A group of faculty and students been participating in an anti-racist teaching collaborative at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH). Here are some thoughts intended to be helpful to anyone considering doing something similar at your college campus.
Returning to a virtual campus in fall 2020 after a summer of outrage and protest, a group faculty at CUNY School of Public Health (CUNY SPH) began to explore ways we can do better. We were compelled to examine our own racist practices, and dismantle the racism embedded in our courses and classrooms.
We began by reading and discussing bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress. We all highly recommend that any teacher read this book. This reading was followed by Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist. Next it was Just Us by Claudia Rankine. We also explored other universities’ approaches to anti-racist teaching policies, examining their syllabus language and teaching practices. And we discussed materials such as “Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups,” by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. Unanimous thumbs up of Teaching to Transgress notwithstanding, we didn’t all agree with the perspectives of all the materials we read. But that’s one reason the process is so rewarding. Obviously you need a safe and trusting space for all this to work, and we’re fortunate to have that.
Between governance meetings, department meetings, committee meetings, research meetings, and classes, there never seem to be enough opportunities for faculty to visit and share ideas. This may be one reason the collaborative is so valued by its participants. It’s a community. We log into these optional Zoom meetings week after week, contributing to convivial conversations, all focusing on very serious and urgent issues facing our nation and the world.
What started out, more or less, as a book club, we now call it an anti-racist teaching collaborative. And while our discussions center on teaching, we’ve also explored how research and administration can be transformed to be more anti-racist. And we’ve discussed how we might be of assistance to other campuses — at CUNY and elsewhere — who want to launch their own efforts. This one reason we’re presenting at the CUNY Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Conference in April 2021.
While every group reflects the unique campus from which it rises, we offer these considerations to faculty anywhere who may be interested in starting a collaborative:
- Mission and Objectives. Our group emerged from discussions among faculty about improving our teaching; and we have lots to cover. While our work is focused on anti-racism and centered on teaching, you may want to place greater focus on faculty recruitment, administrative practices, marketing & communication, or something else entirely.
- Eligibility and Recruitment. You’ll want to decide whether such a group should be limited to faculty, or include students, staff, admin, etc. We’re a graduate school (only masters and doctoral students), so this question may be different for you. Our collab is open to anyone, but it’s mostly attended by 9-12 faculty and doctoral students, essentially all of whom are teachers.
- Promotion and Communication. Regular invitations to the community helps reinforce a culture of inclusion; we announced our collaborative through all-school emails and departmental and all-faculty governance meetings.
- Frequency, Process and Infrastructure. We hold 1-hour weekly meetings on Friday afternoons, with a “decentralized & democratic” governance process featuring rotating session planners and facilitators. Some conversations occur among the entire group, while others occur in breakout rooms. Our breakout rooms are where we explore role plays, where we act out challenging classroom scenarios involving racist behavior by faculty or students, for example.
- Documentation. We use an open editable Google Sheet that includes archive of meeting topics, role play ideas, reading ideas, guest speaker ideas, resources, action items, and a map of our goals & activities.
- Sharing with the world. Our Internet home is our Academic Commons site, where this post is published. This is an easy solution for CUNY colleges, and there are many others accessible to other institutions outside CUNY.
- Authority and jurisdiction. What is your group’s relationship with academic departments? What’s the relationship with the school? Does the school look to this group for guidance? Our group has no formal authority, but our members engage in meaningful conversations with leadership seeking to formally and informally build a more anti-racist approach to college education.
Our goal is institutional and social change, which is difficult, necessary and worthwhile. What about you? Please comment below to share your experiences or your questions – or to let us know if you’d like to join one of our Friday sessions!