UNPACKED: Donald Easton-Brooks leads as an example of the power of education and perseverance

With an expanded name to reflect today’s challenges, the College of Education and Human Development strives to build a national reputation focused on learning, research and innovation

College of Education and Human Development Dean Donald Easton-Brooks

UNPACKED: Donald Easton-Brooks leads as an example of the power of education and perseverance

With an expanded name to reflect today’s challenges, the College of Education and Human Development strives to build a national reputation focused on learning, research and innovation

College of Education and Human Development Dean Donald Easton-Brooks

College of Education and Human Development Dean Donald Easton-Brooks

Today’s educators are facing challenges unlike any previous generation, confronted with a host of impacts as a ripple effect of modern society. Each day in classrooms all across the nation, dedicated teachers invest their all in their students while grappling with technology, culture, poverty, family dynamics, issues of race and equity, and now, additional stresses of navigating COVID-19’s many facets, including student safety and distance learning.

Preparing educators in such a challenging era and uncertain environment is among the host of challenges of facing the University’s College of Education and Human Development – formerly the College of Education, which has expanded its name to reflect the full scope of its work and impact.

As the dean of the University’s College of Education and Human Development, Donald Easton-Brooks brings his vast educational expertise, shaped by his own life’s journey, to help equip, inspire and support educators in today’s environment, so they will remain current and relevant to this generation of students.  He is the guest on UNPACKED, the podcast from Nevada Today hosted by David Stipech. Listen via the player below or hear episodes on popular podcast platforms.

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UNPACKED: Donald Easton-Brooks

With an expanded name to reflect today’s challenges, the College of Education and Human Development strives to build a national reputation focused on learning, research and innovation

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Easton-Brooks grew up in Houston in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. His father was hard on him, and he lost his mother when he was in the 5th grade. He focused on football but struggled academically for many years – yet eventually course-corrected and persevered with the help of key people along his journey. He went on to earn his master’s degree and Ph.D. to position himself for his current role, which he began as of fall 2019.

Broadening the college’s name is an outward reflection of a renewed focus on elevating its profile. “We want the reputation to go out that we are a preferred university, a preferred College of Education and the work that we do,” he said. “And the way we do that is by developing quality in everything that we do. So those things are critical to us. We want to be a college that people come to first and people look to first. And so that’s what we’re really kind of focusing on building that reputation and building that sound part of who we are.”

Easton-Brooks appeared in University videos that have been widely viewed, the latest one aimed at encouraging people to vote in this year’s election. It’s an issue that is meaningful from his upbringing. “Growing up, I’ve always seen voting like that: about changing the tide for people of color and helping people of color to get in a better position in life,” Easton-Brooks said.

“I’ve always seen voting like that: about changing the tide for people of color and helping people of color to get in a better position in life.”

“So when you look at someone like [president Lyndon] Johnson and the Civil Rights Act, that was very impactful to the community,” he said. “At the same time, there were challenges with what was happening with the segregation. But when desegregation happened, it really kind of changed the community and what it looked like … the voting for [president Richard] Nixon and the busing changed a lot of things in the Black community, because now kids were taken out of their communities and shipped to white communities and really not getting that historical upbringing of education in their communities.”

He said he is “always looking at voting as something that would give us an opportunity to decrease poverty and give an opportunity for better education. All those things have always been a central part of my life.”

The value of education and voting were instilled early in him by his late mother, Gloria. He recalls her watching Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral on television in 1968, when he was just four years old.

“You know, I can vividly see that in black and white going across the screen and her in tears and her talking about, ‘We have to make a change,’” he said. “[She felt that] we have to make sure that we are a part of change. We’re a part of making things right for people. And it was about that, about making sure that the right people were in place to do the right things for people.”

“I feel like I look at leadership as a service role more than a leader role.”

Easton-Brooks recognizes the challenges and opportunities of this present moment. “COVID is showing us that the traditional way in which we teach, we have to adjust,” he said. “And if we don’t have that strong framework for what learning is about, it’s going to be more challenging to adjust. So, we can’t just sit in front of a computer and talk to kids. We have to engage them. We have to find ways to bring them into this.”

