Race as a Classroom Topic

Last year I shared some thoughts and resources for the classroom relating to conversations about race. Many of those themes remain relevant today. Nationally, a wave of racist social media expressions and in-class episodes have many Universities reeling. Locally, many of us participated in a student led event on campus yesterday raising awareness about the experiences of minority groups in the United States and on campus. In light of these developments I asked my friend, colleague, and podcast co-host, Tracy Butts, to offer some insight to help us navigate these issues in the classroom. Here is what Tracy shared.

On Thursday morning, I walked into my 8:00 a.m. class, and one of my white male students greeted me with “are we going to talk about Charlotte?”  While my intention had been to talk about the officer-involved killing of a black man in Charlotte, North Carolina, the subsequent protests in response to the incident, and how it all related to the text we had been reading, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, I was certainly not expecting one of my students to initiate the conversation.

Later that afternoon, I attended a Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) meeting during which two students in attendance shared that they were dismayed and discouraged by the seeming lack of conversation regarding these current events, and they challenged us to model for them behaviors that they might be able to emulate. A number of us were chagrined by their comments because we have been talking—a lot—about these incidents—with one another, with colleagues, in classes, on social media. But, ultimately, we realized that the same university silos that make it difficult for us to see and know what our colleagues in other departments and divisions are doing are the same ones that make it difficult for our students to know what we are doing in our workspaces, classrooms, and conversations with others.

Just like my colleagues in BFSA, I know that many of my faculty colleagues are talking about these issues amongst their networks of family and friends.  Yet, it is crucial that faculty model for students what activism and social justice looks like in our respective academic disciplines, that we demonstrate how our fields take up and respond to issues of injustice, inequity, privilege, and oppression. Do not reserve your discussions about social issues simply for the members of your social networks. Do not assume that your students who are not of color are unaffected by, uninterested in, indifferent to, or even struggling themselves to make sense of these issues. Do let your students know that your care and goodwill towards them extend beyond their academic success to their personal well-being as well. Finally, do not be afraid to engage your students in difficult conversations. Not only are they watching and waiting for your validation, your support, they might also surprise and teach you something.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided addition Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

The CELT Conference preliminary program and registration link are now available. See you on October 6-7!

Got feedback on this tip? Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Caffeinated Cats podcast! There will be a new episode posted in the next few days. Link to it on soundclouditunesovercast, or follow the podcast on facebook.

Did I just say that?

Prior to this year, I taught the large lecture public speaking class which includes a live streamed/recorded version of the lecture. Everything I said was public and viewable in an archive. We had a string of technical problems until one day I thought everything was going well, I even commented on how well things were going in the lecture. Then I realized no one was complaining because all the online students were locked out. There was no one to complain because they could not get in.

I lost it.

raidersI got red in the face and let loose a stream of profanity more befitting an Oakland Raiders practice or 1970s basic training. I did this in the middle of a recorded lecture, a lecture on public speaking. We have all said things in the classroom we wish we could take back. The question is: What do you do next?

Fortunately I have done something like this enough times (I am not kidding; it is a bit of a problem for me) to have developed a system for this:

  1. Realize your class is looking at you to model behavior for them. Mistakes are made and the wrong words come out all the time. Think of what you would want them to do and let that inform your subsequent behavior.
  2. Acknowledge that something happened in the moment if you collect yourself in time. This is one of the best ways to defuse a situation and sometimes turns into a teachable moment where you can reflect on a mistake with the class.
  3. Follow up with a class announcement through Blackboard if the situation warrants it. This is an easy way to document your response to a mistake and model good behavior for your class by dealing with it rather than ignoring it.
  4. Follow up with your chair or supervisor if necessary. If what you said is likely to result in a student complaint or if you would like some advice, get in touch with the people you work with and let them know.
  5. Move on. We have all caught ourselves dwelling on that one bad student evaluation or that one mistake. The students are here because they want an education and you can help them with that. Deal with the problem and move on; don’t spend your semester reliving one moment.

Got a great teaching idea of your own? Showcase at the CELT Conference in a SLAM session (10/8 at 9:30am) facilitated by Ben Seipel or be on the lookout for a poster session invitation. Remember to Register!

Got an idea for a tip? Pass it on to us!


These students want off the bus

It’s Week 12 and tomorrow is tax day Tax Day; we may be forgiven a certain lassitude.  At this point in the semester we and our students can feel like travelers stuck on a bus trip that is taking way too long.  No matter how fascinating we all found each other at the beginning of the journey, things may have gone a bit stale. Here are few quick tips for re-energizing your semester.

  1. Try something unexpected in class. One instant way to change the energy in the room? Music.  Choose a piece of music to have playing as students enter the room—to hint at the topic of the day, to reduce anxiety before a test, or to reboot after a unit break.  When I team-taught a super jumbo version of an introduction to religion class a few years ago, my colleague and I selected pieces to set the tone for our alternating lectures, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” for my religion and gender session, k. d. lang’s “Constant Craving” for his on the Buddhist Four Noble Truths. It was a great way to build an affective relationship with so huge a group.  Or ask your students to build a musical soundtrack for the topic under discussion, as this high school history teacher does.
  2. Shake up your relationship with classroom technology.  If you regularly use clickers, video, live Tweeting, or even just humble PowerPoint, try going dark for a session.  Or the reverse: fold one digital element into an otherwise low-tech class. (The incomparable and indefatigable Instructional Technology Consultants in TLP would be glad to help you think though an activity.)  How would learning be reshaped by changing the way you, the students, and the course material interact?
  3. Feed your mind. We work at a university, where smart and creative people are doing smart, creative things every day.  This is the forest all around us, but too often we can only see the giant task-shaped tree right in front of us.  Check out the University Calendar, which you can conveniently filter according to your own proclivities: arts, athletics, lectures, tours, you name it. Tomorrow’s Middle East Studies Symposium and next week’s Turner Print Museum Student Print Exhibition do not relate directly to my area of teaching or research, but I suspect they will make me proud of our students, teach me something new, and help me remember why I chose an academic life—all of which are likely to make me a better teacher.

* Authored by Dr. Kate McCarthy.