Allow us to introduce Anne H. Berry: Writer, educator, and political junkie whose research focuses on race/representation in the field of design. She is the co-creator of Ongoing Matter: Democracy, Design, and the Mueller Report and managing editor of The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression, and Reflection.
Anne's inherent inclination toward making an impact on society is truly inspiring. Whether she is sharing knowledge or volunteering her time, she views each act of service as an offering of gratitude for the instances of kindness she has received. Read her story.
What is one thing that inspires you?
I am inspired by the people I work with and collaborate with, namely other educators.
There’s a saying that “those who can’t do, teach,” the implication being that teaching is a preferred or easier option for people who can’t successfully perform in a given profession. However, in my experience, educators are some of the hardest-working individuals I know. I am continually in awe of the level of dedication my colleagues commit themselves to in every aspect of their work and responsibilities.
At most college and universities, for example, faculty are responsible for—and evaluated on—three main areas: teaching, service, and research / creative activity. And since it can be difficult to separate those areas out from one another, educators are often going above and beyond in order to create meaningful experiences for students while simultaneously giving time and energy to issues they care about and establishing themselves as experts in their respective areas of research and/or creative activity. And most have families to support as well. That’s a lot! So, it’s also true that we continue to raise the bar of expectations for ourselves, and subsequently need to be realistic about sustainable practices that prevent burnout. But the fact remains that many folks that I have had the privilege of working with throw themselves into their work with the kind of passion and curiosity that I admire and aspire to.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I’ve been digging into bell hooks’ series of books about teaching/education—Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom, and Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope—and find her reflections to be a helpful reference for me as I think about my own teaching career. All three books are filled with many quotes that resonate, but one in particular from Teaching to Transgress summarizes the value that Black educators bring to the classroom. As she talks about her early aspirations to become both a writer and a teacher she states:
“Writing, I believed then, was all about private longing and personal glory, but teaching was about service, giving back to one’s community. For black folks teaching–educating–was fundamentally political because it was rooted in antiracist struggle. Indeed, my all-black grade schools became the location where I experienced learning as a revolution.”
I was raised by two (now retired) educators who grew up in a racially segregated society, during a time when education was also “separate but equal.” (The “separate but equal” doctrine legalized racial segregation in the United States.) Consequently, my siblings and I were instilled with a fundamental appreciation for the value of school. My parents also served as educational role models for us; my brother (physics) and sister (theology) and I (design) all became teachers in our respective fields. All of this is to say that though my experience in school significantly differed from bell hooks’ experience—I went to predominantly white, albeit integrated, schools—I recognize that I grew up in a household that reflected the same ideas she speaks about. I understood early on that education was a survival tool, an opportunity, a way to not only gain new knowledge but share that knowledge with others.
What drives you to give back?
I come from a faith tradition and culture (Mennonite) which emphasizes the importance of service. Consequently, as far back as I can remember, volunteering time and energy to important causes was something that everyone in my community did. And the idea of making a positive contribution to society through a future career was a natural inclination for me. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I was raised by two educators who grew up in a segregated society, met while participating in Mennonite Voluntary Service, and have subsequently spent their married lives advocating for peace and racial justice. My parents also happen to be incredibly generous people who have always modeled a spirit of giving. As an adult, consequently, I feel that I have a responsibility to share with others, whether I’m sharing knowledge, time, or resources. And whatever service I’m able to provide is, in my mind, an expression of gratitude for the many ways others have shown me kindness and generosity.
What is the most meaningful part of your job?
There are many aspects of my work that are meaningful but if I had to narrow it down to one thing, I would say collaborating with other educators/researchers/writers. I feel privileged to have so many opportunities to learn from other people who are as passionate about design, writing, education, and research as I am. Collaboration is inevitably messy and challenging, and the potential for conflict is always present. However, I thrive when working with other people; I love the energy that comes from sharing ideas and uniting behind common goals.
What’s the best way students learn?
The short answer is that there is no single best way for students to learn. I’ve been teaching for over 10 years, and the approaches and methods I use in the classroom are constantly changing. (I’m constantly learning, too!) I think that in order to be a good educator, I must be responsive to the needs of students, meeting them where they are in their educational journeys and where they are in life. Motivations, goals, and skill sets may be radically different from one student to the next. Rather than simply focusing on course content, consequently, I find myself spending more time asking students questions and facilitating conversations to draw out their interests and hear them articulate, to the best of their ability, how they think they learn best and what kinds of goals they have for themselves. I then use the information they share with me to help shape assignments and in-class activities and work to create an environment in which they are actively engaged in their own learning. My hope is that students gain a sense of empowerment when they are able to explore and experiment and even, at times, fail, in a supportive environment.
Helpful links to donate time or money (as suggested by Anne H. Berry)
Organizations I donate to:
Professional organizations that I currently volunteer with:
Organizations that I have worked with in the past:
Lastly, much of my volunteer work over the years has included designing collateral for local Democratic political campaigns as well as canvassing (going door-to-door and making phone calls) during national elections to encourage people to vote, particularly people of color and voters in marginalized communities. I am politically active and feel very strongly about the importance of civic engagement.
IG: annehberry, ongoingxmatter
Twitter: @annehberry, @ongoingxmatter
1000 Spotlights: Why We Give reflects our mission of giving back, to mentor and to inspire those around us. Through a series of interview questions, we explore intrinsic motivations behind why we give, and talk with those inclined to make a difference in the lives of others. If you are involved in charitable activities, volunteer and paid academic engagements or in community service, we want to talk to you.
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