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Image: Matt Hanna

At Seattle University’s College of Education the values of social justice are paramount to the program. Every department seeks to educate students within a setting that promotes inclusion and diversity in its curriculum. Stacey Robbins, the university’s Assistant Professor of Adult Education and Training, believes in the fundamental need for everyone (regardless of race, age, or culture) to have access to better resources. Her program supports adult basic education and human resource development—helping people in organizations and educational settings who train adults in everything from language to leadership.

How does social justice apply to your program?

Tenets of social justice are woven throughout the program to highlight the multiple ways in which under-represented and marginalized populations—both societally and in specific organizations—have differential access to learning, and how to design learning that takes into account all learners’ unique experiences. For example, many students work with those who often don’t speak English as their first language, or they help build literacy and numeracy skills in adults at community colleges and non-profit organizations. They’re looking at how they can support them by creating welcoming and inclusive learning environments. It’s very difficult to access resources in this country if you don’t speak or write English. Other students work for large organizations—like Microsoft and Boeing—and support organizational learning needs by designing inclusive leadership programs that provide career development for women and other under-represented groups in the top levels of organizational leadership.

What led you to this field?

I started my career teaching English as a second language abroad, and fell in love with teaching. When I returned to New York City, I taught high school, but was motivated to work in teacher professional development. I was trained to teach adolescents but wasn’t prepared to work with adults, so I wanted to learn the unique factors that impact adult learning. There’s an opportunity to engage deeply with adults when they must put their learning into practice.

What brought you to Seattle University?

I was attracted to the school’s social justice mission and the welcoming, collaborative work environment. At Seattle U, we work to embody our social justice mission, rather than just saying we do it. We want people to flourish; it’s about having the tools to respond to changes in the environment. I also really enjoy engaging with diverse students in the Adult Education and Training Program.  The learning environment promotes the exchange of ideas of students who have diverse life experiences and work in different environments.

What are some of the areas your students focus on?

One student who is an instructor at a community college explored how the college supports the professional development of its instructors. How can these organizations, which have as their mission the support of learning, better support their own faculty? She looked at what the impediments are, and at best practices across other community colleges, and made a series of recommendations to her employer. Another student works at a nonprofit organization and noticed that there was a learning need with regard to how her colleagues speak to certain populations that visit the organization. They’re in an LGBTQ-friendly area, but not all the staff had the skillset to speak in an inclusive manner. She helped develop an impactful course to help the employees engage respectfully across difference, and created a set of inclusive language guidelines. I also have students who are evaluating a class that’s mandatory for students who’ve had alcohol-related incidents on campus. The students are seeking to ensure that the program is as helpful as possible, that the students who take it actually change their behaviors. All of this reinforces the importance of engaging in lifelong learning in our changing world.

Click here for more information about Seattle University’s College of Education.