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Institutions Make Curricular Changes in Response To Black Lives Matter Flashpoint

After the death of George Floyd last summer and the increase in protests against anti-Black violence, institutions began announcing plans to address racial inequity and systemic racism on campus. As part of this effort, many colleges and universities across the country have focused on finding ways to incorporate principles of the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism into the curriculum.

For example, at Princeton University, faculty members in the school’s Humanities Council applied for funding to develop courses related to racism and racial inequity.

Carthage College students in the classroom during the fall 2020 semester.Carthage College students in the classroom during the fall 2020 semester.

Those chosen classes include “Migration Reporting;” “A Global History of Monsters;” “Arts in the Invisible City: Race, Policy, Performance;” “Reporting on Policing, Race and Inequality;” “Service and Social Justice in the Western Humanities Sequence;” and “What to Read and Believe in the Age of COVID.”

Dr. Kate Stanton, director of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and associate dean of the college at Princeton, says she is pleased with “the real variety and depth of these course offerings,” some of which were offered in fall 2020. Others are launching for the Spring semester.

Faculty at Carthage College are also working to incorporate the racial history of the United States into the curriculum for all first-year students.

Discussions may vary across departments. Economics courses might focus on the consequences of redlining, while sociology courses might seek to understand the construction of race, according to Dr. John Swallow, Carthage’s president.

To support these efforts, Carthage has received $500,000 in donations.

Swallow says the level of fundraising “suggests some momentum and interest among our alumni” in supporting these discussions.

Critical conversations

These critical conversations are also occurring outside of the classroom.

Carthage faculty developed the Anti-Racism and Intercultural Seminar Experience (ARISE) initiative for all first-year students. Students are paired with an equity coach to converse about their experiences with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

In the seminar, students discuss “how they feel talking about” their experiences with people from different backgrounds and cultures and whether “they feel concerned or able to have conversations across the lines,” says Swallow. “This is not a situation where you just sit down in an hour and you work through it all. It is kind of understanding where you are, what your growth path needs to be and then checking in over time.”

Additionally, Carthage teamed up with the national group Braver Angels to hold a “With Malice Toward None” event on campus to facilitate conversations among individuals who share differing political views and opinions.

“That is not necessarily about diversity, but I think the skills of being able to talk across political lines are going to help in conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Swallow. “Braver Angels is a fascinating organization that is really committed to always having an equal number of so-called reds and blues. No one ever feels like they are in a minority and they can be open about their conversations.”

At the University of Iowa (UIowa), faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) are working to show how racism impacts other areas of life. They established a virtual series to highlight racial justice issues through the lens of housing, media coverage, health disparities and policing. Called “Pursuing Racial Justice at the University of Iowa,” the series includes discussions and performances that faculty members can also use while teaching.

“The values of diversity, equity and inclusion are at the heart of the liberal arts and sciences and CLAS is committed to realizing them in its classrooms, labs and studios,” says Dr. Sara Sanders, interim dean and director of diversity, equity and inclusion for CLAS.

CLAS is also confronting implicit bias in collegiate hiring by re-evaluating the processes to recruit more diverse candidates.

The number of CLAS faculty members who identify as underrepresented minorities only increased from 8.1% to 9.2% since 2015-2016. Over the next five years, the college aims to increase that by 5%. On the other hand, the number of Black tenure-track faculty experienced a 0.08% growth rate since 2015-2016 while representation of American Indian or Alaska Native faculty decreased by half, according to CLAS’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan.

Underrepresented minorities represent around 4% of the college’s staff over the last six years. During the 2020-21 academic year, the numbers reached a new five-year low of 3.2%. As for gender, two-thirds of the staff identify as female, CLAS reported.

Eliminating equity gaps

Finding inspiration from Georgia State University, which raised its overall graduation rate to 54% in 2017 from 32% in 2003, Swallow aims to eliminate those equity gaps within 10 years at Carthage. At Georgia State, graduation rates were 22% for Latinxs, 29% for African Americans and 18% for African American males in 2003. Rates are up 36 points for Latinxs (to 58%) and 29 points for African Americans (to 58%) in 2017.

The goal of eliminating equity gaps at Carthage is part of the Moon Shot for Equity, a national initiative that aims to eliminate racial graduation gaps by 2030.

“I said, ‘Well, if they can do it at Georgia State, we could do it at Carthage,’” says Swallow. “I am not saying it is easier and that all the things they learned at Georgia State are immediately translatable, but I want us to do it and I want us to work hard on it.”

Sanders is cognizant that efforts to take responsibility and address racial inequities will need to be ongoing.

“This is not work with an end date, but rather a promise to students, faculty, staff and society that the college will continually strive to fulfill in the generations to come,” she says.

As the spring semester gets underway, CLAS plans to require that each department establish its own anti-racism action plans. Additionally, a new Diversity Equity and Inclusion Fellows program will support faculty members’

research and work around race, racism and racial disparities. And the newly developed Student DEI Advisory Committee will begin identifying existing barriers that affect student success.

“Our success depends on the diversity of our students, faculty and staff by creating an environment where all can thrive,” says Dr. Liz Tovar, interim associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at UIowa. “Continuing to improve the campus climate requires sustained, community-wide effort, which is critical to the future success of the university.”

For the spring semester, Princeton’s McGraw Center will look to build on workshops and faculty development opportunities focused on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the classroom.

Stanton says the university is making “institutional efforts to fund course development and course design that [is] really centered around racial equity, as well as our efforts to provide support and guidance for pedagogical development.” An upcoming workshop will address questions of classroom dynamics, classroom participation and questions of belonging and inclusion within the classroom.

“They are meant to be opportunities for faculty to engage thoughtfully with us and with their peers around these issues and on an ongoing basis,” says Stanton.

Beyond its other initiatives, Carthage seeks to understand best practices for outreach among different types of students during the spring semester.

Swallow emphasized that there is no “typical student.”

“There are lots of different students with different backgrounds,” he adds. “We need to understand them before we put in a policy or a practice and expect that it fits the so-called typical student when that’s just not what’s going on at all.”

This article originally appeared in the February 18, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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