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Gallaudet official blasts school, hints at lawsuit

Lesbian faculty members named as ‘instigators’ for placing McCaskill on leave

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Angela McCaskill, Wyndal Gordon, Maryland marriage petition, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Gallaudet University, Washington Blade, gay news

Gallaudet University chief diversity officer Angela McCaskill this week denounced a decision by the school to put her on leave after she signed an anti-gay petition in Maryland. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer said her reputation was unfairly “tarnished” last week when the university placed her on paid administrative leave for signing a petition in July to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.

At a news conference outside the Maryland State Capitol Building in Annapolis, Angela McCaskill, who served as Gallaudet’s Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, identified two out lesbian faculty members as the ones she claims persuaded Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz to suspend her from her job.

She identified the faculty members as Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith, saying the two are partners and wrote a joint letter to Hurwitz asking that she be reprimanded.

The Blade sent e-mails to Bienvenu and Smith seeking their version of what role they may have played in McCaskill’s suspension. The two responded late Wednesday with a one-sentence statement released by Gallaudet spokesperson Catherine Murphy.

“At this time, we would prefer this matter be a discussion between the University and Dr. Angela McCaskill,” the statement says.

“I was shocked, hurt, insulted. I was humiliated,” McCaskill said, adding that Hurwitz sought to punish her for merely exercising her private right as a Maryland resident to sign a petition to allow voters to make the final decision on whether the same-sex marriage law should be retained or overturned.

“They have attempted to intimidate me and tarnish my reputation,” she said.

McCaskill, speaking in sign language, delivered her comments through an interpreter.

She declined to disclose her position on same-sex marriage or whether she will vote for or against the marriage equality law in the Nov. 6 referendum.

McCaskill’s news conference came hours after the university released a statement saying it wants to talk to McCaskill about reaching an agreement that could lead to her reinstatement.

Her attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, told the news conference McCaskill suffered damages by the university’s action and she would seek compensation for the damages. He declined to say whether McCaskill planned to file a lawsuit and seek monetary compensation.

“We will gladly meet with them,” he said of the university offer to discuss ways to reinstate McCaskill.

Gordon stated repeatedly that McCaskill remains neutral on the gay marriage ballot referendum. He said her decision to sign the petition to place the marriage question on the ballot was based on her strong belief that all controversial issues should be put before voters in Maryland.

“I fully support the members of the LGBT community as I support all groups across Gallaudet and its community,” McCaskill told the news conference.

“When I assumed my position we had an LGBTQA Resource Center that had been formed without funding,” she said. “It was simply an office. I relocated resources to provide support for the center because I believe that members of the LGBTQA community deserve more.”

McCaskill, 54, said she has worked at Gallaudet for 24 years. Her biography on the university website says she is the first deaf African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet.

Tuesday’s news conference marked the first time McCaskill has spoken publicly about her suspension since the university community first learned about it on Oct. 10 through a statement released by Hurwitz.

“It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer; however, other individuals feel differently,” Hurwitz said.

“I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university,” he said. “In the meantime an interim Chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future.”

Governor Martin O'Malley, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has called for the reinstatement of Gallaudet University official Angela McCaskill. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Since making that announcement, Hurwitz has come under fire from both supporters and opponents of the Maryland marriage equality law. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a strong supporter of the same-sex marriage law, and Josh Levin, chair of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the lead group campaigning to retain the same-sex marriage law, have called on Gallaudet to immediately reinstate McCaskill.

The anti-gay Family Research Council and the Maryland Marriage Alliance, two groups urging voters to overturn the marriage equality law in the November referendum, have cited McCaskill’s suspension as a predictor of what will happen if the law is upheld and takes effect in January.

“Homosexual activists continue to cry that individual and religious liberties are not at risk,” said Maryland Marriage Alliance Chair Derek McCoy in a statement released on Tuesday. “The suspension of Dr. McCaskill is proof of the disingenuous and untruthful nature of that argument.”

In a full-page ad published Tuesday in the Annapolis daily newspaper The Capital, Marylanders for Marriage Equality disputed McCoy’s assertion.

“Unfortunately, opponents of marriage equality are trying to make what happened to Dr. McCaskill about Question 6, the November ballot measure that will allow gay and lesbian couples to get a civil marriage license and protects religious freedom,” the ad states.

