May 29, 2024

John Broome: Courageous Conversations

College of Education Associate Professor John Broome keeps his worst student course evaluation from his first year at UMW displayed in his office, right beside his teaching award. For him, it’s a constant reminder that he should always strive for improvement as an educator.

College of Education Associate Professor John Broome. Photo by Norm Shafer.

College of Education Associate Professor John Broome. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Broome believes that American educators need to focus their attention on being better teachers to children from all backgrounds. In the classroom, he and his students engage in discussions about race and racism, equity, privilege, implicit bias, youth trauma and poverty to understand the complex web of issues affecting schoolchildren across Virginia and the United States.

“When you have students impacted by these factors, then teaching, learning and classroom environments look different. You have to meet your students where they are with positive expectations for their ability and growth,” said Broome, who has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Virginia, an M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from George Mason University and a B.A. in government from The College of William and Mary.

That’s why Broome, whose research focuses on social justice, critical race theory and civic education, was eager to participate in Courageous Conversations, a new video series featuring UMW faculty discussing diversity and inclusion. But he wants his students to think of these topics not as courageous but normalized and present in every classroom.

“We need to work toward having a more open, honest dialogue about the lived and historical experiences of all peoples in our country,” said Broome, who has taught secondary social studies in public and private schools across Virginia. “When more than half of students in our country are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, all students should not just learn more about these histories, but from their own voices as well.”



Q: Are there are any projects you enjoy having your students do?
A: My students enjoy the culture quilt project, in which they divide a poster board into 16 squares like a quilt. They use pictures, words and phrases to explore their family histories, their professional and personal cultural selves and other cultures that are unfamiliar to them. It’s an opportunity for students to self-interrogate, understand who they are and become more accepting of others.

Q: How did you come to direct the Hungry Brains! program at Hazel Hill?
A: I’ve been involved since 2012. It’s an after-school program for economically disadvantaged K-8 students in downtown Fredericksburg that is entirely UMW student-run. It empowers student leadership responsibilities while addressing the academic needs of children in this community. We’ve also helped with fundraising. On Valentine’s Day 2018, my students and I sold candy-grams on UMW’s campus so that Hazel Hill students could open their first savings accounts as part of a financial literacy project. I’ve raised money to help build their library and purchase new technology for the Center.

Associate Professor of Education John Broome with his class. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Associate Professor of Education John Broome with his class. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Q: You encourage your students to use culturally responsive teaching practices. How does that improve learning in the classroom?
A: This centers culture in all aspects of learning. It includes having high expectations of all students; being more student-centered; becoming more culturally competent; building the relationships between schools, families and community; learning the contexts of diversity and cultures; and reframing the curriculum. My work is mostly on the curriculum and what it means when students don’t see their multiple identities reflected in what they are learning.

Q: What is one piece of advice you give to aspiring educators to make their classrooms more inclusive?
A: How you teach is often more important than what you teach. You never know what is going on in the life of a child.

Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: My wife inspires me. She was a first-in-family college graduate from a small town in Oregon. Multiple degrees later, she is a dean at another university. She’s absolutely brilliant.

Q: What would you be doing if you were not a professor?
A: I would be an international travel and food writer, a chef or an electronic dance music DJ. In addition to going to EDM shows regularly in D.C. around the United States, my wife and I are traveling to festivals in Holland, Finland and Belgium this year.

Q: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
A: In college, I had a pet duck named Clyde, who snored when he slept on you. It was adorable.

Q: Are there any mottos that you live by?
A: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” ~James Baldwin

Q: What books are you reading right now or have you read recently that inspired you?
A: “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” by Bettina L. Love, an associate professor at the University of Georgia.


Michael Spencer: Courageous Conversations

Michael Spencer, associate professor and director for the Center for Historic Preservation

Michael Spencer, associate professor and director for the Center for Historic Preservation

If you step into Michael Spencer’s office in Combs, you’ll pass through a massive antique wooden doorframe. His mentor, Professor Emeritus Gary Stanton, salvaged it from Nottingham, an 18th-century plantation home that was recently destroyed.

Questions about what pieces of history should be saved and salvaged are what led Spencer ’03 to study at Mary Washington, one of only four institutions in the country with a bachelor’s degree in historic preservation. Now, as associate professor and department chair, Spencer and his fellow professors are opening doors to new conversations in the classroom about what is worthy of conservation and preservation in the 21st century.

“We’re moving beyond focusing on the history of a singular ethnic and gender group and broadening the spectrum in terms of what we should be looking at from a preservation standpoint,” said Spencer, who said the department frequently works with local African-American groups and Native American tribes to help address oversights of the past. “Now we are asking, ‘What story do we want to tell as a country?’”

The voices of preservationists like Spencer are becoming increasingly valuable as America – and our own historic city – navigates the debate over artifacts, relics and monuments from our nation’s past. From Confederate monuments in Charlottesville to the slave auction block in Fredericksburg, we have monumental decisions to make about what stays and what goes, and more importantly, why? It’s these questions that motivated Spencer to take part in Courageous Conversations, a new series of videos featuring UMW faculty exploring topics of diversity and inclusion.



Q: What drew you to the field of historic preservation in the first place?
A: I’ve always been interested in historic buildings, and most history programs are not building-centric. I found Mary Washington with my dad’s help – and the rest is history.

Q: How has the historic preservation department changed since you were a student?
A: We were doing ink on mylar drawings and had only just acquired AutoCAD, a computer-assisted drafting program. You had to sign up to use it on the computer in Trinkle’s basement. We still teach hard-line drawings, but now use new technologies such as 3-D modeling and virtual reality.

