Equity and Accessibility
Anti-racism is less a state that can be definitively achieved than an active project, practice, and value that remains attuned to identifying and deconstructing the ways racism shapes systems, policies, perceptions, and norms. How, then, can one develop, sustain, and nurture a self-consciously antiracist classroom? Any answers to this question will depend on the subject you teach and the variety of ways you as an instructor are positioned within a society structured by forms of racial dominance that are interconnected with other systems of inequality and exploitation. In light of this, this page does not provide a “checklist” that can guarantee that you have made an antiracist classroom. Instead, we have decided to recommend some initial steps that you can take in order to consistently and deliberately enact antiracism within your teaching and course planning.
Campus Resources and Initiatives
In recent years, faculty have formed a number of different learning communities and affinity groups committed to examining race, racism, and antiracism. Over the course of AY 2020-2021, the Center for Engaged Pedagogy will be hosting an Institute on Anti-Racism that is directed toward faculty. Several faculty in First-Year Experience have formed an ongoing Antiracist Reading Group. Barnard, Columbia, and Teacher’s College are organizing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative that will facilitate faculty discussions on books about race and racism. If you are interested in forming an affinity group on related topics or joining one that is already underway, contact the Center for Engaged Pedagogy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anti-Racist Classroom Practices
“Don’t ignore race!” This common piece of advice usefully reminds us that an antiracist classroom can neither avoid the topic of race nor transcend the effects of racism by focusing exclusively on shared experiences or supposedly universal ideals. But what does refusing to ignore race look like in practice?
An initial step toward answering this question can be taken by asking yourself how race matters in the classroom and the subject areas you are teaching. Does the topic of race only emerge when covering the writings, lives, or experiences of people of color? Who is expected to speak on race in classroom discussions and what sorts of expectations govern the ways that knowledge is shared and used? In the texts that you’ve assigned, whose ideas and experiences are presumed to be a universal standard that everyone should encounter and whose are considered particular or supplementary to the core objectives of your class? Are there particular skills or bases of knowledge that you reflexively consider the “ideal” student to already be able to wield?
While you may want to reflect on some of these questions before you enter the classroom, you may also consider posing them to your students and using the discussion to collaboratively develop a set of community guidelines and shared practices for an antiracist classroom.
The topic of race cannot be ignored or “moved beyond” in a deliberately antiracist classroom. This is because race and racism are social relations that undergird a broad range of experiences, forms of knowledge, and normative expectations, and are thus there whether one likes it or not. If race and racism are foundational to current social reality, then one requires an intentional agenda in order to contribute to the project of developing antiracist social realities.
Asao B. Inoue describes an antiracist agenda in the following way:
A helpful antiracist agenda offers an understanding or explanation of race, racism, and the particular racial formations that develop in and around the classroom and program in question. It defines and explains the particular realms of experience that both individuals and groups find themselves involved in at that site or classroom. … It explains the particular brands of whiteness … that occur in the classroom and in assessments. It acknowledges the need and power in telling stories and offering narratives about antiracist struggle.... … Finally, antiracist agendas should, perhaps through discussions with students, reveal the difference ... between feeling safe and feeling comfortable (Performing Antiracist Pedagogy, xvii-xviii, 2017).
One way of developing and foregrounding such an agenda in your classrooms is to research how structures of racial inequality shape your course’s subject matter, the methods and areas of research you’ll be covering that semester, your experiences in the broader field of study you’re engaging, and even the institution and geographical area where your course is offered. Questions of race and racism, in such an approach, are not ancillary to the main topics of your course but absolutely central to it. As a teacher, you are uniquely positioned to model and support multiple forms of critical interrogation that account for the structural but transformable role that racism plays in the norms, expectations, and valued experiences that underwrite what you’re teaching.
Moreover, as Inoue observes, there is a crucial difference between feeling safe and feeling comfortable. In addition to reflecting on what constitutes that difference and how you can facilitate discussions and exercises that are both safe and uncomfortable, you may invite students to articulate and sit with the difference between these feelings. Consider hosting discussions and developing assignments that encourage students to reflect critically on the formative role that race and racism have played in the development of your field and areas of specialization.
The resources and protections a person has regular access to might not seem obvious to that person until they are confronted with someone else who is tacitly or explicitly barred from accessing the same things. Being self-reflective and self-reflexive about the resources and protections you have (or may be perceived as having) access to before that encounter can be an important step in sustaining an antiracist classroom. You may ask yourself questions like these (or introduce them as a topic of reflection and discussion with your students when developing community guidelines): What kinds of resources can you reasonably expect to access or be denied by dint of your social positioning in the world? How might these affordances or denials shape your interactions in and outside of the classroom? What kinds of narratives do you tell yourself about your students and/or colleagues, what might be some of the assumptions informing those narratives, and how might you challenge them as you prepare and teach?
A progressive stack is a technique for managing discussions that is regularly used within activist spaces. It works in the following way. One person facilitates the discussion by keeping a list (or a “stack”) of people who wish to speak. To add a person to the “stack,” the facilitator will acknowledge a person whose hand is raised and add their name to the queue, at which point that person may lower their hand in order to avoid distracting from the discussion. However, a person who identifies themselves as part of a marginalized group or who has not yet spoken is immediately added to the top of the stack. The facilitator’s role is to support a structured and dynamic class discussion that also foregrounds the voices and ideas of marginalized groups and others who have not yet had an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. Being transparent about why you are using a progressive stack as a strategy of managing discussions can also be a way of working with and alongside students to reflect on how power dynamics shape classroom interactions and what being accountable in the face of those dynamics might entail.
Regardless of the subject you teach, an antiracist classroom is one that takes seriously the legacies of racism and the scholarly and creative contributions of those people who have been the targets of systems of racial oppression. Consider doing an audit of your own classes and areas of expertise in order to determine how you can make your syllabus reflect a broader range of perspectives and experiences. Whose narratives and experiences does your syllabus tend to foreground? What kinds of sources do you tend to draw from in order to introduce students to an area of study and its norms of research, argumentation, and presentation?
In the process of doing this audit, it may be helpful to think about whether there is a way to expand the types of knowledge production and validation included in your course. Beyond what you may teach yourself, it may be rewarding to invite guests who approach antiracism from different angles (as academics, artists, activists, journalists, others whose work is directly relevant to your course) to broaden your course’s perspective and to integrate a variety of perspectives, narratives, and counter-narratives.
Lillian Comas-Díaz, Gordon Nagayama Hall, and Helen A. Neville define racial trama as a form of race-based stress experienced by Black people, indigenous people, and people of color in response to threatening events and real or perceived experiences of racial discrimination (“Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing,” 2019). The need to understand and account for racial trauma is particularly acute right now. Images of racist violence circulate with incredible speed in these social media saturated times. People will respond to these images in unpredictable, unconscious ways. Yet whatever their effects, they are almost certainly compounded by the highly pressurized atmosphere of 2020: a looming election in which the current president and many of his allies seek reelection through appeals to nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Blackness, patriarchy, and conspiratorial thinking; an enduring pandemic that is viciously reshaping the health and experiences of working class Black people, indigenous people, and people of color; and the ongoing empowerment of police and federal agents in the face of mass mobilizations against anti-Black state violence.
In light of this, consider how you as an instructor can acknowledge and exercise awareness about the traumas that many students are negotiating in their daily lives and may be finding intensified during this time of political upheaval and social distancing. Consult the Trauma-Informed Pedagogy page on our site as you consider the best ways to recognize the range of race-based injuries that are part of today. Also use your syllabus, course page, and other modes of communication to make students aware of Barnard’s Furman Counseling Center, the Women of Color Support Group, the Student of Color Crisis Text Line, Student Life, and the Equity Office.
Many groups on campus and in the broader Morningside Heights-Harlem community are already doing antiracist work that extends beyond the classroom. Consider inviting speakers from campus and community groups to speak about how their activism intersects with the topics you are studying. Also, consider collaborating with groups to develop scaffolded assignments and research projects in collaboration with groups that will critically examine racism within local institutions and our own disciplines. In any case, regardless of whether you find it possible to bring in a guest speaker, becoming familiar with not just antiracist literature but with antiracist activism and activist groups affords something else: it can allow you to direct students to organizations, initiatives, and contexts where they can enact antiracism as they move outside of your classroom.
Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom
This guide addresses gender inclusivity at Barnard, particularly in classroom settings. Using gender-neutral language and respecting people’s pronouns goes a long way in making students feel a sense of belonging and allowing them to feel present in their learning experiences. Click here to go to the guide.