Cass Tech Educator Dorothea Williams-Arnold Joins PuLSE Institute As Senior Fellow

Dorothea Williams-Arnold, who teaches English and Language Arts at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, and a 14-year veteran of public education, has joined The PuLSE Institute as a senior fellow at the Academy of Fellows.

At The PuLSE Institute, Williams-Arnold will focus on the academic needs of students in poor communities like Detroit. She is the first Detroit public schools teacher to join the Academy of Fellows program at Detroit’s independent anti-poverty think tank, which is leading the debate around the need to confront inequality in the economic recovery of the largest black city in America.

Williams-Arnold earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Michigan University, with a major in Literature, Language and Writing for Teachers and a Minor in Fine Art. She earned her Master of Arts degree in English Literature from Marygrove College, and an Associate degree of Applied Science from Wayne County Community College District.

She has been successfully developing instructional approaches rooted in critical pedagogy and encouraging more widespread use of this methodology in underserved schools.  Her focus on encouraging students to critically examine oppressive social practices has yielded improved student engagement and outcomes. She is an advocate for teaching literary and critical theory to adolescents through written composition and Socratic discussion, as a means of equipping them to effectively negotiate multiple academic and social platforms. Her philosophy and approaches are specifically designed to equip students in her underserved classrooms to engage in activities that encourage high achievement, leadership, and community engagement.  

“I am excited and honored to join The Pulse Institute as a senior fellow. Throughout my career, I have worked in urban public schools where 70% or more of the students qualify for free or subsidized lunch, and I know first-hand the ways in which poverty affects academic outcomes of young learners,” Williams-Arnold said. “I understand how bureaucracy seeps into the classroom spaces and snatches power and creativity from both teachers and students. Being a part of The Pulse Institute will not only afford me proximity to influential professionals who are at the pinnacle of their respective careers, it will also afford me an opportunity to use this valuable platform as a vehicle to help affect change in the way we execute curriculum in the classrooms of marginalized children.  The goal is to provide our students with the ability to negotiate and overcome poverty-based educational impediments, providing them a stronger foundation for becoming engaged and successful members of their community.”

Cass Tech High School Teacher Dorothea Williams-Arnold, holds a DACA protest sign in support of undocumented students.

She added, “The Pulse Institute is an excellent opportunity for me as a Detroit educator to articulate what I see to be major issues revolving around public education in financially strapped districts—the goal is to exchange ideas and work toward viable solutions from those interested in public education reform. This will also allow me to continue to grow as a professional through my own engagement in public discourse, in the form of periodic articles for publication in the Institute’s multimedia platform on these and other evolving issues concerning education and poverty. I am hoping to use my relationship with this esteemed think-tank to invite my students to present their own ideas through what Linda Flower, a renowned composition theorist and professor of rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, coined ‘the rhetoric of public engagement’.”

In the last 15 years, Williams-Arnold, has been actively involved in community building in Detroit, particularly with her organizational work in her own neighborhood, the Robert Aviation Subdivision. Her contributions include block-club development and aligning neighborhood community organizations towards common goals. An avid gardener, she has also been instrumental in continuing the tradition of the neighborhood elders by maintaining and expanding the local community garden that was established by them decades ago.  She has assisted in writing grant applications for beautification and inter-generational community activities, fostered community engagement and organized efforts to provide lawn care and snow removal for residents in need.  Through her block club, she has provided tutoring for young members of the neighborhood church. She has also been active in helping to build relationships with district representatives and law enforcement to better address residents’ needs, which has helped to create a more stable community of engaged residents.  

Attorney Tina M. Patterson, a Detroit native who heads The PuLSE Institute as president and director of research welcomed Williams-Arnold to the Institute.

“The classrooms of Detroit cannot be exempt from the fight against poverty. Dorothea’s inception to the Academy of Fellows brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as well as genuine commitment to the wellbeing of our most precious resource and that is our children,” Patterson said. “Her body of work demonstrates the significance of a strong public education and the need to effectively invest more resources to ensure a quality education that would guarantee an equal playing field. It should not be lost on any of us that a quality public education is the crown jewel of a free society that leads to an informed democracy.”

Patterson added, “Now more than ever the future of public education is especially significant particularly for African American schoolchildren who are often relegated to poor learning environments. As a black woman Dorothea understands this elevated need for students of her district, and we look forward to working with her in this critical endeavor.”

The founding of The PuLSE Institute was inspired by the writings of prominent Detroit journalist and author Bankole Thompson, whose illuminating and influential work on economic and racial justice issues has elevated the discourse around poverty and inequality in the city. Thompson serves as the editor-in-chief of the Institute and the chair of the Academy of Fellows.

Cass Tech High School Educator Dorothea Williams-Arnold in the classroom with one of her students.

“To address the poverty crisis in Detroit, we must be willing to discuss the need for equitable education for students who are in poverty. Our failure to examine the varying risk factors that serve as a barricade to the success of young people who grow up in poverty stricken environments in the city will mean deeper and complicated challenges for the future. This is where Dorothea brings a unique perspective in placing these issues under the microscope of The PuLSE Institute so that we can better prioritize what should matter most for the future of Detroit,” Thompson said. “Poverty has become so prevalent in our public school system but it gets overshadowed by the headline stories regarding the political fights between educational powerbrokers. It is time we look into the classroom and discuss how poverty negatively affects students’ abilities to learn. It would be a fatal mistake to think that Detroit will recover fully without an educated understanding of the need to tackle poverty’s damaging impact on our schools.”  

Last year, Washington Post nationally syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda, profiled the work of The PuLSE Institute in a column describing it as a national model for cities working to tackle poverty. Lawrence Technological University in Southfield also announced last year that it will inculcate the work of the Institute in its MBA program for students to identify business solutions to poverty.

Leading members of The PuLSE Institute include the National Advisory Panel consisting of Dr. Arun Gandhi, global justice advocate and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi; Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a top aide of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign; Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK and a leading Catholic anti-poverty crusader; Robert Weiner, former White House spokesman; Herb Boyd, historian, journalist and author of consequential books on James Baldwin and Malcolm X; Luba Lukova, an internationally visual artist for social justice; Rev. Lawrence T. Foster, Harvard-trained theologian and mentee of Martin Luther King Sr.; and Janis F. Kearney, first presidential diarist under former President Bill Clinton.

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