Conference for Antiracist Teaching, Language and Assessment is designed to give people pragmatic, accessible and tangible antiracist approaches to teaching and learning

By Jaycee Kalama

(Pictured above: Moderator Jesse Strommel and panelists Ana Milena Ribero, Asao Inoue, Alexandria Lockett and Vershawn Ashanti Young meeting via Zoom for a roundtable discussion on October 1, 2021 for the final day of the inaugural Conference for Antiracist Teaching, Language and Assessment).

Imagine that you’re sitting in front of your computer screen, prepared to deliver a 35-minute keynote presentation via Zoom, and you look down and see that there are 2,000 attendees tuned in—all ready to hear what you have to say. Are you nervous? Assistant Professor Ana Milena Ribero sure was—but she remembered the advice her friend had given her: remember, all that matters is that you believe in what you are saying.

“Sometimes, at least for me, when I present at a conference, I'm so focused on the words and not messing it up, that I forget about what I'm actually saying—I'm just on autopilot,” Ribero said. “This time… I remembered that I really believed in what I was saying.”

This massive conference was the inaugural Conference for Antiracist Teaching, Language and Assessment (ATLA) that took place over the course of three days in September and October of 2021.


Ribero pointed out one of her favorite slides from her presentation for the Conference for Antiracist Teaching, Language and Assessment on September 17, 2021.

I like this one because I wanted to talk about what critical race theory is, and so I think the way that I think of critical race theory is kind of easy for people to understand and not demonize.

According to Tim Jensen, associate professor in and director of the School of Writing Literature and Film, the ATLA conference was organized by himself and two graduate students, Jess Alfaqih and Megan Swets, in collaboration with Asao Inoue, a professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Arizona State University. Inoue helped organize the event, participated as a keynote speaker, and funded it with his wife through the Asao and Kelly Inoue Antiracist Teaching Endowment housed at their alma mater, OSU.

With the conference centered around pragmatic, accessible and tangible antiracist approaches to teaching and learning, event organizers felt that Ribero would be a perfect fit in the keynote lineup.

Ribero, as described in her keynote speaker biography on the OSU website, is a “proud Latina, mother-scholar, and assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at Oregon State University. Her research and teaching mainly focus on rhetorics of im/migration, rhetorics of race, critical literacies, and Women of Color feminisms.”

“Asao was actually the first to recommend [Ana]. We knew that we wanted someone from Oregon State, and we also knew that the School of Writing, Literature and Film was the primary sponsor of the event, and Ana is amazing, so it made total sense,” Jensen said. Upon receiving the invitation, Ribero said she couldn’t believe it—in fact, she asked herself ‘did I dream that?’

“I'm going to be brutally honest, I couldn't believe it because I was definitely the small fish there. The other keynote speakers are all really well-known scholars, and just really badass thinkers,” Ribero said. “I thought it was really an honor, and I looked forward to seeing my name next to those names. I had a little bit of a starstruck moment.”

Alongside Ribero was Inoue, Vershawn Ashanti Young, Victor Villanueva and Alexandria Lockett. Ashanti Young is a professor in the departments of Communication Arts and English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada; Villanueva is regents professor emeritus at Washington State University; Lockett is an assistant professor of English at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.

"...I couldn't believe it because I was definitely the small fish there. The other keynote speakers are all really well-known scholars, and just really badass thinkers."

When it came to preparing her presentation, Ribero said she had many things to consider. One—who was going to be in the audience? Well, she had no way of knowing because it was a remote and international conference that anyone could attend. In fact, records show that there was one attendee who tuned in from Iceland! Two—not all attendees would be scholars and researchers, so how can she make this keynote as accessible as possible? Three—under the assumption that most attendees would be white, how can she get through to that audience in a more meaningful way?

With these considerations in mind, Ribero began crafting her keynote with specific strategies to address them.

“Because I didn't really know who was going to be there, I wanted to not assume that people knew what I meant,” Ribero said. “Writing this was cool because it was a balancing act between, obviously, sounding knowledgeable and not underestimating what my audience knew, but also not making any assumptions about what they knew, and breaking it down in simple ways so that they could not only understand what I was saying, but then maybe take something away with them to practice at home.”

By the end of her keynote there were three things Ribero wanted her audience members to take away. One—what critical race theory actually is. Two—she wanted people, especially non-Black people, to “realize that if you're not Black, you are benefiting from anti-Blackness in some way, shape, or form… that doesn't make you culpable and it doesn't make you a bad person, but acknowledging that can help us to redress the harm—undo the harm that anti-Blackness has done.” And three—she wanted attendees to be able to take something away so they can practice antiracist teaching in their own classes.

“I have to say, Ana's keynote…was a real standout for me,” Jensen said. “That one stood out to me because it was a perfect blend of how the theories that she works with could be applied in pragmatic ways to really impact and improve the educational experience of not just the students, but the teachers too, in the overall institution. That's really hard to do—being able to take complex theories, put them into a language that is accessible, and provide examples as to how others can implement this in their own work.”


From another of Ribero's favorite slides:

This is when I talk about my course. I was talking about trigger warnings because in the class that I teach about the [U.S.-Mexico] border, every reading that we have has some disturbing stuff and I do believe in giving trigger warnings as a way of respecting students and student experiences. So I talked a little bit about trigger warnings and I showed this as the trigger warning that I put in my syllabus.

For Kay Halasek, professor of English and director of the Michael V. Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University and attendee at the ATLA conference, she learned at every turn. According to Halasek, she was motivated to reflect on her current practices—and, more importantly, to question those practices through the lens and heuristic process.

“I always appreciate hearing from Victor Villanueva, Vershawn Ashanti Young and Asao Inoue—and was eager to have the opportunity to learn from both Ana Milena Ribero and Alexandria Lockett,” Halasek said. “From them I took away rich and compelling insights into critical race theory and what it means and looks like to bring CRT into my teaching to co-create more meaningful spaces from and through which students build collective understanding and action. I also extended my own understanding of—in ways I had not expected, but should have—the implications of not opening ‘academic discourse’ to BIPOC genres and away from Habits of Language and ‘White Mainstream English.”

For Jensen, the biggest takeaway was the need to do more work and a better job collecting quality materials for instructors, promoting more resources for instructors, and improving training around antiracist pedagogies.

The Conference for Antiracist Teaching, Language and Assessment will potentially take on an every-other-year schedule moving forward, partly because it requires no small sweep of resources, but also because organizers are figuring out how to balance the breadth with the depth needed to put on such an important conference. There are currently conversations regarding how to further develop and improve the conference for future years—ideas like reviewing, editing, reading and creating tangible materials that teachers can use in their own classes.

As a parting reminder from Ribero, “The thing about antiracist teaching is that anybody can do it. You don't have to be talking about race in your class to be an antiracist teacher.”

To learn more about this past fall’s ATLA conference and its keynote speakers, you can visit the OSU College of Liberal Arts website.

Jaycee Kalama is a fourth-year digital communication arts student with a minor in applied journalism. Jaycee is pursuing a career in magazine writing and lifestyle journalism, and currently works as the editor-in-chief of Beaver's Digest, Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine. Last year, she also led OSU's student newspaper The Daily Barometer, and has held several positions within Orange Media Network since 2018. Following the end of this academic year, she will start a new adventure as a student writer for the College of Liberal Arts MarComm team. Jaycee anticipates graduation in the Spring of 2023, and is looking to write for a magazine after college. You can find her on LinkedIn and you can view her portfolio at