening in the room, such as power dynamics. I especially like to notice when there is a mis-match of agendas and expectations across participants. Why am I sitting here in this meeting? What do I have to bring to the table?

In each of these situations, I notice. How does this relate to joy? I notice the interactions and agendas that seem to have fewer opportunities for joy. I reflect on this, and learn how I can make changes in the future.

In meetings that I lead, for example, I can pause every time I notice inner dialogue in the form of judgement, and take a break. I can drink water, write down the idea, and come back to it later. I can openly express my discomfort and invite others in the meeting to reflect on it as well.

In meetings that I participate in, I can notice the sticking points, and draw them. I find drawing and sketching to be wonderful forms of releasing attachment to emotion. I can also move my body. I know that more often than not, meeting spaces are designed with tables and chairs. I also know that after a certain point, my body needs to move. Getting up and stretching, drinking water, walking around the back of the room, or moving my hand while drawing are all ways for me to work through discomfort.

Thus cultivating joy means noticing when I’m joyful, and noticing when I’m not. It means deliberately crafting opportunities for expressions of joy, and having strategies for releasing discomfort and tension. For when I am able to release that which no longer serves me, I open up. Spaciousness is necessary. Allow it to be, and allow yourself to grow.

How do you cultivate joy? What are you doing now that is joyful? If it’s not joyful, notice. Become curious and kind. And set an intention to seek out joy. Allow yourself to be surprised on where an intention of joy might take you.

Compassion, Curiosity for Monsters.

Do you ever fall into patterns of negativity, self-doubt, or rumination on past or present?

Do you ever slip into states of discontent with no apparent way out?

I’ve recently found that curiosity and compassion have been two indispensable tools for seeing and releasing monsters I otherwise keep inside.

“I see you. I hear you. It is OK.”

mantra of compassion

Using this mantra helps when I find myself engaging in negative self talk. This monster seems to come out when I perceive that I am disappointing others, or my own self-determined expectations. By shining light on this monster, sharing my perceptions with others, it allows me to be kinder and gentler. Allowing this monster to be and express itself is Ok. For if I instead trap the monster in the dark, berate it for showing up, it only complicates the healing journey.

“It is OK to be here now. I notice the urge to be doing and giving more, or less. It is OK to give yourself time to be.”

mantra of curiosity

Another tendency I’ve noticed lately is the urge to be doing something qualitatively different than my current state or activity. “Do more” might sound like:

I’m not writing right now. I didn’t write yesterday. What if because I’m not writing right now, and don’t WANT to write right now, it means I’m no longer a writer.

Being patient with myself, I notice and remain curious about this voice. I share this frustration with a trusted friend. And when another friend serendipitously asked me “did you just come from writing?” and I instinctually said “yes” (even though I hadn’t) I then found myself writing for the first time later that day, and really enjoying my experience.

“This curiosity allowed me to approach writing like an old friend. Curious and gentle. Open and present.”

dedicated practices remain alive, even while seemingly dormant

By remaining curious about the call to do more, or the negative energy around doing less, I’m allowing myself time to be with what is.

Breathe in the “isness” of now. Sense the aliveness all around. Notice any calling to change what is. Release attachment to judgements of good or bad. This is the practice.

Showing up.

Showing up is important.
Not only showing up for other people,
but showing up for yourself.

Lately, I’ve been showing up for myself
by sharing my ideas.
By embracing the inevitable vulnerability of sharing
something personal–your art–
in a way that is open for public critique.

Preparing for a presentation to an international audience of
experts on theory, methods, and mathematics education research,
I found myself fastidiously creating an extra set of slides with my notes
ready for the inevitable disaster of a failed presentation.

Yet in walking to dinner the night before my talk,
I just started giving my talk – no slides, no notes,
I already knew it by heart.

So in showing up for myself, it was a matter of perspective.
I believe in my potential to share ideas in insightful ways.
It’s important to notice when our inner voice of doubt might
hamper an inner seed of creativity and expressive confidence.

It’s important to notice and to remain curious.

Another way I have been showing up for myself is in noticing the inner critique.
Sometimes the voice over shadows my presence — work more, do yoga in a studio, plan better, be more social, connect with others, buy a gift for the person you love, read that article, …
In noticing this inner voice, I can learn to not judge it, but simply welcome it, and remain curious.

From this place of curiosity…

I can practice yoga at home – without the “guilt” of it not being “good enough” because I’m not at a yoga studio.

I can write freely because I want to, not because I’m afraid of the consequences of not writing, or the judgement of others because of my choices.

I can take time to be at home, alone, without a social agenda and that is OK. Not every minute needs to be fixed and focused on goal-directed activity or socialization. It is OK to allow for free time to fluidly move in and out of tasks and to dos.

In learning to show up for myself, I am more attuned to showing up for others as well.


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