While confident as a leader in facing today’s challenges, Easton-Brooks’ sees accountability and support as key to his leadership style. “I feel like I look at leadership as a service role more than a leader role,” he said. “I’m here to figure out how to serve by providing resources needed to move the things we need to move. So, I’m my biggest critic. There’s nothing anyone can say to me that’s more painful than I do to myself.”

He knows that now is certainly not the time for inaction. “I’ve felt like there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “There’s always room to move things. And so for me, it’s a matter of, of not just keeping people accountable and check, but keeping myself accountable and in check to make sure that I’m constantly doing what I need to do to help us be at a place we need to be.”


Donald Easton-Brooks is the author of several books, including “Ethnic Matching: Academic Success of Students of Color,” for which he received the National Association for Multicultural Education’s 2019 Phillip C. Chin Multicultural Book Award.

DAVID STIPECH: From Nevada today, this is UNPACKED, backstories of people from the university of Nevada, Reno, community, their journey, their passions, and their impact. I'm David Stipech with Marketing Communications and on today's show, he's a relative newcomer to the University who brings a background in research and a focus on innovation. Along with a passion to lift up and engage those students who might otherwise miss out on the transformative power of education. On this episode of UNPACKED, it's a visit with the Dean of the college of education, Donald Eastern Brooks.

Today's educators are facing challenges unlike any previous generation confronted with a host of impact as a ripple effect of modern society, technology, culture, poverty, family dynamics, issues of race and equity, and now additional stresses of navigating COVID many facets, including students' safety and distance learning.

As the Dean of the university's college of education and Human Development, Donald Eastern, Brooks brings his vast educational expertise shaped by his own life's journey to help equip, inspire and support educators in today's environment. So the remain current and relevant to this generation of students. Now one year into his role as Dean, just what is Donald Easter Brooks view of the college of education and what is his vision for the future?

DONALD EASTON-BROOKS: Even before COVID, we were really reflecting on who we were as a college, what we were about as a college and thinking about impact. And that's something that we really talked a lot about was impact. And how are we impactful to our community through research, through outreach and through the type of instruction we give our students.

And what did impact really mean for us as we move forward, as we talked about that we really thought about how do we reexamined reshape ourselves to refocus ourselves to do just that? So at the college actually, we changed our structure up from divisions to departments and going into departments that that helps us to be more discipline centered. So getting like disciplines to work more together, to be centered around research and teaching that focus on what they were doing. And then the premise there is that we are able to understand who we are as these collective units, and then we're able to branch out and be more collaborative with those units that are not as like, as we are.

And so it's understanding ourselves first and then moving out. And then the other thing that we've done is that we've changed, we're in the process of changing our name from the College of Education to the College of Education and Human Development. And it's more of a comprehensive view of what we do and who we are about.

We have three strands in our college: teacher education, human development, and then we have what we call educational studies. Each of those units are about a third of the college. And so we wanted something that really reflected who we were as a college, as a whole, as well. From there, we are relevant, how are we relevant to our community? How are we relevant in the research that we do and the instruction we provide and our outreach? And we feel that if we are relevant, we're going to continue to be a benefit to our communities and to our students and to the field itself. The other thing is research, making sure that we are engaged in research that's impactful, that's innovative. That's really about moving the needle. And so as we think about, you know, STEM, think about technology, think about special education and even diversity and equity. How do we look at research? That's really about moving the field, but research has really centered on, on what we see, what we talk about as research to practice. So the research we do can be replicated in practice. That's something that's very critical and important to us. We talked a lot about our reputation and building a strong reputation. Of being this sound college of ed first for Northern Nevada, then for the state, our region nationally and even internationally, we know that we have students that come to us, both from, our state and from around the region.

And we want that reputation to go out that we are a preferred university, a preferred College of Education and the work that we do. And the way we do that is by developing quality in everything that we do. So those things are critical to us. There's some reshaping we have to do with who we are and how we're perceived. I don't think people have a bad perception of us. We want to be a college that people come to first, but people look to first. And so that's what we're really kind of focusing on building that reputation and building that sound part of who we are.

STIPECH: All right. Well, thanks for that. Look at the present and a little glimpse into the future. Let's go back to the beginning of your story. Where did you grow up?

