Education Prof. Presents Papers at Conferences

Jessica Sierk, assistant professor of education, presented a paper at the fourth-annual Languaging Diversity Conference in September in Cagliari, Italy.

Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty (2013), draws on the liberal notion of individualism, implying that there is a set of norms to which people in poverty do not subscribe, thereby leading to their failure. Sierk’s paper, titled “’Here it's more of a get-by': Social class and the 'bigger challenge' of the New Latino Diaspora,” describes how White school personnel in two of New Latino Diaspora (Murillo & Villenas, 1997) high schools in the Midwestern U.S. call on Payne’s claims to divert attention away from students’ racial and/or ethnic backgrounds.

Ethnographic data, including participant observations and semi-structured interviews, were collected in 2015. Findings reveal that school personnel made class-based assumptions that perpetuated stereotypes associated with the myth of a “culture of poverty,” while also promoting colorblindness.

Sierk also presented at the 116th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, D.C. She presented a paper, titled "'They Should Be Able to Communicate with Us': Language as an Excuse for Inequity in the New Latino Diaspora," with Theresa Catalano from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The paper describes two non-urban Midwestern high schools and how unconscious language ideologies prevented social change that could improve conditions for new student populations. The critical discourse analysis draws on ethnographic data from a larger study, including participant observations and semi-structured interviews. Findings reveal language ideologies that use language to mask issues of race/ethnicity and that represent a positive “us” and negative “them.” The authors conclude by suggesting ways in which schools can take responsibility for developing the linguistic and cultural practices and ways of knowing unique to new student populations, rather than using language as an excuse for continued inequity.