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Creating Necessary Space for BIPOC Practitioners

Elisa Meza, SSWAA POC Founding Member and Chair 2020-2021

In March of 2020, I defended my dissertation on the experiences of Women of Color working in elementary schools, which highlighted the roles of school social workers and how they defined culturally responsive practices. I learned from their stories and through reflection of my own experiences as a Mexican-Pinay woman that our perspectives, ideas, and insights, disrupt the status quo and offer something completely reimagined: school systems that humanize us. To us, this looks like schools where there are spaces to have critical dialogue about equity, build community, and create authentic and meaningful relationships with the families that raise our students. This seems so simple to ask for. And yet, opportunities to cultivate these humanizing experiences are often few and far between given the ways in which our systems are currently built and the ways we measure success. What would happen if we no longer had absenteeism, grading, achievement gaps, or school bells? What would it look like to reimagine systems to work for families often criminalized in our school systems? This is why we must reimagine, rebuild, and remind ourselves of the importance of humanized connections.

Three days after I defended my dissertation, San Francisco became the first city in the country to declare a shelter-at-home order in response to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Opportunities for authentic human connection became even more challenging. This was particularly difficult for me as a facilitator in spaces for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). I co-founded the Practitioners of Color Advisory Committee with SSWAA alongside four phenomenally powerful Women of Color I met at a SSWAA conference in 2019. The purpose of which was to provide a space for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to connect, share experiences, and grow together to strengthen our practice and bonds to our cultural identities. Many practitioners have asked, “Why is it necessary for BIPOC spaces to exist?” I respond, “Because the institutions we work in were not built for our healing; we must create these spaces for ourselves.”

It is so essential for leaders within school systems to understand the experiences of BIPOC practitioners, centering and uplifting those who identify as LGBTQ2S+. Our experiences speak volumes to the systems that need to change to truly cultivate the identity development of our students. Our school systems must support the growth and development of BIPOC practitioners by creating leadership and advancement opportunities with fair compensation, without tokenization, while also transforming the systems we work within to nurture healing and growth. If we want to teach our students what racial justice looks like, it must start with the system's ability to cultivate racial justice within these systems. We are not meant to be placed in an infinite achievement gap to be compared to white success for eternity. Break down these systems and create new ones; This is where the true socio-emotional work needs to be done. None of us know how much longer this pandemic will continue to impact us and the work we wish we can do. Despite this barrier, we must continue to cultivate more spaces in schools for authentic dialogue, community-building, and connection. We continue to need this more than ever.


Elisa Meza is a proud Mexican-Pinay woman raised on occupied Tohono O'odham Indigenous land in so-called Tucson, AZ and has resided on Indigenous Ohlone land in the California Bay Area for the past ten years. After nine years of school social work, Elisa became a full time consultant committed to the healing & liberation of practitioners. She is a musician, writer, facilitator, and cyclist. Elisa has a doctorate in educational leadership, master's in social welfare, and bachelor's in English and Mexican American Studies but has learned most from her direct participation and dedication to the Tucson and Bay Area communities seeking liberation and joy.

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