EASTON-BROOKS: Well, I grew up in Houston, Texas. I was born in Port Arthur, which is about 80 miles from Houston. My mother decided to take a trip to visit family in Port Arthur later in her pregnancy and gave birth to me on a street, in an alley, and then we went back to Houston. But I grew up in Houston. I grew up in the inner city of Houston and spent most of my life until my high school years, when I moved a little bit out of Houston and live with my father about 10 miles outside of town.

STIPECH: So you were literally born in an alley.

EASTON-BROOKS: Right. Literally, I didn't know the story, but when I looked at my birth certificate, it has hospital name, if not hospital street address. And so I asked what is the street address? And that's when I was told that my mother was walking down the street and her water broke there. It just so happened, a midwife was passing by.

STIPECH: Well, that's quite a way to start out your life. Uh, what would you say are some of your very early memories that helped shape you?

EASTON-BROOKS: I actually, and growing up, my mother was one of 13 children. And my mother was a very forward thinking. Ambitious, strong woman in a sense, had a hard time keeping a husband or man, should I say. And mainly because she grew up in the South and at that time women had their place in the South and she didn't buy into that stereotype.

Of the 13 kids, she was the only one to go to college. So she got her AA degree in nursing and she was one that really pushed and valued education. With myself and my two sisters, she really pushed that education was something that was important. It was a way to have a better life. And she lived that and explained that, and she also volunteered at schools to show her value, but sadly, she passed away when I was in fifth grade, about 11 years old.

And so, that was something that, of course my life was challenging and having to kind of take that journey in life, you know, without her, but for me, the thing that I was that, that notion of education and the value of education. To this day, my older sister works in schools and my youngest sister works in schools and it was really because of that, that emphasis on education and the value of education. But she was just really a strong woman.

STIPECH: And again, what was her name?

EASTON-BROOKS: Gloria.

STIPECH: So, your mother Gloria, was she ill? Was this expected or was it something sudden?

EASTON-BROOKS: Yep. No, it wasn't expected. What happened is that she was, she was pregnant and, um, she ended up leaving the hospital earlier than she should have, And when she left the hospital, the next day, she bled to death internally. That was a sudden thing, you know, as a child, I actually literally saw her take a last breath. And that was something that, of course, you know, as a child with no understanding and first time experiencing significant death, that was a tough one.

STIPECH: For sure. That'd be really hard at any small child, at any age, you really don't ever get over something like that. What were you like though in those early years before your mom passed away?

EASTON-BROOKS: I was a “wanna-be” athlete and I didn't recognize my academic potential. And with her, when I would bring home report cards, it would bother her. You know, there were times she would cry because I wasn't reaching my potential, but she was one that showed me a lot of love. She showed a lot of patience. She would, at times, take me out of school and just talk to me about life and talk to me about purpose. You know, understanding that you have a value understanding that there are people in your life who are going to depend on you someday.

And how are you going to respond type of thing? Right? My personality fits what my mother wanted, a who my mother wanted me to be. And she knew how to comfort. She knew how to give me those messages that I needed for motivation. They were important. On the other hand, my father, his name was Isaac, he just passed away a couple of years ago, didn’t do those things, he didn't know how to be there. He was everything that my mother thought he was and didn't want. He didn't know how to be a father. He didn't know how to love. He didn't know how to engage in a relationship. And of course growing up, I at times hated him for it. Never hearing your father say I love you and everything.

STIPECH: It sounds like you were really close to your mom and not so much with your dad, Isaac. What was he like?

EASTON-BROOKS: The biblical name Isaac means full of laughter. I don't think he ever had a moment in his life where he was serious. And with me growing up, I tended to be more serious, more, you know, what are we doing? And he tended to combat that with humor and laughter or a joke. And I didn't appreciate that until, of course later on in life. And of course, now that he'd gone, I really, really miss it.

He grew up in a time in Louisiana with Black males in which you made them hard so that they can deal with the challenges of life. And that's a huge Southern thing. Well with Black males. And I don't quite know if it still exists today, but it was more of you don't make them soft. You don't give them too much love. So I remember a moment. I played football and I was just naturally good at it when I was in eighth grade. I mean, seventh grade, sorry.

It was my first time playing football in Texas. And everybody in Texas, you played football once you got out of diapers. Right. But I didn't. And my mother wouldn't allow me to, until I was older. And my first year playing, the coach said to me one time, “Come on, Brooks, you're the captain.” And I paused and said, “Coach, what’s a captain?”

