Rita Kohli is an Assistant Professor in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles, with an emphasis in Race and Ethnic Studies. Her research interests include Critical Race Theory in Education, racial hierarchies in schools, teachers of color, and improving the educational realities of students of color. A former middle school teacher, and current teacher educator, Dr. Kohli has 15 years of experience working in urban public schools. She is the co-founder and co-director of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice, and currently serves as program chair for the Critical Educators for Social Justice Special Interest Group for the American Educational Research Association. She has published in journals such as Race, Ethnicity and Education, Education, Equity and Excellence and Teacher Education Quarterly.
When I was a teacher in Oakland, California, I worked at a school that was primarily African American, but also had over ten languages spoken within the student population. At a school that diverse, it is hard to imagine that, as a South Asian American woman, I was one of the only teachers on campus who was not white or black. The teaching staff was incredibly segregated, and at lunch, faculty would watch if I sat at a “white” or “black” table. I even had a co-worker ask me one day if I thought of myself as “white or black?” and was quite shocked when I said neither. A culminating moment for me was at a staff breakfast the day before we went on winter break one year. The principal passed around black and white Styrofoam Santa ornaments as a holiday gift, and as the box made its way towards me, the teachers next to me whispered, “which one is she going to take?” I ended up taking a black Santa, but as an Indian and a Hindu, it was clear to me that my identity, culture and religion were invisible to the broader staff. Read more