As an artist, scholar, creative writer and educator, Dr. Lakeya Omogun makes it her mission within all these roles to shift ideas about identities, culture and language. As a scholar, she advocates for Black African immigrant youths’ racial, ethnic and linguistic justice.
In September, Dr. Omogun joined the College of Education as an assistant professor of Language, Literacy and Culture in the Teaching, Learning and Curriculum program. She received her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in Curriculum and Instruction, Language and Literacy Studies. Her research focuses on Black African immigrant youth languages, literacies and identities and explores the role that language and literacies play in Black African immigrant youths’ identity constructions and negotiations. Dr. Omogun’s work has been published in the Journal of Literacy Research, Teachers College Record, and The Journal of Research in Childhood Education.
In the following Q&A, Dr. Omogun discusses her research, the courses she looks forward to teaching, the books and ideas that inspire her, and more.
What attracted you to the UW College of Education?
I was immediately attracted to the UW College of Education’s recognition of diverse immigrant groups and languages, particularly Black languages. As someone who grew up navigating multiple cultural and ethnic worlds, it personally meant a lot to see diverse linguistic and immigrant identities honored by the college.
Once I began dialoguing with the search committee (led by Dr. Manka Varghese) and UW faculty, I was taken aback by the sense of warmth that I felt. There was just this openness and supportive aura that made me feel like UW’s College of Education would be an ideal ‘home’ to transition into the professoriate. I also appreciated everyone’s transparency about the strategic and ongoing efforts to make the college a more equitable and socially-just place. Even more, I was intrigued by the College’s commitment to preparing teachers with sociocultural and racial knowledge across all discipline areas. Seattle also has a large African immigrant population, which prompted my thinking for potential university-public school and university-community partnerships, considering my research with Black African immigrant youth.
Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve very much felt at home just like I anticipated. I’m looking forward to learning and working with such a dynamic group faculty and students.
Please describe your research and what makes it meaningful to you.
My research focuses on Black African immigrant youth’s languages, literacies, and identities. I explore (1) the languages and literacies of Black African immigrant youth and (2) ways that Black African immigrant youth use languages and literacies to construct and negotiate their identities while living in the United States.
Black African immigrant youth are often left out of societal, scholarly, and schooling conversations related to immigration. They’ve even been considered the ‘invisible population’. That’s because U.S. static racial categories overlook Black African immigrant youths’ varied ethnic and linguistic traits, which often causes them to (re)define their identities, languages, and literacies when they move to the United States. Unfortunately, so much ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage is often lost through these (re)definitions.
My research is deeply meaningful to me. As the daughter of a Nigerian father and African-American mother, I learned very early in life that Blackness is diverse. While my African American identity was recognized during my K-12 schooling, my African identity was not. Once I became a school teacher, I witnessed the invisibility of Black African youth identities on a larger scale in school and district policies. Looking back, I understand that it was never intentional. As a faculty and teacher educator here at UW, though, I’m committed to further recognizing, supporting, and honoring the unique identities, languages, and literacies employed by all youth in school and community contexts.
What's your vision for the impact you want to make through your teaching and research?
I always aim for my work to make people feel and think. So often, teaching and research heavily focuses on cognition. However, our feelings and emotions aren’t typically factored into the learning process. In fact, emotions are sometimes encouraged to be left on the margins. I think about my early life experiences – the societal and educational injustices that I witnessed growing up as a young girl. I can never forget how frustrating it felt to constantly witness, and in some cases, experience those injustices. It was those deep feelings that shaped my educational and professional journey. That’s why this has always been more than teaching and research to me; it’s also personal.
So, I’d say that my vision is to engage in teaching and research that moves the heart – not just the mind. By aiming to cultivate empathy and understanding through my teaching and research, I hope to partake in further altering the approaches taken up by people interested in working with racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse youth. Collaborative, humanizing, and just.
What's a course that you're especially excited to teach?
I’m really excited to teach Youth Multiliteracies: Multimodality, Culture, and Identity in the winter quarter. I’ve always been interested in ways that youth use various literacies – digital, fashion, sports, art – to narrate who they are in the world. Youth often experience constraints with self-expression in educational settings due to standardized curricula and culturally-void teaching approaches, which can negatively impact aspects of their culture and identities. So, I’m looking forward to conversing and learning alongside my students as we explore and reflect on a myriad of ways that youth engage in multiliteracies for various purposes.
If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?
The knowledge from your lived experiences matter. I think it can be so easy to get lost in the cycle of learning new things in traditional educational contexts, which is fine. However, don’t discount your lived experiences, especially the ones that don’t align with dominant and traditional forms of knowledge. The wisdom from your grandfather; the experiences that you gained from growing up in your beautiful urban city; those things that can only be said and understood in your parents’ native language – they all matter. Even more, the knowledge from your lived experiences can and should be an integral part of your educational journey. Carry it with you.
What inspires and motivates you?
I think of home, a lot. My home isn’t just a single place. Detroit. New York. Nigeria. Though three different places, they all have one thing in common – they’re often portrayed in less than flattering ways in the media. I’ve never seen or experienced them that way, though. They’re all beautiful in my eyes. The people in each of these places also have a relentless sense of hope and creativity while tackling daily life. So, my experiences across all three places have gifted me the same hope and creativity. Each place has taught me to never give up and to see the beauty in everything. Whenever I can’t see beauty, I can simply create it. So, my home inspires and motivates me every single day.
Please tell us about a book, film or art piece that has influenced your thinking and approach to your life and/or work.
This is a tough one. I’ve read so many books that’ve influenced me. I’d have to say Aimé Césaire’s book Discourse on Colonialism. This book really shifted my perception and understanding of colonization, particularly because I’d read many pieces that focus on how colonization impacted colonized peoples. Césaire, however, shifts this focus a bit. In what he describes as the boomerang effect, he argues that colonization “dehumanizes even the most civilized man” and transforms him into the animal that he tries to ‘tame’ through colonization. This book really shines the light the savage nature of colonizers. Okay, I have to add one more. Gloria Ladson Billings’ (2006) article “From the Achievement to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools”. Prior to reading this, I’d only known about ‘achievement gap’, but Ladson-Billings’ piece opened my eyes to the historical, economical, and sociopolitical debts that are actually owed to Black, Latinx, and recent immigrant students. I haven’t thought the same about achievement in school settings the same way since reading this piece.
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