NYU Steinhardt News

Steinhardt Doctoral Candidate Works to Remove Racial Barriers in Education

L. Trenton Marsh, Teaching and Learning doctoral candidate, is using his many roles at NYU Steinhardt to disrupt racial barriers and increase equity for students in New York City, as well as encourage collaboration between academic disciplines to create change in our communities.

Can you explain a little bit about your work to remove racial barriers in education and society?

Since enrolling at NYU in 2012, I’ve worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Currently, my work is with the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality – a center contracted with the New York State Education Department – to examine the root causes and address overrepresentation of various subgroups in special education and disciplinary outcomes, particularly African American and Latino boys.
I also developed a mentoring program called It Takes a Village@NYU, which pairs NYU male students of color with African American and Latino high-school mentees. While working in this program, I was able to apply activities with students focusing on their dreams and aspirations to my own dissertation and research on charter schools. I began exploring the construct of success and how students, particularly low-income males of color, define success for themselves.
What made you interested in mending these gaps in education?

In 2007 at the New York City Department of Education, I supported teachers, principals and Superintendents in developing an analytic reporting tool that became the city’s first School Progress Report Card system. From my cluster of 150 schools, I was drawn to middle and high school programs that had made significant gains in criteria concerning their African American and Latino boys. For these communities of excellence, failure was not an option for their students, despite the presence of environmental factors that typically correlate with low graduation rates.

Inspired by my contribution at the NYC DOE, I wanted to continue developing opportunities that positively impact African American and Latino/a youth. I started teaching entrepreneurship classes on Saturdays, demonstrating how to write a business plan to students as young as seven. I also wrote a book entitled From 1.0 to 4.0, which highlights the strategies I used to transition from a struggling high school student to a successful student leader in college.

In addition to my contribution at the NYC DOE, I worked as a managing consultant with IBM Corporation. In 2010, I was selected for the company’s Corporate Service Corps, a competitive program that deployed me to Luxor, Egypt. Though I was assigned to research the supply chain and income disparities of rural farmers, after interviewing an agricultural high school principal I could not fathom why only 10 percent of his graduating seniors pursued college in a nation where education was free. I discovered that many of the students were not encouraged by school officials or family members. So I designed an ad-hoc intervention program for the high school; I proposed to government officials the implementation of a shared rotational internship model with local businesses and governments for every student, regardless of socioeconomics and presumed academic potential.

How has Steinhardt helped you further your goals to move the needle towards equality so far?

Before my arrival at NYU, I was convinced that working hard was the answer for much of the problems within schools and society. This was the “American Dream” that I was socialized to believe. Coming from Shaker Heights, Ohio, a very homogeneous suburb, I never considered the role and the effects of poverty and social inequities in schools. Yet in my doctoral journey, I learned that oppression at the institutional level can consist of policies and practices that can unintentionally reinforce oppression.

Through Steinhardt, and particularly the conversations with my peers, and with faculty mentors like Pedro Noguera, Eddie Fergus, and David Kirkland, I began to think about how a teacher’s implicit expectations can be adversely misaligned if a student’s culture is vastly different from the dominant culture. I began to consider broader and bolder approaches to education inequities beyond schools and teachers. I was encouraged to engage with youth as research participants, using their voice and leadership to explore root causes, consequences, and potential solutions to educational inequities. My work as co-instructor of a course in Steinhardt has also been important in moving the needle towards equity. I had the opportunity to work with student teachers, helping them to become advocates for their students through a curriculum that interrogates and a pedagogy that humanizes and honors the many assets their students enter their classrooms with.

Do you have a powerful story from your work so far that you would like to share?

One semester several of the students from ITAV@NYU said they wanted to be hip-hop artists. Instead of dismissing their dreams, we created a full-day workshop that showcased the many sides of the music industry. We were fortunate to partner with Urban Word NYC which led a critical writing segment and asked students to create at least two poems. Next, we had a panel of NYU students who were music-related majors, including a student who majored in mathematics and music and talked about the correlation of the two disciplines. After lunch, we surprised the students with an opportunity to create a collaborative recording in Steinhardt’s James L. Dolan Recording Studio. Accompanied by NYU music department students, the ITAV@NYU participants were able to create a “recording” as well as experience the production of music. This example like many of our Saturday sessions is so powerful because at the conclusion, several of the students that said they were only interested in “rapping,” began to contemplate other related interests.