Everybody's cracking up. I have no clue. You know, terminology, I'm playing defense. The person with the ball, tackle him. That's all I needed to know. Right. And as good as I was my father couldn't compliment on that. Couldn't give me that. He would always talk about what was wrong and how to do better. He felt like he'd said something negative to me, it wouldn't make me better, but what he didn't realize is that every time he did that, it pulled me further away from him. And I remember a time when I was in 12th grade and I ran the a hundred meters. And at the time I was again, a linebacker, I was, you know, a bigger kid, probably about six one, 195, and I ran a track meet.

And I hit 10.5 and a hundred meters. At that time I think to be a world-class sprinter it was like 10.3. And so I came home excited, even though I got third place in Texas, I came home excited about that race. And he told me I can never be a world-class runner and went on to explain to me physically why that wasn't possible.

That moment pulled me away from him, emotionally. And it was hard for him to get that back. It wasn't until two years before he passed that we really had a relationship that we could appreciate and respect each other.

STIPECH: You mentioned earlier that your dad passed away relatively recently. How old were you when he died?

EASTON-BROOKS: Oh, I was probably 53. And again, it wasn't until we had a relationship that I was able to talk about this, that he realized what he did. And for two years, I mean, almost two years, almost every time it was this apology and I just can't keep sending him. It's what it was. Let's start from here. Let's be here in this moment, but I'm glad we healed that. Glad we fixed that before he passed, but here's something that's interesting. I found out after he passed that his own father was white. And so he fought being biracial and a Black world, and he didn't want to talk about it and he didn't want to deal with it.

And even after having children with my wife, who is white, and seeing how fair-skinned they were, and I'm asking him questions. He never said a thing and if it wasn't for my Aunt Rose that are on a deathbed explaining that history, I would have never known. And so that was something even in his journey that he was struggling with and dealing with and trying to ignore it, his white part of him, and not expose to others in a world where he was supposed to look Black and he did. And to have people say things about them being fair in a Black world was psychologically hard for him.

STIPECH: All right. Well, you're painting a bit of a picture of your early years. And as you look back on that time now as an adult, what would you say was your sense of your family, your neighborhood, things like that in relationship to the world around you, were you poor or were you aware of different things going on at that time?

EASTON-BROOKS: Sure. Here's the thing I think that's interesting is that I grew up, yeah. I grew up in a low-income community. But we all were low income. We didn't have the experiences we have the day where we saw people outside of our community that were a affluent, you know, everybody had the same thing.

And so that's just kinda how you live. I didn't know anything about families gone on vacation until I went to college. No summers out, you hang out and you do stuff not to get in trouble. There was violence, but you knew where not to go. Right. There were protections in the neighborhood for those kids who were moving in a direction.

And if you were not part of trouble, trouble wouldn’t find you. And so I could walk down the street or interact and not worry about violence because it wasn't targeted at me or my siblings or my friends or anything like that. It wasn't until I got more in high school and a teenager where you were challenged on those things, which direction are you going to go. But it wasn't as a young child. So that's what it was. We had food, we had a roof over our head when I lived with my mother before she passed so every now and then we had to leave in the middle of the night, put everything in a Black bag and go, but it's kind of what it was.

STIPECH: I'm sorry. Why, why did you have to leave in the middle of the night?

EASTON-BROOKS: Just because we couldn't afford rent or it was due and you know, they're probably going to come the next day to try to kick us out. So we'll get going.

STIPECH: What is your neighborhood pretty much all Black? Or was it a mix? And remind me of the timeline, Now when was this?

EASTON-BROOKS: Sure. This is like seventies through eighties, right? I was born in 64, so, you know, seventies and eighties and. Oh, yeah, there were no, there were no whites in my elementary school, there was one Mexican kid. And that was that. And you know, Mike was a part of us. Mike lived on the other side of tracks from me. That was it. We had McKinley who was I'm part Black, part Korean. That was basically it. Other than that, we were all Black teachers, Black, everyone was Black, probably. I'll probably have two white teachers, three white teachers, maybe in my pre-K-12 experience. But that's what it was.

STIPECH: Remind me, what city was this again?

EASTON-BROOKS: Houston. North side of Houston. Yeah.

STIPECH: Beyond your family, what influences started to shape your path as you got into your teens and twenties and your young adult years?

