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Our Curriculum isn’t Already Anti-racist? A Reflective Journey

K. Stanley Brooks of Chosen Path Consulting, Marvin Lynn of Portland State University, and Christina “V” Villarreal of the Harvard Graduate School of Education will present the session, “Identifying, Understanding, and Replacing Racist Curricula” at the virtual 2021 Annual Meeting, Wednesday, February 24, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. In this article, Brooks offers a preview of the session by asking key questions for inquiry and reflection on what it means to engage in an anti-racist manner in the academic space.

Our curriculum is not already anti-racist? If our curriculum is not already anti-racist, then what have we been allowing and promoting all these years?

Greetings to you from Minneapolis, Minnesota. This city was the center of world news on May 25, 2020, and the days following the reaction to the killing of George Floyd. It is not just one person, but a disturbing pattern that can be linked to the interactions between the first enslaved Africans and White Americans to the banks of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Perhaps you have heard the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and many more. Many assume that college campuses are places of higher thought and scholarship, where students and faculty/staff of color are immune to the horrors of racial microaggressions and assaults. One of the primary ways these spaces are hostile toward people of color is through the academic plans (practicum, course content, course selection, guest speakers, hiring practices, athletics, etc.) for our students.

This presentation asks some key questions for thoughtful inquiry and reflection. Can an anti-racist curriculum exist and be maintained without anti-racist colleagues, neighbors, leaders, board of trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, etc.? This presentation builds upon and examines mental models that amplify a Harvard Business Review article in June 2020 titled, “Academia Isn’t a Safe Haven for Conversations About Race and Racism.” We will model and lead by example as participants what it means to engage in an anti-racist manner. If we cannot have civil dialogue through difficult conversations, we run the risk of being perceived as hypocritical by our students. It is a necessary pre-requisite to ask the following solutions-based questions:

  1. Who am I in relation to this context?
  2. Does my behavior demonstrate that this is important to me and my institution?
  3. What is my proximity to people of color?
  4. Am I non-racist or anti-racist?
  5. What is our institutions playbook for success?
  6. Who are collaborative partners in this work? (school districts, colleges/universities, Philanthropic organizations, community non-profits, etc.)
  7. What are guided reflection prompts for administrators?
  8. What are guided reflection prompts for faculty?
  9. What are differences between symbolic and transformative approaches? And which ones are we willing to embark on? Why?
  10. Has our institution unpacked our own racial legacy of establishment and existence?

Toward the summation of the presentation, we will discuss a recent case study of a major university that is striving to improve their campus climate regarding racism. From there, we briefly view examples of young adults who clearly are missing an anti-racist curricular experience. Lastly, we ask some thoughtful questions about the recent attack on our nations Capitol. It is important to reflect on how this narrative will be presented in learning spaces, with multiple perspectives involved. Some labeled it as an insurrection, while some called the groups of people true patriots and Americans. Which one is it? Who has the power to define their actions? Whose perspective is allowable as acceptable? What are the criteria and rubric for this context or any others? This session should reveal that the United States is in this condition regarding this context, because of a significant refusal to unpack our racial legacy.

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