“But her suspension from a D.C. university has nothing to do with Question 6 in Maryland,” the ad says. “It does however have everything to do with being able to express one’s opinions, freely, and participate in the political process…Question 6 is about fairness and equality under the law, and it’s only fair Dr. McCaskill get her job back.”

McCaskill’s decision to sign the referendum petition was first reported by the blog Planet DeafQueer, which is widely read nationally in the LGBT deaf community.

The blog reported that an unidentified faculty member reportedly found McCaskill’s name on a database list of all signers of the petition that was released by the Maryland board of elections and published by the Washington Blade.

At Tuesday’s news conference in Annapolis, neither McCaskill nor Gordon, her attorney, identified Bienvenu or Smith as the faculty members who discovered McCaskill’s name on the database of petition signers.

But McCaskill told of how the two faculty members played a key role in what she described as a “tremendously horrific” two-week period in which her 24-year career at the university was shaken.

“This nightmare began two weeks ago on Wednesday, Oct. 3, when I was approached by a faculty member of Gallaudet University whose name is Martina Bienvenu,” McCaskill said.

Aisha Braveboy, Maryland marriage petition, gay marriage, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland State Rep. Aisha Braveboy also spoke at the press conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“She asked if I had signed a petition to put the question of same-sex marriage on the ballot as a referendum,” McCaskill continued. “I responded that I had, that I did sign such a petition. In this very moment, she determined that the signature meant that I was anti-gay. No one has the right to decide what my signature meant,” she said. “Only I can do that.”

Added McCaskill, “MJ, Dr. Bienvenu and her partner, Kendra Smith, wrote a letter to the president of the university asking that I be reprimanded.”

Their biographies posted on the Gallaudet website state that both hold a Ph.D., with Bienvenu serving as a professor of “ASL and Deaf Studies” and Smith serving as an assistant professor of counseling. Both have been involved in academic-related projects involving LGBT deaf people, according to the biographies.

Planet DeafQueer reported in an Oct. 8 posting that LGBT students, who considered McCaskill a friend and ally in her role as chief diversity officer, were shocked when they learned she had signed a petition to place the marriage equality law on the ballot in a referendum.

The blog posting said LGBT students and faculty believed it was inappropriate for the school’s diversity officer to take such an action, which they viewed as an endorsement of the campaign to defeat the marriage equality law.

LGBT activists in Maryland have pointed out that the signature gathering effort to place the marriage equality law on the ballot was organized and carried out by people who oppose same-sex marriage.

But Gordon, McCaskill’s attorney, said at the news conference Tuesday that it would be incorrect to label McCaskill as being anti-gay or an opponent of gay marriage.

“Her signature on the same-sex marriage petition referendum that she signed in July 2012 merely represented her desire to, one, have this matter decided through the Maryland democratic process; two, allow Maryland citizens to become more informed on the issue through public discourse; and three, to enable Maryland citizens to cast their votes after thoroughly examining the issues and making an informed decision,” he said.

“Signing a petition to have same-sex marriage placed on the November ballot in Maryland’s general election no more interferes or compromises Dr. McCaskill’s integrity or qualifications as the Chief Diversity Officer than it would if she signed a petition to place affirmative action or any other controversial issue on the November ballot.”

Greg Nevins, an attorney with the gay litigation group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said an employer such as a university could establish restrictions on an employee’s public actions under certain circumstances.

“I would say people can vote the way they want to,” Nevins said. “But as far as putting yourself out in a public way, if it’s contrary to your job description – the things that you should be portraying and the employer’s position – they can take action against you.”

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Shevmonster

    October 17, 2012 at 10:16 am

    This is an outrage. Yes, this woman has a constitutional right to sign a petition, but she does not have a constitutional right to be a chief diversity officer. If the purpose of the roll is to make all students feel welcome in the school, including LGBT students, she has disqualified for the job. If I am a narcotics officer, I have a right to go out and campaign for legalizing illegal drugs. I just should not expect to have a job in the morning. Her actions will utterly destroy any outreach among LGBT students the school may want to achieve. Moreover, if a gay man signed a petition to take away the rights of black people to get married, he’d be run out of town on a rail!!!

