College of Education

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Rachel McMillian

Key Professional Appointments

  • Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Awards, Honors, Associations

2022, Outstanding Dissertation Award, American Educational Research Association, Division B

2019-2021, Barbara L. Jackson Scholar, University Council for Educational Administration 

Research & Service

Rachel McMillian, Ph.D, is a curriculum theorist and educational researcher whose work broadly explores two intersecting avenues: Black Education and Critical Prison Studies. More specifically–through counterstorytelling–she focuses on 1) the schooling and educational experiences of Black people who were (wrongfully) incarcerated as children/youth and, 2) Black liberatory education and curriculum that occurs within spaces of confinement and enclosure.

McMillian's interdisciplinary scholarship and service are inspired by her years of experience as a social studies teacher in Cincinnati Public Schools, her relationships and work with both formerly and currently incarcerated people, and her lived experiences as someone directly impacted by mass incarceration. 


McMillian, R. D., & Bryan, N. (2023). “Living within it all”: Black Critical Theory, Imprisoned Black Radical Tradition, and the art of BlackCrit Portraiture to center voices from sites of incarceration. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.  link >

Bryan, N., McMillian, R., & LaMar, K. (2022). Prison abolition literacies as Pro-Black pedagogy in early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 22(3), 383-407.  link >

Bryan, N., Davis, D., McMillian, R. D., Jackson, J., & Cooper, R. (2022). Toward A Black PlayCrit in Educational Leadership: What School Leaders Need to Know About Black Boyhood Play. Journal of School Leadership, 1-22.  link >

McMillian, R. D., & Aronson, B. (2020). Critical Race Theory. In Encyclopedia of Critical Whiteness Studies in Education (pp. 119-132). Brill.  link >


CI 448: Teaching Elementary Social Studies (CI 448) Course examines the nature and role of social studies in elementary schools, both in terms of the formal curriculum and of the impact of the school as a social system on children's social learning. Examines multiple approaches to what should be experienced and learned in social studies as well as the nature of social inquiry. Various instructional methods emphasizing direct experiences as well as reading are emphasized. Local, state, and national trends in curriculum and evaluation are addressed. Students engage in social inquiry, as well as develop, implement, and evaluate an action research project focusing in depth on a particular practice of social education.

CI 452: Social Studies as Action and Inquiry (CI 452) This course continues the application of methods and content knowledge from CI 448 and will use an inquiry approach to study classrooms and school communities. Students will learn about teacher action research and begin planning an implement classroom inquiry in their teaching, first as a small pilot project and then a more extensive study connected with EdTPA assignments. The continuing themes of active citizenship, diversity, equity, and professional practices will guide learning and action research planning.

CI 501: Curriculum Development for the 21st Century (CI 501) Examines a variety of definitions of curriculum development, from past to present. Course activities use theories and research to frame discussions of substantive issues in the field: how learning is influenced by the stated goals of education; the cultural background of diverse learners; structure of the school setting; competencies of teachers; means of student assessment; and approaches to incorporating technology and 21st Century skills into classrooms.

CI 512: Multicultural Education and Global Perspectives (CI 512) Examines important topics in the area of multicultural education in the United States and around the world. Engages students in the critical exploration of theories and literature that interrogate traditional views of multicultural education. Analyzes issues of race, class, gender, religion, nationality, xenophobia, homophobia, and ability in the contexts of classrooms and other educational settings. Course work focuses on an emancipatory curriculum and pedagogy for transformation and social justice education.