EASTON-BROOKS: So I received a number of football scholarships. And ended up going to Texas El Paso. I get to college and my first semester in college, 900 miles from home, I realized I was over my head. I didn't know how to be in college. I didn't know what it was about. I knew no one who went to college. I knew nothing about this place. It was a time where I was free of everything in my old life yet missing my whole life.

My first semester in college, I passed one class with a D. And so I was at a moment that one of the coaches pulled me in and said, this is what you need to be eligible the play or we will send you home. And I was still rough around the edges, so I would get into it with coaches a lot. And I remember getting into this one big fight with the coach and I walked out and the lobby of the athletic area and who was standing there was Don Haskins, legendary basketball coach. And he said to me, so what are you going to do? How are you going to fix this? How are you going to make this better?

So I had to sit back and say to myself, would your mother be proud of you? And so I figured it out and. Start focusing on those things I needed to focus on. You know, I went to summer school, got eligible, started doing everything I needed to do with football. And I had the physical part, but not the mental part. And one of my good friends, Seth Joyner, who  was an all pro linebacker and standout player for the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. I remember him telling me that college athletic talent is wasted on me and he was frustrated because I had the athletic ability, but I didn't have that mental framework. When he said that to me, it didn't bother me because it wasn't my purpose.

STIPECH: Now, at this point, you're still at the university of Texas El Paso football is your life, but it doesn't sound like it's your passion. And we know now that one day you're going to be a college Dean. You didn't know that then, but we know that now … but still no hint of that direction here. So where does that trajectory start to change?

EASTON-BROOKS: Well, yeah, exactly. So I hurt my knee, And, new coaches came into UTEP. One of the coaches pulled me in and said, you are an academic probation, so we're taking your scholarship away. So I had to go back to Houston and again, no good relationship with my father.

I go and live back with this aunt that I grew up with and it was just not working. And so I go and live with my sister and her husband. And I thought, all right, three moves and one month, what are you doing? I just had to make a decision. I ended up transferring schools and going to Greenville college.

I just wanted to get my degree done and move on with life. And at that time too, I became a Christian and Greenville college was a Christian college. So I just wanted to kind of look at something different in my life, ended up, you know, I would call myself a Zen Christian today, so that, that kind of balance and centering myself is something important.

And so when I went to Greenville, a liberal arts school, it really showed me how to think. And I had an advisor who's one of my mentors and favorite people in the world today. Rick Stevens. Oh, my word, this man saved my life. This man, was the first person in my life who saw the potential in me as a student, as an academic.

And he treated me as such and he showed me how to write. He showed me how to think. He showed me how to process. He was a loving yet strong person. And when I say I was happy to get that degree in sociology. And he said to me, “What's next?” when I was starting grad school. And so I went to grad school, of course, because of his encouragement.

And then after that, it was, “When are you getting your doctorate?” He wouldn't let me settle on myself. He always said, whatever you do, you're going to be great at it. You just have to figure out what you're going to do and really push me on those things. And, I value him probably more than any human I can think of because there were things about it, here's a white man that I'd never, I really had a strong trust with white men, even as coaches, that when he saw me, he didn't make those mistakes and to emphasize the ghetto in me, wanting to emphasize the Black stereotypes, he saw the potential of a human and he responded in that way. His father was the president of the college and he also responded in that way.

So the reason I decided to go into higher education because I wanted to make that same impact on other people's lives as they made on my life. So I took a job at university of Rhode Island, and I'm at a dinner, six of us at a dinner with Cornell West. But in that conversation with him, he made me realize that, you need to be an education. There are 2% of people of color that are engaged with a doctor and we don't have, well, not people in education helping to influence. And so I went back to education. Rightfully so.

STIPECH: So you have this path-changing conversation with Cornell West, the African American philosopher and activist, and that nudges your chorus back toward education. And you decide to pursue your doctoral degree. Tell me a bit about that. What were you after there?

EASTON-BROOKS: So I went back to the university of Colorado at Denver and got my doctorate in educational leadership and innovation, and really focused more on, on education research and really trying to figure out from this cultural lens, how to do this in a quantitative way to influence policies.