Q: Has preserving history always been a controversial topic, as it has been in the last few years, or is this a new phenomenon?
A: There will always be debates because every object and site is unique, so each brings different perspectives. It often becomes controversial when you talk about how to preserve things. As preservationists, we have seven aspects of integrity to help us decide if an object or site is significant, and location is one of them. If you move the block to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and have to pay to see it, is that conveying history in the way we want, or do we want it to be accessible to everyone? But there are also personal stories and conversations – feeling is another aspect of integrity we consider – and it might warrant a change in our preservation approach. As a department, we’ve participated in the discussions in Fredericksburg, but the community must delve into the actual preservation issues at hand, and we hope to be a part of that.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Confederate monuments at the center of the national controversy, particularly those in your hometown of Charlottesville?
A: Many of the monuments were put up at the 50th or 100th anniversary of the Civil War in honor of the Southern myth and “lost cause” and embody many of the racist beliefs of the time. Lee and Jackson didn’t have direct ties to Charlottesville. But some of the older memorials list names of the local dead and it’s harder to advocate for their removal. There are differences in how you approach and evaluate these monuments. But if you dig deep enough, you can always find out intent. Newspapers are always publishing editorials, and when you read them, you can really see what people wear on their sleeves.

Associate Professor Michael Spencer, who is chair of the Department of Historic Preservation, discovered the original door to the Mary Washington House using infrared thermography.

Associate Professor Michael Spencer, who is chair of the Department of Historic Preservation, discovered the original door to the Mary Washington House using infrared thermography.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your profession?
A: Seeing students with whom I’ve made a connection excel at UMW and beyond. I also find the “discovery” aspect of my job particularly rewarding. My wife was driving me around at 4 a.m., during one of the coldest days of the year, and we stopped at the Mary Washington House. I used infrared thermography tools, which show the way heat is transmitted through objects, and it led us to discover Mary Washington’s original front door.

Q: What is the most challenging?
A: Continually advocating for why historic preservation matters, here at UMW when it comes to securing resources, and within the community.

Q: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
A: While I’m big on technology, I just got my first iPhone. Frankly, I hate using it, except when I’m taking pictures of my daughter.

Anand Rao: Courageous Conversations

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

No topics are off-limits at Anand Rao’s dinner table. The communications professor and director of UMW’s Speaking Center said he encourages his four children – whom all have been members of debate teams – to share their opinions. He has one rule: they must be willing to defend their ideas and open to listening to others.

Rao brings this philosophy to all the courses he teaches at Mary Washington, which include public speaking, rhetoric, argumentation and social media, as well as the First-Year Seminar classes. “I hope my students bring a variety of different political, philosophical and social opinions to our class discussions because I want us to learn from each other,” he said. “That’s not possible if we all have the same perspectives.”

It’s also why he chose to participate in UMW’s Courageous Conversations series, a collection of videos featuring faculty exploring ideas of diversity and inclusion. Rao tackles the topic of free speech in the 21st century and discusses the role colleges and universities play in preparing students to engage in civil discourse in a polarized world.

“A university campus is a place where students are engaging in courageous conversations daily,” said Rao, who holds a B.A. in philosophy and an M.S. and Ph.D. in rhetoric and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. “This project demonstrates not just that we need to engage, but that we must learn how to do so in a respectful and professional way that helps us seek out the best answers. It reflects how we can collaboratively develop and test new and different ideas.”



Q: What brought you to Mary Washington?
A: I became acquainted with UMW when I visited the campus as an undergraduate when I was on Pittsburgh’s debate team. Though they were fierce competitors, I had great interactions with UMW students, who were bright, hard-working, energetic and motivated. Tim O’Donnell, who is a communications professor and now Associate Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Success, told me about the position in 2002. Because I held UMW in such high regard, I knew it was an opportunity that I wanted to explore.

Q: How do institutions of higher education find the balance between free speech and allowing inflammatory discourse on campus?
A: There are ideas that could be offensive to others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider them. We should critically engage those ideas, discuss what may make them offensive, and we should always be willing to engage in civil discourse. A college campus that doesn’t allow free speech isn’t really participating in the intellectual enterprise that we take pride in at Mary Washington. But in the same way you can’t shout “Fire!” in a public theater, you can’t encourage violence or harm toward others. Public safety is always a consideration. Our words have consequences and we should show concern for how our words impact others.

Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: I love helping students develop their own voice, particularly those who are apprehensive about public speaking. Through my role as director of the Speaking Center, I haven’t experienced anyone who we aren’t able to help speak confidently in front of an audience. We hear all the time from employers and graduate schools how prepared UMW students are to succeed.

Q: What role has social media played in creating conflicts and can it be instrumental in finding a way out of them?
A: There are reasons to be pessimistic, because the echo chamber reinforces the worst of your own ideas. But social media also provides great opportunities for reaching out of those silos in ways we were never able to do in previous generations.

Q: What is the one thing in your office that means the most to you?
A: I have a picture of my son, who is a sophomore at UMW, giving a speech outside of Harvard’s Widener Library, and a picture of my daughter debating the British National Debate team. I also have photos and art work by my younger son and daughter.

Q: What is one of your favorite Mary Washington memories?
A: When Congressman John Lewis spoke at commencement, right after the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. I took him to see the bust of James Farmer, and he shared stories about him and the work they did together.

Q: What are you currently reading or have read recently that inspired you?
A: I just started “When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink, and I’m reviewing a variety of open educational resources for public speaking.