Our Curriculum Isn’t Already Anti-Racist? A Reflective Journey (Part 2)
Stanley Brooks of Chosen Path Consulting was one of three presenters of the 2021 Annual Meeting session, “Identifying, Understanding, and Replacing Racist Curricula.” In this article, Brooks expounds on the key questions for inquiry and reflection on what it means to engage in an anti-racist (not non-racist) manner in the academic space.
The reader may perceive the title and guiding question as sarcastic, however, there’s a serious tone and authenticity to the question. If our curriculum is not already anti-racist, then what have we been allowing and promoting all these years? What thoughts and beliefs rooted in racial biases have many educators internalized as children, young adults, and seasoned professionals?
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 George Floyd losing his life while in custody of law enforcement. It is not just one person, but a disturbing pattern that can be linked to the interactions between the 1st enslaved Africans and White Americans to the banks of Jamestown, Virginia, 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. The level of inquiry and self-reflection required to build a school climate and culture that actively engages its students, staff and faculty is vacant on many campuses. Below are some key questions for administration to answer first as positional decision-makers with great influence. A consistent pattern worth addressing is colorblind ideology that overlooks key factors related to the lived realities and experiences of students, staff, and faculty of color. We are not asserting that each person of color has the same experience and perspective. However, there are some consistencies that legitimately are taxing that make many people of color question the sincerity of White colleagues who claim ally and partnership. Can an anti-racist curriculum exist and be maintained without anti-racist colleagues, neighbors, leaders, board of trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, etc.? Being a good, nice person is beside the point and is a derailment of the conversation. A significant portion of frustration can be geared toward moments where many socially and racially conscious individuals perceive that ongoing conversation without behavioral and decision-making adjustments are a part of the plan of individuals who secretly desire to be stationary. There’s a growing number of educators who are skilled at utilizing the language and discourse of individuals who appear to have a depth of understanding but are intent on maintaining the current arrangement that benefits their comfort. A favorite quote from an unknown author typifies the disappointment educators like me have in those who are strategically placed to create a more caring and equitable environment: “comfort is the enemy of achievement.” A Harvard Business Review article in June 2020 titled, Academia Isn’t a Safe Haven for Conversations About Race and Racism demands our attention. In many respects, the greatest form of leadership is modeling and leading by example of 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. Being solutions-focused many of the questions are answers to strengthening climate and campus culture. You will also see a short list of guidance below:
- Who am I in relation to this context? Do I understand what it means to be me as an individual part of a created racial category as well as understanding observable patterns within this same group that may impact my thinking about this subject (positively or challenging)?
- Does my behavior demonstrate that this is important to me and my institution? If my institution has a vision, mission or value statement addressing racial equity, do I embody and affirm what it states?
- What is my proximity to people of color? Simply, if I am categorized as a White person, what do people of color feel about my interactions with them? Would I be described as a figurative ally like Tim Wise or described as a figurative “Karen” (please see the Central Park confrontation and racial profiling incident if this reference is unfamiliar).
- Am I non-racist or anti-racist? The difference is extreme, and those who can discern can easily identify your leadership and interaction style.
- What is our institutions playbook for success? The University of Missouri, Columbia, (Fall 2015) is an excellent case study of climate that has students, staff and administrators were actively aggressive toward the presence of people of color. They are making strides to turn the corner, however, the road toward progress had some very difficult moments that could have been avoided with the recommendations that are being made here.
- Who are collaborative partners in this work? (School districts, Colleges/Universities, Philanthropic organizations, community non-profits, etc.) Here is a short list:
- Historically Black Colleges & Universities
- Hispanic Serving Institution
- Tribal Colleges & Universities
- Equity Literacy Institute https://www.equityliteracy.org/
- Institute for Courageous School and District Leadership https://ed.mnsu.edu/centers-offices-college-of-education/center-for-engaged-leadership/principal-institute/
- National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD)
- Schott Foundation for Public Education
- Scholar Identity Institute at Vanderbilt University
- Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Immigration (CSERI) at the University of Pennsylvania
- Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California
- What are guided reflection prompts for administrators?
- Expand panelists, speaker series, guest lecturers, adjunct/PT faculty
- Professional Development Agenda for Administrators and Faculty
- How are historical landmarks, events, significant figures a part of our curriculum?
- Tenure process
- Filter for complaints about white professors who have a pattern of negative feedback from students of color.
- Filter for complaints about professors of color have a pattern of negative feedback from white students that are personal attacks, and not healthy critiques
- Mentoring is good, sponsorship is great
- Mentoring guides: Sponsorship invests in success (I won’t let you fail)
- Be present, be vocal; town hall without consequences is hollow
- What is my hiring record?
- What are guided reflection prompts for faculty?
- Redefine study abroad-Internships
- Schomburg Library
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
- Charles Drew Medical Center
- Debbie Allen Dance Academy
- Equal Justice Initiative (based on film Just Mercy)
- United Negro College Fund (UNCF)
- Create expectation that there is a diversity, equity, inclusion perspective or component of research (where applicable)
- How does sabbatical, research, field trips advance the institutions mission of being Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) conscious?
- How will I respond to what I discover about myself, especially if I find a pattern of challenging feedback from students of color and conscious White students?
- Am I overly concerned about controlling class discussion than meaningful learning objectives?
- White only narrative is limited and potentially harmful
- Am I a culturally responsive instructor?
- Do I see students of color as scholars? Do I provide references for internships in a fair way?
- Reflect on what you consider to be the classics-Odyssey, Chaucer, F Scott Fitzgerald, etc.
- What are differences between symbolic and transformative approaches? And which ones are we willing to embark on? Why?
- Is the daily environment anti-racist, not just the curriculum?
- Recruitment & retention of students, staff and faculty of color
- Graduation, course offerings, graduation of student-athletes of color
- Leadership demographics; Faculty makeup
- Climate survey questions: ongoing discussions (how it is kept on the table in every department and especially board of trustees and President’s Cabinet)
- Address your own institutions histories of exclusion (because there’s residue…)
- How do you respond to hate crimes? What’s your follow up?
- What’s your preventative measurements?
- Symbolic examples-writing a statement; removing a statue; changing the name of a dorm
- Transformative plan includes-Prevention, Response, Recovery
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion DEI positions can be perceived as window dressing superficial positions without budget authority and an adequate size staff that is comparable to the campus efforts
- Curriculum-authors, narratives, stereotypes (what do they reinforce?), positive image and representation
- Has our institution unpacked our own racial legacy of establishment and existence?
Here are two resources below that help guide reflection, one from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, and the other about Iowa State University.
Administrators, faculty, and staff must be able to articulate and easily identify the differences between being non-racist and anti-racist. If I lack a comprehensive understanding of United States policy, significant events and landmark decisions in Education , Home Ownership (Real Estate), Employment (Entrepreneurship), Health, Law Enforcement (Policing), I’m operating at a tremendous loss without a limited scoped.
When an educator is demonstrating that they care for each student on their campus, there is one essential characteristic that overlaps many models of effective professional skills through an equity framework. Simply, the most effective and transformational educators put the needs and cares for their students above their own when cognitive dissonance or intensity arises. If the reader is honest with oneself, does this prioritization of care affirm your past practice or challenge it to pivot? This is not a question that draws a line of judgment, but a pathway for those of us that realize every interaction with students leaves an impression of how our collective staff holds them in our thoughts. It’s imperative that each alum believe and feel how much they are worth in the learning spaces where they are supposed to be the center.