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'Don’t Look Away': Iheoma Iruka Confronts Bias And Inequities In Early Childhood Head-On

A Black woman with light brown box braids that are pulled back from her face, wearing dark red hoop earrings and a dark red sweater. She is smiling and looking directly at the camera
Courtesy of Iheoma Iruka

Iheoma Iruka has devoted her career to understanding bias in early-childhood education, but she has very few memories of that period in her own life. Iruka was born in Texas, but her parents moved back to Nigeria when she was 3. She stayed there until after second grade when she and two of her sisters moved to Boston with her mother, and the family was split between Nigeria and the U.S.

Returning to the U.S. was a challenge: her family was living in poverty and Iruka struggled with culture shock in her American school. Iruka studied psychology in college, got a master’s degree in applied developmental psychology and worked briefly as a social worker specializing in infantile and child sexual abuse cases. Her experience working with these families fed into her curiosity about how policy changes and social programs could improve outcomes for young children.

Six Black women posing around another Black woman who is dressed in a cap and gown, posing for a photo.
Credit Courtesy of Iheoma Iruka
Iruka with her sisters at her high school graduation in Boston.

Today she is a research professor of public policy and director of the Equity Research Action Coalition program at FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She is also the author of "Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-bias Classrooms." Iruka joins host Frank Stasio to share her personal story, her research into bias in early-childhood education and tips for parents who are trying to enrich the lives of their young children during the pandemic.

Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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