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Five questions with....Dean Joi Spencer

Dean Joi Spencer

UCR School of Education's new dean, Dr. Joi Spencer, talks about her recent book, advice for students, and shares  some fun facts about herself. 

Anti-Blackness at School: Creating Affirming Educational Spaces for African American Students

Can you share one of your publications that gives readers a good sense of the research you do? I just published a book called "Anti-Blackness at School: Creating Affirming Educational Spaces for African American Students." One of the reasons that I am so excited about this book is because it moves the conversation about race and education into a 21st century context. Racism is so real in schools today, but it operates with such invisibility. The impacts are so clear, like the low numbers of African American students who matriculate into UCs each year, but the mechanisms that create those impacts are overlooked and missed time and time again. 

In this book, my co-author and I go to some of the harder places and uncover some of these mechanisms. We also honor educators and the many efforts they make to support African American youth.  

What's the one piece of advice you wish every student knew before starting a college or graduate school? Don’t rush your education. Take the time to think deeply about who you are and what you want to contribute to the world. Study abroad, take a class outside of your major, or at least join a club in an area that is new or intriguing to you. 

I notice that a lot of students think of their education in terms of dollars and cents only. (I have even seen some students pass up transformational opportunities because there was a cost associated with the opportunity). While I understand the financial responsibility and burden that we, as first-generation college students face (I grew up in a working-class family and am the first in my family to receive a college degree), I have found that the investment in my education was one of the wisest financial choices I ever made. 

In graduate school, I lived frugally and did research and projects with faculty rather than take on a 9-5 job. Those experiences were invaluable and helped me grow as a scholar and educator.

We heard you’re a national park enthusiast. What’s one of your favorite parks to visit? Yep. I am. It is hard to pick one because they each have something unique to offer and I have lots more that I still need to visit. This past fall I spent time in Bryce Canyon National Park. It is overwhelmingly beautiful because of the vibrant red rock and soil. The formations came into being over millions of years. The idea that water carved mountain, leaving behind so much beauty just puts me in awe. 

Dean Joi Spencer


If you were stranded on a deserted island, what band or musician would help keep your sanity? Like most people, I love music. I grew up listening to the Spinners, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and so many more of the great soul musicians. It was my parent’s music, but it sounded so good to me. Today, I still love soul and gospel music. They just speak to me in a profound way. So, if I were stranded somewhere, I would certainly need some of my parent’s 45s or LPs to keep me sane.   

If you weren't doing this job, what would you be doing? I would be a naturalist or park ranger. One of my favorite shows growing up was “Wild Kingdom.” I watched every nature program on PBS and read as much about the natural worlds as I could. It was so rare to see women on these programs, and unheard of to see a person of color exploring and learning and going on one of those incredible outdoor adventures, but, it was always something I dreamed of.

Special thanks for Associate Professor Raquel Rall for sharing her fun fact questions.

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