  2. Henry Exhaust

    October 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Dr. McCaskill has to learn, that once in a position of responsibility, she is in the community’s eye. What ever she does, whether it is in her public or private life, is a reflection of her and her position in the community. Her signing the petition is protected, but by signing, her capability of being able to do her job as Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer is suspect. Diversity is just that, diverse lifestyles, races cultures are to be respected. By signing the petition, she revealed that her views were not in compliance with what is expected of the as a diversity officer.
    Gallaudet University is a private institution, and has absolute control over the hiring and firing of it’s employees.

  3. Jason Galvez

    October 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Seriously, she is the CHIEF diversity officer. She should have gotten fired or at the very minimum demoted. Not off WITH pay! What a VERY sad message she sent.

  4. Jason J.

    October 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Seriously, she is the CHIEF diversity officer. She should have gotten fired or at the very minimum demoted. Not off WITH pay! What a VERY sad message she sent.

  5. Lee Bess Toad

    October 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Signing that petition does mean you are anti-gay. Sorry, but that is exactly what it means. And as such, you are unfit to serve as chief diversity officer because you are not for diversity if you are opposed to gay rights and inclusion.

  6. Chris Ritter

    October 18, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I think the University should be looking for a new Chief Diversity Officer. Her actions are out of line with the golas of the position. She should move on & let someone who is committed to the LGBTQ community & other minorities fill her position.

  7. David Phillips

    October 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Angela, PUH-LEEZ! Cvilized and just societies do not put the rights of minorities up for popular vote, and a CDO should be fully aware of this principle and avoid violating it in appearance, word, or deed.

    • Tim Walls

      October 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      It takes some brass to be a chief diversity officer and still sign a petition to put an anti-gay measure on a statewide ballot. I have known many deaf people but they themselves are not the most enlightened either polically or socially.

    • Ben Moore

      October 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm

      Tim Walls That's offensive. How many Americans would you say are "enlightened" politically and socially?

  8. Joseph Johnson

    October 29, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Angela… you knew it already. suggest you to accept to transfer to other position. if you won't then you're in trouble. clear up your mind now. thanks!

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Comings & Goings

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Troy Cline, gay news, Washington Blade
The 'Comings & Goings' column chronicles important life changes of Blade readers.

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Shin Inouye, gay news, Washington Blade
Steven McCarty

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on being named president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. He said, “I’m honored to be installed as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. and to be able to shepherd our programs and volunteers to impact youth where they are needed most. Our club’s new partnership with SMYAL has already turned a portion of their Youth Center in Southeast D.C. into the first Clinical Services Department in the District that offers free and affirming mental healthcare to LGBTQ Youth. As an openly gay man, I’m proud to further our club’s mission with radical empathy and inclusion.” McCarty has also recently been awarded Kiwanis’ highest honor, the George Hixson award.

McCarty is a Technical Program Specialist at stac labs in D.C. He is also founder and campaign manager at Abolish Racism 2020. He worked as a Senior Customer Success Manager,  Crowdskout. He was a workplace equality intern at Human Rights Campaign and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, in Lansing, Mich. 

McCarty earned his bachelor’s in Political Science and Communications Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Congratulations also to Shin Inouye on his appointment as Executive Vice President of Communications, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights, The Leadership Conference Education Fund. 

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund said, “We are thrilled Shin Inouye will be taking on even greater responsibilities on our senior leadership team. His incredible talent and commitment to this organization and our work are truly outstanding, and his strategic leadership will no doubt continue moving us forward in the fight to protect and advance civil and human rights.”

Inouye has held a number of positions with the organization including Managing Director of Communications. Inouye also held a number of high-level positions in the Obama administration, including Press Secretary and Acting Senior Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Executive Office of the President; White House Office of Communications: Director of Specialty Media; and served as an authorized spokesperson for the Obama Inaugural Committee, with a focus on specialty media outlets, including LGBTQ, AAPI, Native American, Youth/College, Faith, and Jewish press. Prior to that Inouye was Communications Director in the Office of Congressman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and has also worked for the ACLU and as a summer intern with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. 

