Spring term is done, and our past and future students have to face their emotions in response to the national and international riots, and what this all says about race relationships. It is difficult not to be emotionally taxed in the face of recent events highlighting prejudice. One may not have experienced prejudice or been subjected to a growing barrage of the reminders of inequity, but such cases have reached epic proportions. How does higher education react?
At the Center for Teaching and Learning we want to catalyze reflections on race and how we teach about it across disciplinary boundaries. In college our goal is to provide students with an education. We aim to give students content knowledge and skills to live productive, better lives. These lofty goals provide all of us in college with ample opportunity to avoid facing the realities of the world we live in. Yes, we faculty try to make our classes applied, using many examples of how course material applies to life, but how often do we directly address the turbulence in the world?
Many students may not hear George Floyd’s death discussed in a class. There are many reasons. Maybe the course has nothing to do with prejudice and injustice. Maybe you do not want to risk being seen as political or too liberal, or are too pained or uncomfortable to bring it up. Too often we faculty treat course content as autonomous and let it shield out the world. If we focus only on the syllabus and the texts, we can avoid any uncomfortable discussions. If so, we have lost a valuable opportunity to truly advance education.
College should be a space that is inclusive to all, where every student, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender or ability, works together to build the basis for lifelong learning. Ideally, we faculty collaborate with students to help them not just gain new knowledge but also to evaluate, analyze, synthesize, and apply that knowledge. But knowledge is not fixed. It is dynamic, varies with interpretation, changes, and must be questioned. We faculty can help. We can make sure we create safe spaces for students to comfortably interrogate existing beliefs, some of which may no longer hold, or may be inaccurate. We can make sure we include texts and readings from diverse perspectives that help this process. What can you do?
You can ask yourself whether what you are reading represents a solitary view or one of different ethnicities and genders. You can pay attention to slights and generalizations that misrepresent people. You can show you are willing to take on difficult topics and engage in social discourse and invite it, no matter what the course content. We can create a climate where difference can be discussed.
With the flexibility of summer looming, one way to start to help with change is to make sure you know what the issues are. We invite you to Read, Reflect, and Reform! READ a free book (on us)! REFLECT on the book in fall asynchronous peer discussions. Help us REFORM inclusive teaching practices. Our goal is to catalyze reflection on teaching and learning towards building more inclusive classrooms, designing pedagogy for a diverse range of students, and creating environments of respect. The book is free to you. Your only commitment is to participate as time permits in our Fall asynchronous online reading group, and report on your examination of your inclusive teaching practices.