Once again, we have the pleasure of Jenna Goldsmith’s presence on our Teaching Moment blog!
This term, I am participating in a course run by the Office for Advancing Academic Equity for Student Success on the main campus called Black Minds Matter. According to their mission, the course “draws parallels between the Black Lives Matter movement and the ways that Black minds are engaged in the classroom. The course will balance a discussion of issues facing Black male students as well as offer research-based strategies for improving their success.” I am also in Erin Rook’s Monday evening book club in where we are reading Ijeoma Oluo’s So you want to talk about race?, COCC’s Season of Nonviolence book selection this year. While the synergies between these meetings seem obvious now, I did not anticipate how much my participation in one group would inflect and inform my engagement in the other. Ijeoma’s book is informative, accessible, and indispensable (in my opinion) for educators at all levels: highly recommend.
I asked Kara for a platform this week to share how Black Minds Matter has been a positive force in my mission to implement and sustain an anti-racist writing pedagogy every day in my courses, and to suggest one approach that I have found compelling. While it has always been my goal to make my classroom a space of empowerment for Black and brown students, I renewed my commitment to this goal when the course leaders asked us a question still echoing in my ears: “What do I plan to do tomorrow to help advance the outcomes for Black students at my institution?” As an educator and scholar, I know that a passive approach to changing a systemic injustice will not do. More specifically, a passive approach to anti-racist, empowering pedagogies will be completely insufficient if our goal is to make radical change for our students. If we want Black and brown students to feel empowered, valued, and heard, I must– as a white instructor– decenter my Anglo lens and experience, and center the lives and experiences of Black and brown minds and bodies.
While my particular approach to this is specific to the context of my courses, my discipline, and the learning outcomes of each day, the overall takeaway, which is centering Black minds and bodies, is a universal approach that we can all commit to, no matter our discipline. I teach writing and rhetoric, and thus many of the examples and case studies for our in-class analysis come from popular culture and the public square (in an election year, my classes practically teach themselves, as there is just so much damn material). Because I am white, and we live in a society dominated by white voices, historically it has been easy for me to cull from white sources, show videos full of white people, and cast topics through a white-washed lens. This has not been intentional on my part, which is precisely the problem; it is my default setting. Without intention in what I expose my students to, I am selecting a narrative our students– white, Black, and brown– are awash in.
With this in mind, I sought and am seeking to provide examples and material in every class period that center Black people. Here are some examples of how I’ve done so. To illustrate visual argument, my students and I watched and discussed a powerful video that went viral last week in which Rep. Ayanna Pressley discloses her journey with alopecia. To talk about metaphor, we watched and discussed a Chrysler commercial set in Detroit featuring a Black choir. To introduce argument and counterargument, we watched and discussed a 2011 Herman Cain Presidential primary advertisement. And last week, to further our conversation of evidence, we watched a recent video put out by Google featuring Maya Angelou, Gregory Hines, and Beyoncé, among many, many more prominent Black figures in our nation’s history. The discussion that follow are rigorous, lively, and, at times, uncomfortable. This last part is crucial, because as educators, we know that the seeds of true learning hardly ever germinate in comfortable environments.
In doing this, I am not making a statement. I am, however, disrupting a pattern of violence I am complicit in, which has elevated some narratives over others, as if to say, “These are the narratives that matter to me and these are the ones that do not.” Lack of intention. In this way, I am answering the question, “How do I plan tomorrow to help advance outcomes for Black students at OSU Cascades?”
Jenna Goldsmith, PhD
Instructor of Writing