“When I started teaching writing, I saw that students who are maybe first-generation students or international students or students who are immigrants have this visible disadvantage in the classrooms. And I felt I really needed to make this classroom space more equitable for them. I must make sure this space is equitable for my brown and Black students. And that’s when I started doing the work: how do I make this space also about them? I realized that developing understandings of learning contexts and students’ diverse experiences at applied and theoretical levels are fundamental to being an equity-minded educator.”

CFA Maritime President Aparna Sinha has always loved learning – as a student, as a lecturer, and now as an Associate Professor of Culture and Communication at CSU Maritime. Sinha started teaching at the age of 21 while completing her master’s program, and that’s when she discovered a new level to her love of learning – bringing more equity to serving students.

“As a student and then as an educator, I just loved being in this space of learning. The learning space is so great and rewarding. It helps us find ourselves and who we are and how we make meaning – we’re learning how to interact with the world in that space. It teaches how to exist, to make meaning with all the other things in life.”

Sinha taught at a private college for a year and realized she needed to pursue a career in public schools, preferring the mission of public universities where faculty can reach students from underresourced communities who want access to resources they deserve – like education.

Despite having already earned a master’s degree in English, Sinha doubled back for another one for teaching English to speakers of other languages in an effort to better prepare her to teach to a variety of student’ needs.

Next up was graduate school at UC Davis, where Sinha focused her Ph.D. dissertation on how to help our marginalized students who are coming into the CSU. Sinha found that forcing students into remedial classes was unnecessary and harmful.

“Imagine what effect that would have on a student who is just coming into the CSU, who’s coming from a very diverse background, who maybe is the first child who’s going to get an education, gets a letter from the CSU, ‘you are not ready for college in reading and writing and math, and you need to do this to be ready,’ ” she said. “My dissertation was very relevant to get rid of the marginalized terminology that we were using in the CSU and making it difficult for our students of color to feel they belong in college.”

That research and dissertation was instrumental in the CSU English Council’s determination in 2017 to eliminate remedial course requirements, Sinha said.

Sinha’s most recent activism has focused on helping educators mitigate their biases through campus workshops – first with university-sponsored professional development, then CFA’s Council for Racial & Social Justice workshops. Sinha added to CFA’s Unconscious Bias workshop and helped create our Understanding Privilege and Critical Race Theory workshops.

“I could actually influence our educators’ lens and making them aware of all of the things that they bring to class and their work, whether it’s their privilege or whether it’s their oppression or whether it is some of the prejudices that they are subjected to or the prejudices that they subject other people to – it’s so important to be aware of it,” Sinha said.

The workshops cover bias, racism, white fragility, privilege, intersectionality, sexuality, race, gender, nationality, and more. Sinha has facilitated numerous workshops across the 23 CSU campuses.

CSU San Marcos President Michelle Ramos Pellicia attended one of Sinha’s workshops and remembers Sinha’s calm, kind, and direct presence.

“As facilitator, Sinha put into practice our union Interruption Practice Statement. She led us with care and thoughtfully engaged with us in our reflection and learning on race and whiteness. She met us where we were in our anti-racism and social justice journey,” said Ramos Pellicia, also CFA Associate Vice President, South, and CSU San Marcos Professor. “Sinha did not let us shy away from discussing these difficult subjects, she did not let us dismiss them. Instead, she engaged us in the discussion. She addressed the groups opinions and observations directly, gently, kindly, and with care asking us in the group to reflect on any given statement, and she provided facts that interrogated our racial narratives. Sinha leads serenely and firmly in the important discussions of anti-racism and social justice that we center as a labor union.”

The impact on workshop attendees is not always immediate: “It can be difficult to be in a space where your beliefs will be challenged – it’s difficult, but that’s OK!” Sinha said. “What happens generally after attending these workshops is that faculty, the cogs of their brain start moving in a particular way. And they might give pushback, but I know for a fact after they attended the workshop, we made a dent in their thinking to help them understand something, that could eventually help them become a better educator, or become a better colleague to their peers.

“Several educators have appreciated me after taking these workshops and they’ve said I have changed their approach to teaching, or they’ve become more aware of certain things. I would love to be that facilitator of change in a positive way that would impact our education system and impact our students’ experience, impact our colleagues’ working experience.”

Workshops include problematic scenarios for attendees to work through; the situations come from real-life racism, harassment, and microaggressions faculty face.

“I’ve had people email me, afterward, that they really felt appreciated or validated at the workshop, and that they felt, ‘oh, I am not insane for feeling all of those things.’ I once had a faculty after a workshop say to me, ‘Thank you. The things that I couldn’t have said to my colleague, you said it at the workshop, and thank you so much that you did, because there was no way I could have ever said it to them without it becoming a big deal. It was good for them to hear it in a professional workshop setting.’ ”

Ramos Pellicia and others said they are grateful to have Sinha’s talents to help create and foster anti-racism and social justice with union solidarity.

“I feel the goal of a union is to sort of help those who need most help. Who are at the bottom of the barrel, who are maybe not as protected by their gender or their race or their sexual orientation. And a union which has its values on social justice, will prioritize on these things, will help the people who need protection, not people who have privilege,” Sinha said. “I appreciate our social justice rhetoric because it grounds us and makes us a better union.”

Join CFA
Scroll To Top