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Rockman et al
My Cultural Responsiveness Has Been Lifelong — Now I’m Applying It to Evaluation
My first experiences with cultural responsiveness came with travel. Studying and living in Zimbabwe forced me to observe, listen, study Shona culture and art, reflect, be humble, and quietly integrate myself. While exploring Tokyo, I became invisible in a sense, realizing how exhausting it can be back home. As a Black woman born and raised in Oakland, I constantly found myself in the best of cross-cultural situations and, since childhood, had to navigate predominantly white settings, which was both positive and negative. In high school, while shopping in Berkeley, the mecca of diversity, I witnessed my Stanford/Cal-educated mother be loudly accused by a White store clerk of stealing an item of his (which he ultimately found). Thus, given my history with culture and awareness, what does it mean for me to utilize a more culturally responsive and equitable evaluation (CREE) approach? I stumbled upon evaluation in 2011. After taking a break from research and academia — obtaining my master’s degree in Social Psychology and then focusing on art and family — I was hired by Rockman et al (REA), a place where I could potentially be the same curious researcher and, to my surprise, earn a living. Saul Rockman, a mentor, and innovator in the field of educational research and evaluation, took a chance on me — a stay-at-home mom looking to rediscover her career and merge academia with this newfound evaluation work. A graduate of Scripps College (the women’s college) and a physics major until sophomore year, I quickly discovered that the social sciences, particularly psychology, allowed me to merge rigorous scientific approaches with the validation of my lived experiences. Scripps grounded me in quantitative methods, but my passions for social justice, equity, diversity, and excellence never wavered. Through my dissertation and REA work, I’ve learned that utilizing inquiry and qualitative methods is best for capturing the voices of those underrepresented. I have grown to recognize that my professional and personal experiences have helped add another dimension to my evaluation work, intentional or not. “How do I become a CREE researcher” is a common question. My answer: practice, observation, listening, awareness, reflection. The concept of “responsiveness” is evolving in evaluation. I try to grasp what it means for me, other scholars of color, and colleagues. Oftentimes, I look at myself and other evaluators of color as an untapped resource. While being culturally competent speaks to one’s capacity to function in a sea of difference, responsiveness is a state of awareness. CREE is inclusive, holistic, and context-specific. After evaluating a coding program designed for Black girls for 9 years, I still must ensure context is given adequate treatment. Organizations/programs like Expanding the Bench® and the Advancing Culturally-responsive and Equitable (ACE) Evaluation Network, and AEA’s Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) program, are paramount in supporting evaluators of color through mentorship, creating spaces for dialogue, and the sincere desire to better understand our society. All evaluators have a vested interest in diversifying the field and developing competency among Black evaluators, as this should not solely rest on the shoulders of scholars of color.
Nisaa Kirtman is a social psychologist with 20 years of experience designing and conducting research in informal and formal educational settings. She is an ACE Evaluation Network Member and Research Associate at Rockman et al, a research and evaluation cooperative based out of Berkeley, CA. She utilizes evaluative thinking, evaluative practices and strategies, and capacity-building approaches. Nisaa studies social cognition, underrepresentation of communities of color in STEM, educational inequities, health inequities, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and climate assessments at institutions/organizations, stereotypes and stereotype threat, and identity. She has managed both long and short-term evaluations and has managed several multi-year professional development projects at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and out-of-school programming for underrepresented youth and girls of color. These projects have included quantitative designs, website usability testing, randomized control trials, qualitative interviews, instrument development, focus groups, and case narratives.
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