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The last several months have been unlike any other for educators. Everyone is already on edge, being amid a pandemic while having critical and heavy conversations about racial injustice. All the while, we haven’t been able to connect with our students. What we are experiencing right now are important topics that flourish in the art room. As adults, we are often confused and astounded by the world around us; imagine processing all of this information as a child or a teen. It’s a lot. Not being in the art room with our students has made it even more difficult. After all, the art room is a safe space for students to use their voice, process feelings, and express themselves.
No matter what this school year looks like for you, you must find opportunities for your students to share their voices and to empower them. I’d like to introduce you to a student who was able to use their voice, and the voices of others to create compelling and impactful art. By doing so, I hope you will feel inspired to facilitate learning to empower your students. It’s plain to see the work shared throughout this article is powerful.
All of the images shared in this article were created by Tyler Trouillot. This photo series, The Black Student Truth, was created during the spring semester of his senior year of high school to fulfill the sustained investigation portion of the AP Studio Art 2D Design portfolio. While meeting the requirements for his AP portfolio, Tyler managed to create a powerful body of work shedding light and empowering others to use their voices. This is something all art teachers want for their students; Tyler is just one example of how effective student voices can be. As a student at the University of Southern California studying business administration and French, his project is more relevant than ever.
When looking to complete his AP studio requirement, Tyler was originally going to focus on the topic of cars as that is a passion area of his. As an involved member of his high school’s Black Student Alliance (BSA), Tyler explains how one conversation changed his mindset.
“The conversation led to multiple students, simply explaining how it feels to be Black. The power of their words amazed me, and it dawned on me that I could provide a platform for Black students to share their narratives. The truth is, this project would have happened even if I wasn’t in AP Studio Art. Being able to submit it to College Board was just a bonus.” Through his involvement, experiences, and conversations, the inspiration behind the project was created.
While the power of the images can’t go unnoticed, I asked Tyler what he hoped viewers would gain from his work. He said, “In the age of a global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence, The Black Student Truth sheds light on the reality Black students face. Currently, many non-Black people seem to interpret the sentiments of the Black community as being a response or a reaction to what we see in the mainstream media. The truth is, the oppression facing the Black community is nothing new, and something every Black person must endure every day.”
To complete this project, Tyler asked eight of his friends one simple yet loaded question, “What does it mean to be Black?” With the aid of his classmates’ words and his camera lens, Tyler hoped to shed light on the truth of what it means to be Black while helping the viewer, “understand and appreciate the beauty in being Black.” The intention of The Black Student Truth series was to have non-Black viewers listen and see the “celebration of Black beauty, Black intelligence, Black resilience, and Black power.”
Most people agree that art allows one to use their voice. Interestingly enough, Tyler focused on amplifying not his own voice, but the voices of others. Tyler explains, “In so many scenarios, Black voices go unheard or are at least underrepresented. I needed to show people that at times it is best to stop talking and just listen. In this instance, the most powerful thing I could say was nothing at all.”
As art educators, it’s important to allow your students a space to do just that. How are you facilitating learning for your students to uplift their voices by listening? How are you making a conscious effort to not allow racism in your classroom? We always have room to grow and educate ourselves, and we must do that for our students.
As a White educator, I asked Tyler, who identifies as mixed Black and White, how all educators can better support their Black students. He said, “Educators must hold themselves accountable for taking advantage of the plethora of resources available to them to create an academic environment in which Black students can feel comfortable and thrive.” It is not the student’s responsibility to teach us; it is the teacher’s responsibility to not only empower our students but to understand, to educate ourselves, and, most importantly, to listen.
How will you make an effort to empower and listen to your students?
Why is it essential to include student voice in your teaching?