And, again, I met a great group of people there. Donna Whitmore, who was outstanding, both of my master's and doctorate program. And Alan Davis, who again, has been just a great mentor to me. He really, oh, my word, he really helped me about how to use data and how to process information. He did what Stevens did he took the time to understand culturally. What, what was meaningful to me. What I was trying to do and how to help me get there. And I appreciate him for that.

And so my doctorate was really looking at wealth and the impact of wealth on the Black community from educational lens. And he learned from me just as much as I learned from him along the way, but he didn't tell me it wasn't doable, he helped me figure out how to get it done.

And so as I did that work, one of the things that really struck me is that leadership is something that has always been a part of me, always been a part of what I do. And it takes me back to that seventh-grade kid and being a captain. I didn't ask to be a captain. I was in that position because of my ability to move people, I guess, to lead people, to strategically think about something and to get things done.

My first academic job at Seattle Central Community College, I was in a leadership role, my first position in the tenure track line, I was a program coordinator doing kind of leadership things. So, so leadership is one of those things that that's been a part of my life. That's been a part of who I am.

And so my wife one day said to me, “You keep doing this and it's something you do, but you don't get paid for it. Why don't you put yourself in a position to get paid for the things you love doing?” So that's when I started looking at, you know, chair positions, dean positions, etcetera, and I loved the work.

STIPECH: So just, what is it about this work that you do that you're finding maybe fulfilling or that's you're finding aligns with your passions?

EASTON-BROOKS: It gets to the point that I do get to satisfy that part of me that wants to help people then want to see people have a better life, to take advantage of opportunities. There's a part of me that, that lives, that, that, that theory of my mother that says that education is a valuable tool. To move us forward to move us out of poverty, to embrace education for what it is. And for me, it's a matter of having people that put young minds where they can see their potential.

One of my goals, is really to help challenging communities, communities of color, first generation communities look beyond themselves to look at opportunities. And not to just resign themselves to, this is all I can do, but what more can I do? Can I be a business person? Can I be an engineer? Can I be X, Y, and Z?

And what I find a lot in our communities of color is that we tend to go into these service roles. Then we go into these service roles a lot of times because we have family members who have been a part of the system and we want to help people in that system to do better in our lives. That's great. That's wonderful. But we also have to think about ourselves in this and what do we enjoy and what do we want to do with our lives that need to help. People like us and I need to help those who have been challenged. We're always going to have a part of us because it is indeed a part of us. But how do we also do that and do what we enjoy, whether it's engineering, whether it's being a doctor, whether it's doing these other things, we can still do that work.

So I really want to help different communities understand that and help kids really think about their potential, who they want to be and how they can get there and still be a value to their community I think is important.

STIPECH: And you're speaking, I know primarily to students of color out of your history and that background. Yet poverty knows all colors, it knows all backgrounds. Brilliance knows all backgrounds, right? So this is really a message as I'm hearing it for, even though your heart and your background is, you know, for students of color, that everybody can relate to. Everybody can buy into and say, why couldn't I be my best? Why couldn't I do something I enjoy and get paid for it as your wife so brilliantly coached you on, right?

EASTON-BROOKS: And it is, it is absolutely is. And I think the difference of that is that whites have a tendency to be able to navigate the system better because of understanding the system than communities of color. And honestly, a lot of this I learned from just being married to my wife and just the things that I see that she was able to take advantage of, that's different for me because of our perceptions of how these things work. And I think about the first job, like a University of Rhode Island and they offered me a job. And she said, you didn't say yes? Why? Because when you ask for more money and it's because this is what they offered, and this is what you do. And it's like, no. And I ended up getting $15,000 more than the job offer was and starting to learn those things, even with buying a car, you negotiate.

And one of the things we know as well, a couple of things, you know, if you had a white family and a Black family, or, and they all live in poverty, the white family is 20% more likely to get out of poverty than those other two populations. When we think about the Black Latinx experience and even the native experience with poverty, even though we moved to middle class, we're still in greater proximity and association with family or people in poverty than whites. There is a huge gap between wealth. And communities of color, meaning the Black, a Latinx and the indigenous population than it is a white population.

And so one of the things that I really have to think about within those communities is how do we help generate wealth and in generating wealth, it's about thinking about opportunities that can move forward. And you're right. There are some who are white and poverty. So the same thing. How do you take advantage of opportunities and how do you move beyond the space?

