SCHOOL OF EDUCATION Conversation with the Dean
Expanding great work
Malik S. Henfield, PhD, took the long road to Loyola University Chicago. Starting out working in a nuclear power plant in South Carolina, he pursued college, then graduate school, and finally a PhD on his way to becoming a researcher and dean.
Before coming to Loyola, he served as associate dean of academic affairs, research, and faculty advancement and as a professor at the University of San Francisco. At the time, he didn’t know exactly what a “Jesuit education” meant, but he did know about social justice and its importance in the field of education. Here, he talks about expanding the definition of educators, as well as a new grant with Duke University, where Loyola students will be traveling to North Carolina to help conduct interviews with students, teachers, mental health professionals, and community members.
To you, how does the social justice mission fit into the teaching of education?
The thing about a school of education is that it's not just training teachers. So many people, when they think of “School of Education,” that's all they think of. But we also train researchers, we train counselors, we train administrators, we train so many individuals who go on to do things outside of formal education—and that's a relative unknown. The tie that binds all of these different positions together is this idea of impacting society in positive ways. That may look different for someone who's working as a policymaker in Chicago government versus someone who's working in a classroom in Ghana, for example. But it's still this idea of moving the country forward in your own unique way.
For individuals in Chicago Public Schools, for example, you think about all the marginalized black and brown kids who live here and go to school in one area of the city that looks very different than other areas of the city, for no other reason than policies have placed one group in under-resourced communities and not the other. There is something that speaks to me about addressing this condition, and that can be done in any number of ways. In part, it can be done through teaching the students in the classroom: “Hey, the things that you're going through, it's not your fault. Let me explain to you why.”
It could be focusing on a nonprofit that's working with individuals on community organizing: “Hey, the fact that you're living in this community and your water isn't exactly up to the levels that it should be, let's get together and figure out how to combat that.” All of this is related to education. It just looks different in different instances, and in different contexts.
That's what has drawn me to this place: That mission is already here. We're celebrating our 50th anniversary and thinking about what the next 50 looks like. What are some of the issues that remain from the time this School of Education was instituted and why haven't they been resolved? How might we move towards thinking about tackling issues, as opposed to just thinking about licenses and credentials and degrees?
I don't want to frame it as something that doesn't exist because good work is already being done. If there's anything I want to do, it is to figure out how we can work smarter together and combat complex issues in ways that can make a tangible difference and help move the city forward.
Looking at the big picture, probably more Chicago focused, what do you see those challenges being?
I think much of the issues that plague Chicago are related to individuals being pushed into communities without the resources needed to thrive. The biggest issue, which can be identified as a stubborn issue, is this idea that people are in these conditions of their own doing—when they've been placed there by policies that are meant to oppress them. The system is working exactly as it should be. It is not working for some like it's working for others, essentially. I look at our job as exposing that. For example, if we have a course that is focused on the history of education policy: How did culturally biased tests come to be the normative hurdle to jump in order to access rigorous educational environments? Why have we had so many school closings in some sections of the city and not in others? Why are funds being directed towards some schools and not others? I look at the job of everyone in the School of Education as tackling some of those problems with their students and trying to figure out exactly where their role is in responding to those questions.
Are there things that you see going on right now at Loyola that you're particularly excited to be a part of?
I'm very excited about the way that we embraced the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities. I think it's important to take care of home and that's the home base for our University. The way that we've embedded ourselves in schools in those communities has made a tangible difference in those student's lives. We've seen the number of students who've applied to Loyola go up by 100s of percentage points since the first day that we set foot in those schools. Many of those students, I would argue, probably weren't thinking about a university, let alone Loyola, which is right in their backyard. I'm very proud of the work that's being done in those communities and I see us doubling down those efforts and doing even more in the future in other communities around the city.