Let’s do this together

New center seeks to advance the promise of educational justice


Django Paris had only been to the University of Washington a single time before interviewing for his current position as director of the Banks Center for Educational Justice at the College of Education.

It was more than 15 years ago. The former high school and middle school English teacher was a PhD student at Stanford, one of 12 fellows in a program called Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English.

For its spring retreat the group was hosted at the UW by Paris’ mentor, English professor Dr. Juan Guerra. During their visit, the group met Dr. James Banks, who gave them a presentation on the work of the Center for Multicultural Education, which he founded in 1992.

“I’d already known about Dr. Banks’ work, and his reputation as a founder of multicultural education,” Paris said. “I first learned about it as a high school teacher when my principal gave me an article by Dr. Banks on different types of educational knowledge.”

When he met Banks, Paris said he could have never imagined he’d one day have the opportunity to build upon the legacy of his work.

“And all these years later, here I am,” he said. “To be the inaugural James A. and Cherry A. Banks Professor of Multicultural Education is beyond a dream.

“And then there’s the fact that James Banks did his doctorate at Michigan State, where my wife Rae and I were professors for the past seven years. And that my mentor way back when I visited the UW was Juan Guerra, chair of the UW’s Ethnic Studies program and a UW professor of English where Rae is now an assistant professor of creative writing—those sorts of meant-to-be connections in the work are so important to me.”

Video spotlight

Hear Professor Django Paris discuss his vision for how the Banks Center for Educational Justice will partner with communities throughout Washington state and beyond.

Joining with existing work

Paris said that as he undertakes his new role, focusing on connections—especially on forging connections with educational justice efforts of other UW College of Education researchers—will be key.

“A big part of the way I understand the work is about joining ongoing work,” Paris said.

“I’m so thankful to have been welcomed by so many people here who have been doing the work of educational justice in partnership with communities—people like Megan Bang, Filiberto Barajas-López, Ann Ishimaru, Manka Varghese, Joy Willamson-Lott and Joe Lott. Learning about the work that others here are doing is going to be a big part of my work for the next couple of years.”

From multicultural education to educational justice

After 26 years of thought leadership by the UW Center of Multicultural Education, the field has become an essential part of curriculums in pre-K-12 classrooms and schools of education worldwide—and James Banks is widely credited with offering many of the most foundational and lasting contributions to the field.

Moving forward, Paris aspires to build on that foundational work with the Center’s change of name and focus to the Banks Center for Educational Justice.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this work if James Banks and the Center for Multicultural Education hadn’t laid the groundwork,” Paris said. “He showed us how communities of color matter meaningfully in curriculum and pedagogy. If we start with what you’ve given and shown us, where can we take that now?”

“I wouldn’t be able to do this work if James Banks and the Center for Multicultural Education hadn’t laid the groundwork."

Django Paris

Reproducing inequalities

Paris said that the focus on educational justice is needed because schools have historically reproduced inequality and injustice more often than they have fought against them.

“We have to think about those communities who have been denied an education that sustains their lifeways. For me, educational justice is thinking about an education that can sustain communities that have been denied a sustaining education.

“It’s more than just whether certain groups have access to AP classes or high level math. It’s also the content of those AP classes and those math classes—the ways that racism and patriarchy become part of the curriculum no matter how high up you go.”

“It would be wonderful to see the Banks Center celebrate and share best practices with us,” said Susan Enfield, superintendent of Highline Public Schools. “It’s always helpful for us to see what districts can do to serve all students well and deliver on our promise of creating equitable educational systems. I think sharing what’s working would be of great value to those of us in the field.”

Watching the intersections

Paris cites work by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, Sojourner Truth and others, examining the intersections of blackness and womanhood, as inspiration for ways the Center can examine and address the sometimes overlapping, sometimes very distinct needs of the diverse groups who have historically been marginalized and discriminated against.

“Racial justice will continue to be really important,” Paris said. “But always as it intersects with gender and gender identity, as it intersects with notions about dis/ability, as it intersects with language, as it intersects with land and place. Because race and racism always intersect with other dimensions of oppression, resistance and justice.”

Audio Extra

Django Paris, James A. and Cherry A. Banks Professor of Multicultural Education, discusses what educational justice means, why it matters and more.

Finding answers in communities

Paris said a big part of the Center’s research efforts will be devoted to finding local settings that are making progress toward educational justice and learning as much as possible from them.

“Communities know so much about how to do education well, so our research should be about learning from and engaging with those communities,” Paris said.

“We’ll be working on finding evidence, models and proofs at any grain size, and amplifying them to share with policymakers, administrators, teachers and others. We want to better understand what it means to work toward an education that honors and values who communities have been, are and can be. Educational justice is not something you achieve. It’s something you’re always working toward. It’s always unfolding.”

Most of all, Paris said he cares deeply about making sure the Center’s work moving forward “is for many and that many are a part of it.”

“Let’s do this together,” he said. “Let’s start talking about what’s possible.”