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SXU Welcomes Writer and Activist Jose Luis Vilson


Saint Xavier University (SXU) welcomed writer and activist Jose Luis Vilson to campus October 18. Faculty, staff, students and community members gathered together to listen to the educator discuss issues of race, gentrification and the teaching profession from the eyes of a Black-Latino educator. Vilson's speech, "The Critical Importance of Building 'Sense of Belonging' for Students in Mathematics and Beyond," centered on concepts of race, class and the future of education.

Vilson is a Math for America Master Teacher and executive director of EduColor, an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education. He is a writer who has been featured in numerous publications and is committed to changing the world and uplifting people of color in education. In the days leading up to his presentation, faculty, staff and students, especially members of EXPLORE STEM, a program that introduces students to careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine, were incredibly excited for Vilson's appearance and the opportunity to learn about implementing a sense of belonging in their classrooms and beyond.

Vilson opened his presentation by exploring his findings and primary research, explaining that professors should focus on building relationships with students, which will increase engagement, spark curiosity and help students retain information. "Relationship building is about identity policy. This is especially important with teachers of color who are working to build trust with students," Vilson said. "Being a good relationship builder involves attempting to understand and empathize with your students."

Vilson's visit came just a month after SXU was awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education under its Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Title V Program. Vilson discussed the importance of recognizing privilege and creating a more inclusive relationship between professors and students, which was helpful to professors in attendance who wanted to build connections to guarded students of color. Vilson said, "Students who have hardened themselves aren't aligning themselves with the teacher. When I face confrontation with my students, I give them time to reflect, take a breather, and remind them of why they are here in the classroom. As a teacher, it's inspiring to say to students 'I'm going to be exactly who I need to be for you, even if you aren't ready for that.' Relationship-building works."

He shared an anecdote of building a relationship with one of his own students by attempting to make a connection through student interests. "I once had a guarded participant who was a wrestling fan. He wasn't understanding the points I was trying to make about race. So, I approached him and asked what he liked, which was wrestling. I asked him what the culture of wrestling was and what the rules were and then paralleled this to race. Building a connection to someone based on what they like can help you relate that back to the point you are trying to have them understand," Vilson said.

Vilson also stressed the importance of relevance when practicing relationship-building. "Being able to identify whether or not students are absorbing and retaining the information being taught to them is if they find relevance to it. Lesson plans should be analyzed based on class reciprocation. Using real-life scenarios helps students." Vilson went on to discuss how he uses real-life examples. To teach his students the Pythagorean theorem, he used an analogy of hills, streets and ladders that may be used for skateboarding, allowing students to evaluate the problem by finding the slope of the surfaces to determine which is the best to skateboard safely.

Armed with Vilson's lessons and guidance, SXU faculty, staff, students and community members left to continue to live out the SXU mission and core values, leading with the compassion, service and respect it takes to be leaders, thinkers, educators, and scholars in a diverse and welcoming climate.