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2021 Bennion Teachers' Workshop - Presenters


Marisela Martinez-Cola

Dr. Marisela Martinez-Cola (Workshop Director & Primary Facilitator)

Dr. Marisela Martinez-Cola will lead the 2021 Bennion Teachers’ Workshop. With previous experience as a Director of Multicultural Affairs and a renowned sociology professor, Dr. Martinez-Cola is uniquely qualified to help facilitate brave conversations about difficult topics. As a sociologist, Dr. Martinez-Cola’s research focuses on the critical comparative study of race, class, and gender as it relates to culture, social movements, and comparative/historical sociology. Her current book project is entitled, The Bricks Before Brown, and is a comparative historical case study of the construction of race, class, and gender in Mexican American, Chinese American, and Native American school desegregation cases that came before Brown v. Board of Education.

Dr. Marisela Martinez-Cola has been at USU since Fall 2018, after receiving her Ph.D. from Emory University. She is also an alumna of the University of Michigan where she majored in African American Studies and earned her law degree at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She credits her varied educational experiences for contributing to her interdisciplinary approach to research and teaching. For more on Dr. Martinez-Cola, please visit her faculty webpage:

Matthew Rodriguez

Matthew Rodriguez (Opening Address with Q&A via Zoom - Monday)

"Hope and Healing Through Active Anti-Racism"

During our time with Matthew Rodriguez, we will unpack the value of educators developing racial literacy. We will illuminate the ways that racism is structural and how it manifests within some of our most common routines, decisions, and procedures in schools. Finally, we will explore the steps we can all take to eradicate racism from our minds, classrooms, schools, and school systems.

Matthew Rodriguez, M.Ed., is a teacher. In his nearly two decades of experience in education, he began as a janitor in a small alternative high school, transitioned to be a math tutor, then began teaching Math and Social Studies.  He became a teacher leader, then an Assistant Principal, and ultimately was the Principal for 7 years in the same school in the Humbolt Park Community of Chicago. There he learned that education is, for many youth, the difference between life or death. The imperative nature of education, in this context, captured his imagination and frames how he continues to prepare leaders in schools today.


Nirmala Erevelles

Dr. Nirmala Erevelles (Recorded Lecture - Tuesday)

"Towards an Enabling Education"

In this Bennion lecture, Dr. Erevelles will guide participants through a critical, self-reflective examination of their positions in society as they engage with disability knowledge. Participants will learn that disability has a history and that creating an enabling classroom requires understanding that history.

Dr. Nirmala Erevelles is a lifelong boundary crosser. She is dedicated to exploring the shifting, intersectional, and complex ways of disability studies. Specifically, her research focuses on the unruly, messy, unpredictable and taboo body – a habitual outcast in educational (and social) contexts.


Anna Lees

Dr. Anna Lees (Recorded Lecture - Tuesday)

"Collaborative Field-Based Teacher Preparation"

Research around Indigenous educational research has been a personal endeavor for Dr. Anna Lees. As a descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, she is dedicated to helping teachers and teacher candidates learn how to develop their critical consciousness by centering Indigenous knowledges and intergenerational relationships to create authentic community for students.

Dr. Anna Lees (Odawa; She/Her/hers) is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education. She partners with schools and communities to better prepare teachers for the holistic needs of all children, families, and communities. Anna is committed to developing and sustaining reciprocal partnerships with Indigenous communities to engage community leaders as co-teacher educators, creating spaces for Indigenous knowledge in mainstream schools and institutes of higher education, while endeavoring towards a postcolonial state.



Joshua Moon Johnson

Dr. Joshua Moon Johnson (Live Speaker Address with Q&A via Zoom - Wednesday)

"Beyond Surviving"

As a Christian, queer, multiracial Asian-American/Euro-American man who grew up in Mississippi, Dr. Joshua Moon Johnson brings an expertise that is filtered through numerous lenses making him relatable, nonjudgmental, and sincere in his efforts to bridge the divide between two seemingly opposed communities: Christians and LGBTQ+ youth. You will leave inspired by the resilience of those who remain faithful in the face of rejection, confusion, and fear.

Dr. Joshua Moon Johnson serves as the Dean of Student Service and Equity Programs and Pathways at American River College. Dr. Moon Johnson  published Beyond Surviving: From Religious Oppression to Queer Activism, a #1 Best-seller on for Gay & Lesbian Activism. His second book, Authentic Leadership, is a co-edited volume about LGBTQ leaders in higher education.


Dr. Jess Lucero

Dr. Jess Lucero (Recorded Lecture - Thursday)

"Resilient Refugees of Cache Valley Utah"

Salt Lake City is a designated “resettlement city” by U.S. refugee rescue organizations.  As such, Utah has attracted families from Sudan, Somalia, Angola, Ivory Coast, Congo, Eritrea, and Myanmar.  With a deep commitment to the power of community, Dr. Jess Lucero will share her experience with the extraordinary refugee families in Cache Valley and their incredible children who grace classrooms across Utah with their eagerness to learn and unquenchable light. The goal is to be as transformed by them as they are in the classroom.

Dr. Jess Lucero is an Associate Professor of Social Work in the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology at Utah State University and Director of the Transforming Communities Institute. Prior to joining the faculty at USU, she completed her doctoral studies at Wayne State University in Detroit and her MSW and BSW at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Lucero’s research is very interdisciplinary and she enjoys exchanging ideas and working to improve social systems with other interdisciplinary scholars, practitioners, and students who are committed to social justice. 


Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez

Dr. Melanie Domenech-Rodríguez (Recorded Lecture - Thursday)

"Resilience in the Face of Racism"

Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, professor of psychology, has taught at Utah State University for 20 years.  An invaluable member of the Psychology Department, Dr. Domenech Rodríguez focuses on multicultural issues in psychology.  In her presentation, she will specifically address the power, strength, and beauty of resilience.

Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodríguez is a professor at Utah State University. Her work addresses health disparities through scholarship, teaching/training, and mentorship. She has improved accessibility to training in evidence-based interventions for providers working with ethnic and culturally diverse clients (Baumann et al., 2019). Her courses in multiculturalism and diversity prepare psychologists entering the workforce from the undergraduate or graduate level to attend to diversity and equity in their professional pursuits. 


Ka'ili Anapesi

Dr. Anapesi Ka’ili  (Live Speaker Address with Q&A via Zoom - Friday)

"We Are Mana"

Founded in 2013, Mana Academy was created in response to concerns of low academic performance in underserved communities, specifically among Pacific Islander and Latino/Hispanic youth in the Salt Lake City area.  Knowing in her soul that there was a better way to engage these amazing children, Dr. Anapesi Ka’ili  gathered other dreamers to create “a unique school model that taps into and leverages the shared cultural values…where our scholars feel a sense of belong, connectedness, and purpose.”  In this workshop, Dr. Anapesi will share the powerful story of creating an alternative to and a redefinition of success when one was missing.

Dr. Anapesi Ka’ili is the Executive Director at Mana Academy Charter School. She earned a PhD in Education from the University of Utah, a Master's Degree in Bilingual & Multicultural Education from Northern Arizona University and a Bachelor's Degree in English from Utah State University. Her work focuses on the complexities and challenges that Packfic Islander students face in higher education and the ways in which they negotiate their identities and spaces in predominantly white educational institutions.


Group of Diverse Students

USU Student Panel (Recorded Presentations - Monday & Friday)

"There was this teacher..."

A panel of five USU students will share stories of “that one teacher” in their struggle against racism.