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!

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