And so even in my work, I don't know, just go out and look at people of color. I look for people, or really I don’t look for them, I want to engage in people, with people who I want to help them reach that potential of who they can be and what education can do to help them move where they need to be. There are people that started off in education that I've known and ended up doing other things, but that time in education really strengthened their ability to do the kind of work that they do.

STIPECH: Dean Easton-Brooks you've recorded a couple of videos for the university. One was earlier in the year, I believe for Black History Month. And then there's a current video encouraging people to vote. Talk a little about your passion for exercising one's right to vote in our country. And what are the roots of that?

EASTON-BROOKS: No, I've always been raised that voting is about equity and providing an equity for people and helping to improve the lives for other people and, and that laws can change the lives of people. And so putting people and positions to make changes has been very important. And so in this year, it's one of those where, you know, we've seen a lot of things that have really been great attacks on diverse communities. And it's important that we kind of change the tide. And growing up, I've always have seen voting like that about changing the tide for people of color and helping people of color to get in a better position in life. So when you look at someone like Johnson and the Civil Rights Act that was very impactful to the community. At the same time, there were challenges with what was happening with the segregation. Because at the time there were a lot of things that the community benefited on because of segregation. You knew what restaurants were acceptable. You knew where to go and not to go. But when desegregation happened, it really kind of changed the community and what it looked like, what the voting for Nixon and the busing changed a lot of things in the Black community, because now kids were taken out of their communities and shipped to white communities and really not getting that historical upbringing of education in their communities.

And so those things were very impactful and, and always looking at voting as something that would give us an opportunity to decrease poverty and give an opportunity for better education. All those things have always been a central part of my life. One of the things that I didn’t mention in that video that didn't get into it, that one of the most vivid moments with my mother that really stuck with me was watching Martin Luther King's funeral.

You know, I can vividly see that in black and white going across the screen and her in tears and her talking about, we have to make a change. We have to make sure that we are a part of change. We're a part of making things right for people. And it was about that, about making sure that the right people were in place to do the right things for people.

STIPECH: And that's a pretty powerful memory because you said you, I think you said you were born in ’64 and this would have been ’68 or you're four years old watching that, right? And that's vivid with you.

EASTON-BROOKS: Barely four but four. Yeah. Yeah.

STIPECH: Memorable stuff for sure. Let's now turn to today's challenges for teachers and educators from your vantage point as Dean of the College of Education and Human Development. What would you say to those out on the front lines today and the University students in your college about the power of education, the power of becoming an educator?

EASTON-BROOKS: You know, and that gets back to, I feel what my, my mother, well, my mother presented to me about education, that it is a power. It is something that could really shape the way we do things. I take that question to heart because I think it starts in the teacher prep programs. We have to provide for teachers the ability to be able to engage what the diverse group of students and diverse circumstances. And that's something we really have to continue to improve on. And I then COVID has kind of hit us in a way that we really need to rethink the way we're looking at this.

Even now, the things I talked to our college about a lot is that we have to think about what it is that we really do people look at and they think, well, we prepare teachers and my feeling is that we don't prepare teachers, we actually center what we do around learning. We have to really think about the focus of who we're trying to touch and move. And that's children and families.

And then that same breath. We have to think about what it is that we're doing. If we teach a teacher how to teach a curriculum in math, we taught them just to teach that curriculum. But if we teach them how to engage in learning on a learning environment, they can do a lot more of it that if they understand the process of learning and understanding what impacts learning

It's more to, than that, we look at the 1930s. Piaget, Skinner, Freud, Watson. And a lot of those that were around at that time, a lot of the learning there is the traditional learning there's Vygotsky, as well. And we use them as a platform for learning. But what we don't realize is that that research has centered on 1930s research, which focuses on boys and how boys learn.

And so that doesn't do anything with how women learn, or into account culture, or even the impact of poverty. So now we're in an age in which there are a lot of variables to learning technology, texting, Snapchat, etcetera. Right. If we don't have that framework of what learning is about and the impacts of learning and the influence of learning and motivation of learning, we'll lose out.

COVID is showing us that the traditional way in which we teach, we have to adjust. And if we don't have that strong framework for what learning is about, it's going to be more challenging to adjust. So we can’t just sit in front of a computer and talk to kids. We have to engage them. We have to find ways to bring them into this.