Inouye received a number of honors including being named One of 25 “LGBTI next generation leaders to watch” by Out in National Security and the Atlantic Council; and One of “40 Asian American Pacific Islander National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders” by New America and the Diversity in National Security Network.

Shin Inouye
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Youngkin reiterates opposition to marriage equality

Va. gubernatorial candidate says issue ‘legally acceptable’ in state

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(Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Glenn Youngkin in an interview with the Associated Press has reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Youngkin—a Republican who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—said in an interview published on Friday that he feels “called to love everyone.” Youngkin then reiterated his opposition to marriage equality before he added it is “legally acceptable” in the state.

“I, as governor, will support that,” Youngkin told the AP.

McAuliffe was Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018.

Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia a few months after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe in 2014 became the first governor of a Southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple who McAuliffe married recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

McAuliffe on Friday criticized Youngkin. “As governor, I worked my heart out to keep Virginia open and welcoming to all,” said McAuliffe in a tweet. “This type of bigotry and intolerance has no place in our commonwealth.”

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin, but Log Cabin Republicans are among the groups that have backed his campaign. The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named Youngkin’s former company, the Carlyle Group, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

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D.C. school board calls for LGBTQ-inclusive teaching standards

Sweeping resolution proposing content in curricula approved unanimously

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Gay State Board of Education member Allister Chang.

The D.C. State Board of Education voted unanimously on Oct. 20 to approve a resolution calling for LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education Standards for the city’s public schools that “reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific contributions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The two-page resolution, which was introduced by gay State Board of Education member Allister Chang, who represents Ward 2, cites national research showing that students who have access to LGBTQ+ curricula in their schools “are more likely to report lower frequency of bullying, lower levels of depression, more accepting peers, and greater feelings of safety in school.”

The resolution states that research also shows that multicultural education, including the teaching of LGBTQ topics, “helps prevent the formation of bias and prejudice and creates more democratic communities.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have long considered the local D.C. government through its mayor and City Council to be highly supportive of the LGBTQ community. But Chang and other supporters of the resolution approved by the board Wednesday night say their research shows that D.C. public schools, while supportive of LGBTQ students, are far behind the school systems in several other states in the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in school curricula.

As an example, supporters of the resolution point out that curriculum standards for social studies classes in the D.C. school system include only one mention of LGBTQ people in a teaching section related to victims of the Holocaust.   

Unlike most other cities and states, under current D.C. law, the school system is controlled by the mayor through the D.C. Department of Education, which is headed by a Deputy Mayor for Education and who, in turn and in consultation with the mayor, appoints a State Superintendent of Education who oversees the day-to-day operations of the schools.

Under a change in the education statute approved by the D.C. Council and signed by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007, the school board, which was renamed the State Board of Education, became a mostly advisory body on education matters with some statutory authority to approve education standards on which school curricula are based.

Thus, the resolution approved by the board on Wednesday “advises” and “recommends” that the State Superintendent of Education develop school curricula, guidance for teachers, and school-based leaders and staff “in providing LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons and practices in their classrooms.”

The resolution concludes by recommending that the State Superintendent of Education conduct a survey of students within two years after the Oct. 20 adoption of the resolution “to establish baseline data and to gain an understanding of the current experiences of LGBTQ+ students across the district and what all students know and understand about the contributions and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the relevant subject areas.”

Chang and other members of the State Board of Education noted at the Oct. 20 meeting, which was virtual, that Will Beckerman, who graduated this year from D.C.’s School Without Walls High School, played an important role in conducting the research used to prepare the LGBTQ standards resolution and helped in the drafting of the resolution.

Chang noted that much of the background information used to draft the resolution came from Beckerman’s senior year school research paper and advocacy project that focuses on the topic of LGBTQ-inclusive education.

In comments supporting the resolution, Chang also spoke about how the very limited LGBTQ content he encountered during his high school days helped him accept himself as a gay youth.

“As a student myself, I don’t remember a single mention of any LGBTQ people in any of my classwork until I read Thomas Mann in my senior year in high school,” Chang said. “And in Death in Venice, this Nobel Prize winner touches upon his struggles with homosexuality but never actually names it explicitly,” Chang told fellow board members.

