Education Professor’s Book Shines Light on Racism in K-12 Schools

Professor Kerri Ullucci’s new book, published by the distinguished Teachers College Press, highlights anti-Blackness practices, and provides resources for making meaningful change.

By Melanie Thibeault
Kerri Ullucci holding a copy of her new book in her office

BRISTOL, R.I. – At Roger Williams University, Kerri Ullucci has spent the last 13 years teaching her Education students the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom. With her new book from Columbia University’s prestigious Teachers College Press, she’s sharing her expertise on race and inclusive teaching practices with a wider audience in the education field.  

Ullucci, Associate Professor of Diversity + Equity in Schools at RWU, has co-authored a new book, Anti-Blackness at School: Creating Affirming Educational Spaces for African American Students, and explains her motivation behind penning it.

“In recent years, there has been a normalizing of racial hostility, and, quite frankly, it’s getting worse,” said Ullucci, a first-generation college student who has a Ph.D. from UCLA in Urban Schooling and is an expert in race and poverty issues in schooling, urban education, and creating inclusive teaching practices. “I felt it was the right moment to write this book.”  

Written for educators and people who work with Black youth, the book takes an unflinching look at how American K-12 schools have harmed Black students by emphasizing a colorblind approach to educational inequity and ignoring the struggles, under-education and mistreatment of Black students in the educational system.

“Kerri’s new book is a big deal,” said Professor Susan Pasquarelli, who serves as co-chair of the Education department along with Ullucci. “Teachers College Press is one of the most prestigious academic publishers in the country. Kerri’s scholarly work is significant and meaningful right this minute. The bonus for RWU? She brings the real consequences of her scholarship into her classroom.”

The first part of the book illuminates the many ways anti-Blackness shows up in schools, from how “we teach particular content areas such as history and literature and how certain stories get left out to how Black children often get shuttled into playing particular sports,” Ullucci said.

The authors provide case studies, activities, and techniques to talk about anti-Blackness, how to address the harm caused by it, and how to create Black-affirming spaces. As an example, they suggest ways for teachers to incorporate Black history into their curricula and partner with Black-led organizations in their towns, Ullucci said.

The book offers interracial perspectives from Ullucci, who is white, and Joi Spencer, a Black incoming Dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. The two are colleagues who have collaborated on race and education research for 20 years. “The book is us piecing together years of observations – having similar but really different experiences,” Ullucci said. “Having our two voices helps to think about these issues in a more inclusive way.”

In a recent blog post for TCP, Ullucci wrote about the national backlash on teaching critical race theory and removal of teaching about racism in public schools.

While Ullucci, a former elementary school teacher, has been published in many scholarly journals, this is her first book. “This is an apex moment. It’s a great source of pride to be published by Teachers College Press,” she said. “I’m very proud that they saw value in this book. It feels significant and exciting to have published this book.”

‘An exemplary teacher’  

At RWU, courses focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion are required in the Education department, said Ullucci. “Roger is different from other education schools. There’s a real focus on diversity and equity in meaningful ways. We do a great job of educating our students on the reality of being a teacher, so that our students feel prepared to work in all kinds of communities,” she said.

Among the courses that Ullucci teaches are Foundations of Equity and Diversity and Responding to Diverse Learners.

Kimberlee Johnsen-Smith, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Clinical Field Experiences, and Compliance within RWU’s Education department, called Ullucci a model scholar and practitioner within the department, adding, “Teacher candidates at Roger and her colleagues alike are all beyond grateful to be able to lean on Dr. Ullucci’s expertise in this work and her publications to support the robust training of our aspiring educators to become true leaders in diversity work.”

Pasquarelli agrees, saying that Ullucci validates deep thinking about issues impacting her students’ lives and the lives of the K-12 students whom they will inevitably teach. If you stand outside her classroom, you will observe students alert and engaged, perhaps because each class period is about them and the world in which they live,” she said. Dr. Ullucci is an exemplary teacher.”