And I think that's part of the teacher's frustration. It’s not that teachers don't want to do this, but it's a matter of how in the world do I do this? And it's in my mind is a matter of showing examples of how possible it is to do. And I think once people who are really engaged in learning and teaching, seeing the possibilities, they can take it from there.

And that's something I talked to our college about, how are we going to reach out to students during this COVID pandemic and give them skills that they're able to do that. Making sure that our teachers are relevant in five years, making sure that they're able to adjust as society changes.

STIPECH: As you're in this role as Dean, how do you see yourself, your approach to leadership, your philosophies on this?

EASTON-BROOKS: Yeah. You know, it's not something that I see as, you know, I'm this perfectly leader and I would always be perfect. It's always reflection. It's always thinking about how can I do more, do we have enough scholarships for students? No. Do we have enough in place that our people can do the amazing things we need to be doing? No. And so, as a leader, for me, it's a matter of continuing to do that. I feel like I look at leadership as a service role, more than a leader role. I'm here to figure out how to serve by providing resources needed to move the things we need to move. So I, my biggest critic, there's nothing anyone can say to me that's more painful than I do to myself.

I felt like there's always room for improvement. There's always room to move things. And so for me, it's a matter of, of not just keeping people accountable and check, but keeping myself accountable and in check to make sure that I'm constantly doing what I need to do to help us be at a place we need to be.

STIPECH: 2020 has turned out to be a very challenging year for higher education to put it very, very mildly. I know your wife, Lori and your three sons are very important to you. One of them is a journalism student here at the university. How do you manage the stresses of this job in this time with your family life?

EASTON-BROOKS: I have an amazing family. My wife, I really value her for helping my children understand why I do what I do. So yeah, I take my job seriously, but I like to create an environment that's good energy, that’s fun energy, but sometimes it gets stressful. When I get home, my family, they don't care what I'm doing. They don't care what I've done. It's a matter of, okay, now we need you here. It's a challenge. And I think if I didn't have the wife and the family that I have, it would be difficult during this job. I've met people who've gotten divorced doing this job, who have crazy relationships with their children because of this job. And I can say that I don't.

STIPECH: You mentioned earlier, I think you used the word Zen Christian, that Christian faith has been part of your upbringing or part of your background. Anything you want to say that in terms of how that balances you?

EASTON-BROOKS: Sure. So, you know, I think for me again, with the Zen, this is about that centeredness, right? And it's about being in truth with yourself. The first Buddhist truth is that life is difficult. And of all the things that were said, that's the first thing, that life is difficult. And I think once you can accept that life is difficult, you've accepted a truth about life, and now you can deal with it, right?

From a Christian lens, and I think I look at Christianity probably different than many people, I really look at the life of price and love my life, really, basically by the first four books of the Bible and that really talks about how Christ responded to people, the least of these, those in life that people set aside. And so that's kinda how I see that when he, when he gives a parable and he talks about how do we do these things. I feel like it's really about how do we respect one another? How do we treat one another? How do we love one another? And so to me, that's, that's, what's important about that. And I always want to be one that think about that and think about, you know, am I responding to those who don't have that  voice or who don't have those opportunities?

I heard Martin Luther King, it’s one of my favorite speeches of Martin Luther King. He said, “You know, I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to identify with the oppressed. I choose to identify with those who are left out of the sunlight of opportunity.” And he said, “I do this because I'm going that way. If it means hurting a little bit, I'm going that way. If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way. And if it means dying, I'm going that way.”

And so for me, it's a matter of life is difficult and we're on this journey. And if you're going on that difficult path anyway, why not bring people with you, why not lift people up on the way? And so for me, that's what that means to me, be centered enough to understand your purpose, centered enough to recognize yourself. And the more you're able to be sending enough to recognize your purpose in yourself, the better able you are to help other people.

STIPECH: Donald Easton, Brooks, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Nevada Reno. And I'm David Stipech with University Marketing Communications. I hope you enjoyed this edition of UNPACKED, the podcast from Nevada Today. You can find out more about the College of Education and Human Development online at unr.edu/education. And for daily and weekly news from the University, be sure to subscribe to the University's news source, Nevada Today at unr.edu/nevada today. That's also where you can listen to the latest episodes, or find UNPACKED wherever you get your podcasts. And be sure to like share and subscribe to the UNPACKED podcast.

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