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Career CONSULTANTS – race education


For years, I’ve been teaching course in which the issue of race was
virtually irrelevant. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in working
the matter of race and culture into my course, but I fear that by doing
so, I’ll be marginalized by colleagues on the faculty. Should I even
bother, and if I do, how should I handle it?

DR. BILLY JOE EVANS Professor of Chemistry, University of Michigan Visiting Professor, Morehouse College

If questions of race have a legitimate place in your course, then
by all means, include them. In my instruction in chemistry, I have not
been faced with such questions, except in an anecdotal fashion, but I
have found the success of my African colleagues to be remarkable in
their courses in the social sciences and humanities.

Issues of race are, of course, eagerly anticipated by students at
the historically Black colleges and universities. At many predominantly
White colleges and universities, one’s colleagues and students may
often be willing to acquiesce to the perceived expertise and eminence
of Black scholars on matters of race, particularly on issues involving
African Americans.

It is critical that the inclusion of issues of race has a sound
intellectual basis for being a part of the course. One’s approach must
be disinterested, incisive, and not one of the simple advocacy. You
must present the students and resources that they could not generate
and access by themselves. Many students wish to be challenged with
rigorous arguments and conceptual developments; and I believe this to
be particularly so on issues of race.

Leave no stone unturned in knowing the literature, from the
earliest publications to the most recent. Do this neither out of fear
nor simply to demonstrate that you know the field. Possessing such a
comprehensive knowledge of what has been done is necessary in order for
you to encourage students to inquire and so that you will have the
confidence that your responses will stimulate their continued interest,
while also building their trust in your scholarly commitment.

Of course, this stance should be true of any instructional
activity. It is especially critical in matters of race. Everyone
“knows” something about race and the classroom discussions must be well
above such “folk knowledge.”

DR. ISAAC M. COLBERT Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education Massachusetts Institute of Technology

First, you should be clear about your intentions. Do you intend to
make the issue a genuine part of your course, illustrating its
relevance to the topics at hand and exploring implications? Or do you
intend to make race the central focus of your course largely because of
your personal views? Given the former, your perspectives can enrich and
enliven your courses — provided that you have some compelling
observations, materials, and insights that support your case. Given the
latter, however, you run the risk of alienating both your students and
your colleagues with what will probably be viewed as your personal

Whether you should “bother” to do this depends to a large extent on
the foundations of your ambivalence and the strength of your case. If
you believe that you have a sound intellectual case to make and that
relevant insights based on considerations of race belong in your
syllabus, then you should put them there. Primarily, you want to
convince your students that there is an additional, valuable and
informative point of view that becomes evident when considerations of
race are included. You might even engage some of your colleagues in
structured, constructive dialogue as a part of the classes, which might
further illuminate your perspective.

On the other hand, if you’re more concerned about what other —
presumably hostile — faculty will say about pushing forward the
boundaries of legitimate discourse in your classes, then you’re not
prepared to accept the risks of having unpopular or unconventional

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