“And I remember holding on to this novella despite the self-hatred that’s woven throughout this story because it was the first time that I saw this aspect of my identity reflected in my class work,” he said. “My hope – and I think this hope comes true with this resolution tonight – is that future generations of LGBTQ students have more opportunities to see themselves reflected in their class work and to feel less isolated by their class work than I did growing up.”

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will endorse the school system changes proposed by the resolution approved by the State Board of Education.

The full text of the resolution follows:

State Board of Education Resolution

On LGBTQ+ Inclusive Education Standards

SR21-7

WHEREAS, the 2019 District of Columbia Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students make up 15.9 percent of high school students in the District and transgender students make up1.9 percent of District high school students;

WHEREAS, in the District, these students, in comparison to their heterosexual peers, experience double the rate of bullying on school property, report higher rates of being removed from class for disciplinary reasons, and are more than twice as likely to experience suicidal ideation;

WHEREAS, national data shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are significantly more likely to receive grades of D or F than their heterosexual peers and were more likely to be truant;

WHEREAS, consistent research suggests that students with LGBTQ+ inclusive curricula in their schools are more likely to report lower frequency of bullying, lower levels of depression, more accepting peers, and greater feelings of safety in school—and this safety leads students to report higher attendance, higher GPAs, a greater sense of belonging in the school community, and higher educational aspirations;

WHEREAS, research shows that multicultural education helps prevent the formation of bias and prejudice and creates more democratic communities ; 

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education recognizes the need to have revised social studies standards that create “windows and mirrors” so students see themselves and people like them reflected in the content of standards and curriculum, as well as having the opportunity to learn about diverse people, cultures, places, and experiences unlike themselves—explicitly noting that the current standards emphasize the lives of presidents and other figures who held/hold power and under-represent or lack representation of people and groups like those identifying as LGBTQ+, and their respective histories;

WHEREAS, in the State Board of Education’s review and revision of the social studies standards, the State Board called upon the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to “seek standards writers who reflect the demographics and experiences of District students and of the communities they are writing about” sharing a list of examples that included writers identifying as LGBTQ+;

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education is committed to ensuring students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be engaged global citizens in a diverse democratic society; and,

WHEREAS, the State Board of Education has a commitment to promote equity, introduce policies to reduce disparities between students, and create safe school environments for all students.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, upon the next revision of any District of Columbia state education standards, the State Board of Education should adapt standards, when appropriate, that reflect on the political, economic, social, cultural, and scientific contributions and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education advises the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to provide guidance to teachers and school-based leaders and staff on creating inclusive lessons in science and English language arts (ELA) classes that align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core ELA standards, respectively;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education recommends that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) implement professional development for teachers and school-based leaders and staff to aid them in providing LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons and practices in their classrooms, such that that the professional development includes: workshops for local education agencies (LEAs) and teachers to draft curriculum related to LGBTQ+ topics in their subject areas, lessons on use of inclusive language in the classroom, lessons on ensuring LGBTQ+ students’ safety and confidentiality while maintaining respect for their name and pronouns, and mandatory diversity training related to the LGBTQ+ community; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT, the State Board of Education recommends that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) survey students within two (2) years of adoption of this resolution to establish baseline date and to gain an understanding of the current experiences of LGBTQ+ students across the district and what all students know and understand about the contributions and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the relevant subject areas.

https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/2019%20DC%20YRBS%20Report.pdf

Brikett, Michelle et al. “Sexual-orientation disparities in school: the meditational role of indicators of victimization in achievement and truancy because of feeling unsafe.” American Journal of Public Health vol. 104, 6 (2014): 1124-8. doi: 10.2105/AJHP.2013.301785

Kosciw, Joseph G., et al. “The 2019 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” GLSEN, GLSEN, 2020, glsen.org.

Camicia, Steven P. Critical Democratic Education and LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum: Opportunities and Constraints. Routledge Focus, 2016.

Camicia, Steven P. “Prejudice Reduction through Multicultural Education: Connecting Multiple Literatures.” Social Studies Research and Practice, vol. 2, no. 2, 2007, pp. 219–227.

socstrpr.org/files/Vol%25202/Issue%25202%2520-%2520Summer%25202007/Action%2520Research/2.2.6.pdf

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