Zachary Casey2019 Rising Alumni

Zachary Casey

Zachary Casey is an Assistant Professor at Rhodes College. He was hired to develop the educational studies program at Rhodes which, when he arrived, offered only an undergraduate minor. With Zac’s leadership, educational studies now offers dozens of majors across three tracks. He also led the effort to create teacher education programs at Rhodes that focus on socially just approaches to teaching and learning in urban, working-class school and community settings. Last year, Zac helped launch a new master’s degree–just the second master’s degree in the college’s history. His first book, A Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism, won the Outstanding Book Award from the Society of Professors of Education. Zac says he loves being in the classroom with folks who are working to get smarter together.

Current Job

Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, Rhodes College

CEHD Degree

PhD Culture and Teaching, Curriculum and Instruction, 2013

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

My first book, A Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism: Whiteness, Neoliberalism, and Resistance in Education, published by SUNY Press in 2016, won the 2018 Outstanding Book Award from the Society of Professors of Education. I was a co-editor with fellow Culture and Teaching (CaT) alum Shannon K. McManimon and Christina Berchini of Whiteness at the Table: Antiracism, Racism, and Identity in Education, published by Lexington books in 2018. In addition to these books, I've published nearly two dozen articles and chapters focused on critical whiteness studies, Marxism, critical pedagogy, and antiracism in teacher education. Since beginning as the first-ever interdisciplinary tenure track professor at Rhodes College in Memphis in 2014, I have helped to launch both an undergraduate and a graduate teacher licensure program that centers critical socially just approaches to teaching and learning in working-class urban school and community contexts.

Volunteer activities

I have worked for progressive candidates running for local, state, and national office ranging from knocking on doors to being a campaign manager. I also volunteer time in local schools mentoring teachers and in professional development sessions for teachers and community partners.

Awards or honors from collegiate, professional, or volunteer experiences.

I currently serve as principal investigator on a nearly $1.2 million National Science Foundation Noyce Grant that aims to recruit, support, and retain impactful STEM teachers in working-class schools. As I mentioned above, my book won the Outstanding Book Award from the Society of Professors of Education in 2018. On campus here at Rhodes, I have been recognized as a faculty inductee to Omicron Delta Kappa honors society, a Mellon Faculty Fellow, and won a "Phenomenal Individual Award" from our college's V-Day organization. When I was at the U, I won the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award for 2009-10 in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the Hague Fellowship through CEHD, and a "People's Choice Award" from the Minnesota Population Center.

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

By far what I loved most about my time at the U was my time with my dear comrades in CaT—the Mod Squad, as we were jokingly called by those we worked with, Shannon K. McManimon and Brian D. Lozenski. When I think back to my time working on my PhD, I picture the three of us, books in hand, sitting at Purple Onion working to get smarter about race, capitalism, and pedagogy together. Reading, talking, laughing, and learning with my fellow Mod-Squaders is my favorite memory from the U.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

I was drawn to CaT most by the possibility of working with Tim Lensmire to get smarter about white racial identity and imagine pedagogical responses—and that's exactly what we did. My courses with Tim, on race, critical pedagogy, and our directed inquiry courses on critical whiteness studies and Marxism were transformative moments in my life. Those courses shaped me as a scholar and thinker in education and I will be forever grateful for Tim and CaT more broadly in creating a program that allowed me to follow my questions and grow my capacity to make pedagogical interventions. I was mentored early and often by JB Mayo, who helped me make sense of academe and start to understand myself as more than a student, but a scholar. Vichet Chhuon helped me learn more about what early career scholars face and to think more critically about the kinds of work I wanted to do once I was a professor. Robin Brown in cultural studies allowed his courses to move in truly Freirean ways and I relished my time working and learning with him. My other committee members, Thom Swiss and Misty Sato, along with Cynthia Lewis and Bic Ngo, were wonderful mentors and advocates for me as well.

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

I entered my PhD program in hopes of becoming a college professor and teacher educator, and that's exactly what happened. That said, because of CaT I was able to take courses across the University that allowed me to develop into a truly interdisciplinary scholar, which has been invaluable now that I work in an interdisciplinary program at a liberal arts college. I grew as a pedagogue in innumerable ways at the U, and many of the activities I use in my classes today I was first exposed to in CaT and C&I more broadly.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

My greatest intellectual hero is Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian educator and theorist. Freire's work is central to my teaching, my research, and my political engagement in the world. I continue to teach with his ideas and texts every semester and remain his student, as I take something new from each engagement I have with his writing—even when I've read the book many many times before.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

While there are many “professions” that likely have different answers, I feel best equipped to answer this question in the context of the academy. The job market has likely never been worse for newly minted PhDs seeking a tenure track position, and my journey to my position was not the most direct. In fact, I spent a year working in K-12 schools after I completed my PhD before I found my current job here at Rhodes College. Thus, skills of patience are required as are skills of humility. It is our work as academics that can create opportunities for teaching and researching as a professor—do great work, and the positions will come.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

I love to play music, and am an avid guitar player and pianist. But 30 minutes is the perfect amount of time to get a walk in with my dog Baudrillard (Baudie)!

How do others describe you?

I hear people describe me as “passionate” very often. They see me as high energy and excited to be working with others. Many see me as justice-oriented, fun, and academic. I tend to hear "he looks like Jesus" from a lot of elementary and middle schoolers!

How do you describe yourself?

I'm a professor, a teacher, a writer, a life partner, a husband, a dog owner, a Memphian, a baseball fan, a home chef, a mixologist, and a bandmate.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

Both of mine: A Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism & Whiteness at the Table! But more broadly, I'd suggest Kevin Kumashiro's Against Common Sense, bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress, and Freire's Teachers as Cultural Workers.

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Karl Marx—I would love to talk with him about how he saw the role of pedagogy in the revolutionary struggle to dismantle capitalism... And get advice about how my beard could be more like his!

What gets you excited about work?

My students. I love being in the classroom with folks who are working to get smarter together about something and I love that I get to do that with my job.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a professional baseball player for a very long time. Then that shifted to wanting to be a sports writer and pursue journalism. I caught the bug for teaching in high school and have wanted to be a teacher ever since.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

Reading remains a huge part of my life away from school. I also keep in touch with comrades across the country and across the globe to continue learning from others' experiences and wisdom.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

My initials spell my nickname: Zachary Anders Casey = ZAC!