Alum works to unmask inequities in schools

February 4, 2020

Learning about different countries and experiencing their peoples' culture, food and music – this is what Yukari Amos (PhD '01), as an early educator, believed multicultural education was about: celebrating differences.

Drawn by the scholarship of James A. Banks and Geneva Gay, Amos pursued her doctoral studies at the University of Washington College of Education. There, she came to understand a more important facet of multicultural education: providing equal learning opportunities and equitable instruction for all students.

Today, Amos is associate chair of Central Washington University's (CWU) Department of Education, Development, Teaching, and Learning. She recently received CWU’s Distinguished Professor of Research award, becoming the first faculty member from the university’s College of Education and Professional Studies to receive this award in its 129-year history. 

Within her current role, Amos strives to eliminate inequities in schools that have negatively impacted students of color. In part, this work is motivated by her experience as a former English as a second language teacher in Tumwater and Federal Way, where she worked with many immigrant students. "Because of their lower English level, they were made fun of by American kids," Amos explained. "They struggled academically because mainstream teachers didn't accommodate for their English level and had low expectations for them."

Now, teaching bilingual education, multicultural education and teaching English as a second language pedagogy at CWU, Amos' goals are to help teacher candidates cultivate a greater awareness of educational injustices and to encourage them to be agents of change. This includes introducing her teacher candidates to concepts such as hidden curricula, hidden structures, whiteness studies and critical race theory.

“In order to change the public school system … everybody has to understand how the dominant culture influences the way students think, what teachers think or the way they behave as well and how those normalized behaviors and normalized ways of thinking negatively affect students of color,” Amos said. “Just because teachers have good intentions, that doesn’t mean that it will affect [students] positively.”

Amos said that her teacher candidates can be "pretty resistant" to her teaching. For some of her white teacher candidates, for example, talking about race and racism is not comfortable. However, Amos believes that truly understanding multicultural education is a lifelong process, and most students will be better multicultural educators once they begin teaching in diverse schools. Thus, her goal is to "plant a seed" that will provide the right foundation for her students to be more just and understanding educators.

In addition to teaching, Amos serves on the Washington State Paraeducator Board, where she makes policy recommendations to remove barriers that paraeducators, many who are bilingual and people of color, face in becoming certified teachers and to elevate the status of paraeducator work. This supports the Board's main goals, which include diversifying the educator workforce and increasing access to professional growth opportunities.

Amos also maintains an active research agenda. One of her recent books, "Latina Bilingual Education Teachers: Examining Structural Racism in Schools," shares the sense of marginalization and alienation experienced by two Latina paraprofessionals in white-dominant institutions. The book also discusses their resilience as educators and provides promising solutions to help support other teachers of color. 

She also recently published two other books that engage teachers in forming meaningful and culturally authentic interpretations of children's stories from Asia. The first book provides readers with theories, concepts, pitfalls and applications to help readers develop their cultural consciousness. The second book includes cultural insights on selected literary works from India, Thailand, China and Japan.

In her mind, Amos envisions a future where all students, regardless of their background, can thrive in pursuit of academic endeavors. Turning this vision into a reality, she says, begins with fostering an educator workforce that reflects and truly appreciates the diversity of each student.

Story by Tracy Dinh, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications